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Scotland and its membership of EU

To Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, the position of an independent Scotland in relation to membership of the EU is clear.

"If a country becomes independent it is a new state and then it has to negotiate into the European Union," he said when pressed on whether Scotland, as a former part of a continuing member state, could negotiate on preferential terms.

From an SNP perspective, it is less clear cut. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reiterated the argument yesterday that following a Yes vote in the referendum, Scotland would remain part of the UK until formal independence and could therefore negotiate from within the EU.

The lack of precedent gives some credibility to her case but, against Mr Barroso's unequivocal opinion that a seceding part of a member state would be a new state and treated as such, it might look more like a claim for special treatment than a definitive statement of a future independent Scotland's status. Ms Sturgeon's announcement that she will seek talks with the EC to discuss plans for independence is a positive move towards clarification.

EU membership is just one of the Nationalists' assertions that voters are now anxious to interrogate and have pinned down. Another is control over currency. The First Minister confidently assured voters that Scotland, in a sterling Union with the rest of the UK, would be represented on the Bank of England's monetary policy committee, yet there is no evidence of any discussion about such an arrangement.

Now the prospect of negotiating from scratch to join the EU throws up the prospect of being required to adopt the euro. While that would probably not happen immediately, it needs to be clarified before the referendum. Just as disconcerting is the prospect of being part of the Schengen agreement which abolished passport controls between 25 European countries but which the UK has not joined. Opposition parties claim this could lead to border checks between Scotland and England but there is no consideration of the pros and cons of this and other EU requirements.

From the beginning of this year, when David Cameron effectively challenged Alex Salmond to agree to a legally binding referendum through a transfer of powers from Westminster to Holyrood, to the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement in October, the SNP's confidently outlined consequences of independence (such as continued membership of Nato) have been subjected to questioning. That is as it should be. Ms Sturgeon's recognition of the importance of seeking talks with the European Commission is a forward step, perhaps bearing favourable comparison with Mr Salmond's refusal to reveal whether the Scottish Government had sought legal advice on EU membership. In the current uncertainty brought about by the euro crisis, it would be naive to expect a definitive answer on Scotland's membership but negotiations will be inevitable. Recognising that can only gain rather than lose the trust of voters.

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