NICOLA Sturgeon has received a major boost to her campaign for a second independence referendum after the Spanish Government made clear it would not block a bid by an independent Scotland to join the European Union.
Michael Russell, the Scottish Government Minister, warmly welcomed the statement by Alfonso Dastis, the Spanish Foreign Minister, saying it should end the “misinformation” about Madrid’s position on the desire of an independent Scotland to join the Brussels bloc.
"I very much welcome it because it equates with reality,” declared Mr Russell, adding: "What this does is it de-escalates the situation, it produces some reality in the situation, so then we can have an argument about the merits of the case, not misinformation which has been coming from a range of sources."
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Stephen Gethins, the SNP’s Europe spokesman at Westminster, described Mr Dastis’s intervention as “significant” and said it confirmed there would be no attempted Spanish veto on an independent Scotland’s EU membership bid.
But Ian Duncan, the Scottish Conservative MEP, argued the issue about an independent Scotland's EU membership had never been about an individual country's veto.
"The truth is the decision would rest in the hands of all 27 member states, each of which would undoubtedly ask for something from Scotland in return. This is likely to lead to sweeping concessions, especially for our fishermen. This would result in a hugely unfavourable deal, something considerably worse than the UK's membership of the EU prior to Brexit," he added.
Last night, Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s President, tweeted: “We have been saying that realpolitik would prevail and here you have evidence: what the state once said and what is says now when it is faced with the inevitable.”
But Mr Dastis also made clear that his Government believed that, if Scotland became independent, it would have to “join the line of candidates at some point and would have to start negotiations”.
On this point, Mr Russell suggested the Spanish Foreign Minister might not be "quite as accurate".
Yet last month, the European Commission made clear that the so-called “Barroso doctrine” would have to apply to an independent Scotland’s membership bid, meaning Edinburgh would have to make a fresh application under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty; a process that could take many years.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission President, has indicated that no new member states will be admitted until after 2020. There are currently five candidates, including Serbia and Montenegro.
If, as Mr Dastis suggested, an independent Scotland would have to join the queue, then this could mean it would not become a full member of the EU until the middle of the next decade given UK Government ministers have made it clear that they will not even talk about a second independence poll until the Brexit “process” is completed; this could be well after 2020.
Speaking in Brussels, the Spanish Foreign Minister, asked if Spain would veto an independent Scotland joining the EU, replied: "No, we wouldn't. We don't want it to happen but, if it happens, legally and constitutionally, we would not block it."
While the Spanish Government has not previously said it would block an EU membership bid by an independent Scotland, it does have concerns about the impact Scottish independence would have on Catalonia’s bid for self-determination.
Just after the June 23 In/Out vote, Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish premier, who made clear Madrid would block any attempt for Scotland to have a separate Brexit deal from the UK, said Scottish independence would be "bad for the region, for the state and for the entire EU [because] they affect the wealth, employment and welfare of all the citizens, as well as the very essence of the EU".
Meanwhile, Lord Howard, the former Tory leader, said the First Minister’s position on another independence referendum was “not as strong” as she made out, saying he would be “amazed” if Scots voted to break from Britain.
“It’s very uncertain they would be able to join the EU. Their economic position has weakened considerably as a result of the halving of the price of oil and I’m not sure the people of Scotland want to be outside the UK and outside the EU in rather a lonely and precarious place.”
Speculation is rising Ms Sturgeon is considering a campaign of disruption and non-co-operation to the Great Repeal Bill in order to get leverage in her bid for another vote on Scotland’s future.
In her letter to the PM last week, following Holyrood’s mandate for her to call for another poll, the FM insisted it was a question was “not if but how” another vote would take place and issued a veiled threat when she said: “I will set out to the Scottish Parliament the steps I intend to take to ensure progress is made towards a referendum.”