The Spanish government has killed a Scottish plan to maintain Scotland’s membership in Europe’s common markets, saying that all of the UK must be either in or out. The Telegraph reports:
Jorge Toledo, the Spanish Secretary of State for the European Union, flatly rejected the First Minister’s proposals for a differentiated deal for Scotland whereby it would stay in the single market even if the rest of the UK comes out.
His intervention is significant as all of the other 27 EU member states have to agree the terms of Brexit, effectively giving the Spanish a veto over any special treatment for Scotland.
It came only 48 hours after Ms Sturgeon unveiled her highly complicated proposals at a press conference, during which she brushed away warnings that the Spanish would oppose the plans.[..]
Ms Sturgeon’s paper argued that Scotland could join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA) as a means of gaining full access to the single market if the UK sponsored it.
The Telegraph quotes a Scottish academic, Daniel Kenealy, who remarked that this seemed a back-door to the EU, which seems about right. It also would have been a front-door to independence. The Scottish would need to be assured of continued membership in the EU for Scottish independence to be attractive. Since Brexit, the Scottish National Party, which controls Scotland’s devolved parliament in Edinburgh, seem to have been hoping that anger with London would lead to sympathy and a warm welcome from Brussels. (How little things change, the Scots thought: when Scotland was independent in the Middle Ages, France’s perpetual war with England led to a natural and long-lasting “Auld Alliance” with Scotland.)
But a desire to punish the Brits has been only one of many Continental reactions to Brexit—and arguably not even the dominant one. Another important one is a feeling that Continental Europe is lucky to be rid of the frightful headache that was the UK’s membership—with Britain’s different expectations and aims, for the EU, its different history, and enough economic weight to slow up the whole project of European integration. People who feel this way may be in no hurry to welcome a sub-tribe of the British (as they’ll see it) back. And thirdly, Brexit has shown the Continentals just how serious the reemerging nationalism can be; people who focus on this aspect may be reluctant to fan its flames further by encouraging Scottish nationalists.
For the Spanish in particular, as well as other nations with worries about break-away regions, the second and third combine to argue for putting any plans for Scottish EU membership into deep-freeze. Spain has been hinting at this for years, and it’s something the SNP has signally failed to grapple with: Madrid is arguably a bigger foe to Scottish independence than London. Certainly, it has been a more effective one of late.
Now, the SNP faces a big challenge—one that, whenever the situation becomes sufficiently clear to the Scottish voters, could prove existential. It’s hard to miss the irony: the voters of Scotland strongly opposed Brexit, so much so that the difference in the vote north versus south of the ancient border was advanced at the time as a strong argument for a renewed push for independence. Now it looks like Brexit could do more to keep Scotland in the EU than anything in a generation.
Scottish independence plus membership in a growing EU/common market looked like a smart, future-oriented play in the context of Scotland’s left-wing political milieu. But being the smaller and poorer of two lonely, unwelcome nations on the fringes of Europe looks far less attractive.
The Scots may jump yet; Brexit itself shows that rational calculation in such things only takes you so far. But the SNP’s dreams of being an actual independence movement, rather than just a successful regional party, just took a big hit.