In my article in Panorama on October 5 I told of how I got to talking to one young politician by the name of Hadleigh Roberts at the Labour Party Conference. He is a linguist and his skills saw him working in the Parti Socialiste offices in southern France. He was also a staffer on Axelle Lemaire’s campaign to be elected as the PS MP for the French overseas constituency, which stretches from the UK to the North Pole. He is committed to Europe and spoke at conference on this theme.
I went on to say he asked me two questions that he had been putting to people he met. There is a possibility that after the referendum Scotland could leave the United Kingdom. If that is the case then treaties that are binding to the UK would not be valid for Scotland. This would mean if Scotland wished to be a member of the European Community it would have to apply for membership in its own right.
The first question was: would the UK government object to Scotland joining the EC? The second question was this: would Spain block Scotland’s membership? Well, as I said, I never saw the second one coming but Hadleigh explained Spain might black ball Scotland’s application because it would not want the Scots to set a precedent for the Catalans or indeed the Basques making a similar application.
We will leave the first question aside but in response to the second my answer was I did not believe Spain would interfere in a political matter that revolved around the remainder of the UK and a newly independent Scotland. I was wrong.
I did not appreciate what a panic the UK’s decision to allow Scotland a referendum on independence in 2014 would cause amongst the Spanish Partido Popular Government in Madrid.
The Basque’s in their regional government elections the Sunday before last returned both the two Nationalists parties with huge majorities over PSOE and the Partido Popular. They want out. Next up on November 25 is the Catalan regional election which again the nationalists are expected to win. If they do, they will hold a referendum on independence next year.
Against this scenario Spain’s foreign minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, has been speaking out. He stated the “right to secession is not recognised in any of the constitutions of the EU” and hence neither the Basques nor the Catalans can follow Scotland’s lead and try to leave Spain. He also argues that any such move is against the UN Charter and EU Treaty. Spain’s premier Mariano Rajoy warned the Basques during their regional elections they would be isolated outside of Spain and the EU if they went independent: the same message has been delivered by his PP henchpeople to the Catalans.
Garcia-Margallo commented that in the UK sovereignty resided with Parliament and it was Parliament that had authorised that the Scottish people could leave the Union if they decided “to navigate their own course”. He added that a referendum held without the approval of the British Parliament would have been illegal and have had no effect on Europe. Spain’s Constitution does not allow for any such referendum.
Now comes the key bit of the Spanish Foreign Minister’s argument. He says that if Scotland opts for independence then it will be outside of the EU and have to go to the end of the queue for membership. To finally achieve that membership it will have to obtain the backing of all member states. Hence there will be no fast track for Scotland and by implication Spain would block any attempt for special treatment. In all likelihood Spain would veto Scotland’s EU membership as it would be terrified that independent Basque and Catalan states would attempt to follow in its footsteps.
This pitches Spain into the debate over Scottish independence. Madrid may not have anticipated the angry reaction this will generate from Edinburgh. Certainly an independent Scotland will not sit quietly by whilst the Partido Popular interferes in its future status. Also when the question of Scotland’s future membership of the EU is debated between now and 2014 expect the SNP to come out fighting against Madrid. Rajoy and the Partido Popular had a fight on their hands with the Basques and the Catalans: now they can add the Scots too and indeed may be the British Government.