NICOLA Sturgeon's successor will need to make "a sustained, substantive, dynamic and energised case" for an independent Scotland in the European Union after the current case has "faltered", according to a leading EU expert.

Dr Kirsty Hughes, a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, made the claim as she gave a mixed assessment on Ms Sturgeon's record on European policy.

"Independence in the European Union has been core to Nicola Sturgeon’s arguments for Scottish independence, not least since the 2016 Brexit vote. But where did she and her government take their European strategies during her eight years in power? It looks like a case of the glass being half full, half empty," wrote the former Director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations in Edinburgh on a blog on the University College of London's Europe Institute's website.

"As she prepares to step down as First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has certainly projected Scotland as a positive, pro-European country and has built may constructive relationships across the EU. Independence in the EU has been her core goal. Yet the challenge both for her successor, and for the Scottish government and SNP, is to make a sustained, substantive, dynamic and energised case for that goal."

Ms Hughes, pictured below, said that Ms Sturgeon "must have been doing something right" when the President of Ireland, the "Prime Minister of Iceland and others made warm remarks about her when she announced she was stepping down last week.


The contest to succeed her as SNP leader and First Minister is underway with the winner to be announced shortly after the ballot closes and votes are counted on March 27.

"And her assured political and communication skills have certainly helped to create a credible portrait of how Scotland would look as a five million population, independent European state inside the EU.

"Sturgeon and her ministers have also, over the years, made particular efforts both to build Scottish-Irish relations and to link Scotland to the Nordic members of both the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA)," added Ms Hughes.

However, Ms Hughes said the Scottish Government spent too much energy after the 2017 general election on making the case for a soft Brexit rather than on EU membership.

Ms Hughes said the policy "led nowhere" with neither of the former Prime Ministers Theresa May nor Boris Johnson "ever remotely interested in creating consensus across the UK or in consulting in any genuine way with the Scottish Government".

She added: "Much of the Scottish Government’s subsequent arguments focused on the attacks they saw on devolved powers as the UK moved to leave the EU, not least the Internal Market Act in 2020.

"On Brexit day itself, 31 January 2020, Nicola Sturgeon promised a renewed push on independence and a series of ‘New Scotland’ papers to make the substantive case for independence, including in the EU. The Covid pandemic knocked those plans off course."

Work resumed on the Scottish Government's new independence policy papers documents a year ago with three coming out between June and October.  However, so far the document on Europe is yet to be published.

"And this is where the Scottish Government’s independence in the EU goal has faltered," she wrote.

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"There is a strong, positive case to be made about the political and economic benefits of rejoining the EU as an independent state. And there’s an argument to make that once independent, an accession process could be rapid – perhaps taking four to five years in total, not as fast as Finland, Sweden and Austria, but not far behind.

"But the Scottish Government has not always put this argument centre stage. There is a Europe minister – a junior post – in the Scottish government, but this post has been low profile and the occupant frequently changed, where it could have been an important, higher profile and more dynamic role.

"The senior, Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, currently Angus Robertson, does have a high profile and includes Europe in its very wide remit. Yet overall, there is a sense that most SNP politicians at Holyrood and Westminster are not engaged with making EU arguments, leaving it to just a few of their number."

She added: "And there are, of course, challenges in the independence in EU argument, in the face of Brexit. The EU border that would then lie between England and Scotland is perhaps the most difficult of those challenges – manageable but not something that would disappear over time, and with costs as well as benefits.

"The SNP moves uncomfortably around some of the border arguments, not, it seems, fully confident to demonstrate clearly how the dynamic economic benefits of independence could overcome the costs of putting a border between Scotland and its largest trading partner, the rest of the UK.

"The SNP’s position on currency – starting off using sterling then moving to a Scottish currency – also comes up against the fact that joining the EU with the currency of a third country (the UK) would be unprecedented, and not possible unless some special, transitional phase was agreed.

"Yet despite these challenges, there are many clear and positive arguments about what Scotland would gain from a position as an EU member state with a seat and vote at the EU’s top tables.

"But the core positive arguments for independence in the EU seem to have become relatively muted, compared both to the arguments over devolved powers since Brexit, and the calls for another independence vote. The rather limited set of three policy papers, and the pause since last October in producing any more, does not suggest a government on the front foot in building and promoting the substantive case for independence in the EU."

Ms Hughes concluded: "Many in the Labour Party are already calculating that Nicola Sturgeon’s departure will give them a boost in Scotland at the upcoming general election.

"But both independence and Europe will remain a clear SNP-Labour dividing line and so independence in the EU should be an obvious priority argument for the SNP at that election.

"Keir Starmer has refused even to consider a customs union with the EU let alone rejoining the EU’s single market. Nor, so far, has he suggested he would allow another independence vote – though if support for independence went up to over 55-60% and stayed there, pressure would certainly grow."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The remaining Building a New Scotland series will be published in the coming months and will cover matters including pensions and social security, EU membership, energy, defence and foreign affairs.”