Scotland looking at 'range of options' as Edinburgh eyes EU membership

Written by Brian Johnson and Martin Banks on 11 July 2016 in News
News

Newly created constitutional expert group set to work through the summer, says Scottish Nationalist MEP Alyn Smith.

Alyn Smith | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


Scots MEP Alyn Smith says his country is looking at a "range of options" that would allow the constituent UK nation to continue its EU membership in the wake of the recent Brexit referendum result.

Speaking in the European Parliament on Monday, Smith said, "All leave is cancelled, all options are on the table".

His comments come after 1.5m people in Scotland, or two thirds of registered voters, opted to remain in the EU in the UK’s recent referendum on its EU membership - the strongest Remain vote of any nation in Britain.


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Scotland voted 62 per cent to remain with 38 per cent voting to leave. All 32 local council areas in Scotland voted to remain in the EU, making it the only UK member nation to achieve a Remain "clean sweep" of all local authorities.

This compares with the 51.9 per cent overall vote to leave the EU, with 48.1 voting to remain.

Smith, who days after the vote won a standing ovation in the European Parliament for an impassioned speech in favour of Scotland remaining an EU member, said Scots had voted "enthusiastically and clearly" to remain.

"The challenge now is to make this happen," he said. "Everything is on the table and we will apply our best brains to the challenge ahead. Brussels is good at finding practicable solutions and I want to make it clear that the doors are open to Scotland."

While he said Scotland did not seek to set a "precedent" for other European regions seeking separatism, such as Catalonia, he said there was widespread support in Europe for its position.

"Our rights will be taken away if we have to leave the EU and this grieves me deeply. I have also received scores of messages from EU nationals who have made Scotland their home and who are now very concerned about their futures in the country. It breaks your heart to read them."

Smith said that current uncertainty about Scotland’s long term status had been made worse by the "vacuum" and "lack of clarity" in Westminster.
 
He said, "It is clear that the Leave camp had absolutely no plan for exiting the EU."

His comments were endorsed by Stephen Gethins, an SNP MP in Westminster, who said Scotland found itself in an "unprecedented" situation which it had "not brought on itself."

He said that a second vote on Scottish independence from the UK was just "one of a range of options on keeping Scotland as a part of the EU," possibly available to the devolved government in Edinburgh, adding, "There are other options but these are early days, let’s remember the vote was only two weeks ago."

Scotland, he said, had given its "overwhelming" support to remain an EU member which he believes makes it a "greener, safer, wealthier and fairer" nation.

Gethins, European affairs spokesman for the SNP, said, "I'm proud of the fact that two thirds of Scots voted to remain in the EU. That commitment to remain is very clear."

"And given that commitment, shouldn’t we respect the democratic will of the people of Scotland? The EU has, in the past, found innovative solutions to major problems and I am sure it will do so again."

His visit to Brussels also involved meetings at the Committee of the Regions, where he spoke about Scotland's future in Europe and the impact of the Brexit result.

In a separate press point, he noted that the SNP's 2016 manifesto said the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another independence referendum if there was a "significant and material change" in the circumstances that prevailed at the time of the last one in 2014.

Gethins' whistle-stop tour of Brussels EU institutions comes ahead of the first meeting of a special body of constitutional experts set up to look at Scotland’s options following the Leave victory in the  UK referendum.

The meeting of the standing council on Europe, in Edinburgh, on Thursday, comprises a range of experts, including former European Court of Justice Judge Sir David Edward and Sir John Kerr, the former Secretary General of the Convention on the Future of Europe. The committee also includes Smith, and the UK’s longest serving MEP, David Martin.

The standing council, said Smith, will work through the summer to deliver a "commonality of interest" on Scotland's constitutional setup.

"All leave is cancelled, all options are on the table," said Smith, adding that the standing council will endeavour to come up with practical solutions on an alternative constitutional setup, such as the reverse Greenland approach (Scotland would take over the UK's EU membership while England exited), or some form of unique status along the lines of Britain's Crown dependencies in the Channel Islands or Isle of Man.

"This is a [unique] situation we find ourselves in. There is a growing recognition that Scotland didn’t want this."

Meanwhile, in another move illustrating the growing polarisation of British politics, finance ministers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were also meeting in Cardiff on Monday to discuss the impact of the Brexit vote.

About the author

Brian Johnson is managing editor of the Parliament Magazine

Martin Banks is senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

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