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Rural Affairs, Environment and Climate Change - Taking Forward our National Conversation


5 An independent Scotland

Chapter Summary

  • This chapter examines the full benefits which Scotland could enjoy as an independent state and a number of key areas are discussed.
  • In particular the advantages that Scotland will experience as a full negotiating partner in the EU are explored, particularly the benefits offered through participation in informal Council discussions.
  • A number of case studies demonstrate the constraints which Scotland currently work under and which would be resolved if Scotland were an independent state.

5.1. An independent Scotland would be recognised as a state in its own right by the international community and would become a full member of the United Nations and other international organisations. Scotland would also be a member of the EU, fulfilling the responsibilities which membership brings.

Relationship with the EU

5.2. Over and above the limited role in the EU outlined earlier in the paper, Scotland's representation in the European Parliament is currently around half the level of other similar sized countries. Scottish interests can only be represented on a very limited number of committees in the Parliament, furthering the disadvantage created by arrangements at the Council of Ministers.

5.3. An independent Scotland would have the normal Member State rights of representation in EU institutions, such as the Council of Ministers, necessary to influence the development of policy on issues of vital national interest. Scottish Ministers would be able to argue directly and robustly for the measures that would make the greatest difference to Scotland, without their views being submerged or diluted by the competing concerns of the other nations in the UK.

Box 8: Case Study - Common Agricultural Policy

The UK Government has a fundamentally different view from the Scottish Government on the vital issue of the future of the Common Agricultural Policy ( CAP).

This view is brought into sharp focus in EU negotiations, where Scotland's position can only be formally heard in the Council of Ministers if it aligns with the UK position.

For example, the effect of past negotiations over Pillar 2 funding has been to leave Scotland in an unenviable position with regard to its share of rural development funding. The total allocation to Scotland under the Rural Development Regulation 2007-13 amounts to around €360 million.

This compares to some €2.1 billion allocated to Finland - a country of similar size to Scotland in population terms - or €2.3 billion allocated to Ireland - a country almost the same size as Scotland in terms of utilised agricultural area.

An independent Scotland would negotiate for the funding and policies which best suited its individual interests and would not experience the dilution of its position through the UK Government.

5.4. The UK and Scottish Governments also have different views when it comes to the EU genetic modification ( GM) authorisation process. Although Scotland is consulted by the UK Government, in Council the UK tends to vote on GM issues contrary to the Scottish view.

5.5. The Scottish Government would also be able to make such points in informal Council, to which Scottish Ministers are almost never given access, but which are becoming increasingly important areas for debates on the future direction of EU policy. For instance, as noted in Europe and Foreign Affairs: Taking forward our National Conversation11, the Swedish Presidency used its Environment Informal to discuss EU financing of a global climate change deal ahead of the crucial Copenhagen Conference in December 2009.

Climate change

5.6. An issue for Scotland on climate change is the lack of legislative competence in Scotland in some key areas, with the main responsibilities for energy policy and regulation reserved to Westminster. Scotland is emerging as a key player in energy policy at both UK and EU levels. Independence would not only align electricity policy and regulations, it would allow Scotland to maximise its economic potential in renewable energy and carbon capture and storage.

5.7. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC) is the basis on which international agreement on climate change is negotiated. The meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009 aims to deliver a successor to the UNFCCC Kyoto Protocol. A new international agreement would help Scotland make deep emissions reductions. The European Union has committed to increasing its 2020 emissions reduction target from 20% to 30% (from 1990 levels) in the event of a new global deal being reached. This would ensure that EU policy levers deliver deeper emissions reductions, making effective changes more attainable in Scotland.

5.8. There is much good work on climate change where the Scottish Government works in constructive collaboration with the UK Government, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Northern Ireland Executive on both mitigation and adaptation issues. There is every reason to expect this sort of collaborative work would continue and expand with independence within the EU context.

Box 9: Case Study - International Climate Change Negotiations

Scotland's share of global emissions is small and action needs to be part of a global effort to reduce emissions. Scotland's most important contribution at a global level will be to demonstrate strong leadership and to show that the pathway to a successful low carbon economy is achievable. There is an opportunity for Scotland to influence others in the international community to follow Scotland's lead.

The Scottish Parliament has passed world-leading climate change legislation, and is a key illustration of the positive leadership and contribution Scotland can make to meeting global challenges. Scotland should be at the centre of the Copenhagen climate change summit in December - a position supported by Scotland's environmental organisations - yet the UK Government refused to allow a Scottish Minister to join the official UK delegation.

It is wrong that when Scotland has so much to offer, we are not able to play our full and proper role. An independent Scotland would not have to rely on others to make our voice heard - that would be best for Scotland, as well as reflecting the global interest on vital issues such as climate change. An independent Scotland would play a full and active role in the European Union, and in the wider international community.


5.9. A Scottish Marine Bill has been designed to bring better integration and coherence to the management and protection of the marine environment. But there would be even greater scope to achieve this goal in the context of independence, giving full legislative and executive responsibility for Scottish waters to the 200 mile limit and beyond and an independent Scottish role in international negotiations.


5.10. The abysmal failure of the current Common Fisheries Policy will require any future EU legislation on fisheries to decentralise responsibility for the management of sea fisheries.

5.11. Only the coastal Member States concerned, together with their respective fishing industries and environmental interests, are capable of managing the harvesting of this valuable resource in a way that maximises sustainable economic growth.

5.12. The present Scottish Government is actively engaged in the debate over how best to make a fresh start in shaping future EU fisheries policy. If we are successful in achieving the decentralisation of decision-making to which both we and the UK Government aspire, an independent Scotland will participate constructively in active engagement with our coastal neighbours to manage marine resources on a fully sustainable basis.

5.13. Only in that way will we succeed in ensuring environmental sustainability whilst maximising the long-term economic benefit that can be generated by our fishermen and promoting the interests of the coastal communities that depend on healthy and vibrant sea fisheries.

Supermarket Ombudsman

5.14. An independent Scotland would allow the Government to make decisions on competition matters which best suit the interests of the Scottish economy and the Scottish people. The Scottish Government supports the creation of a Supermarket Ombudsman. Scottish Ministers believe that such a figure would help provide long-term security for all those involved in the food supply chain, including consumers. There are many examples of good practice in terms of relationships between retailers and Scottish suppliers, but there are concerns about some of the tactics to maintain market position, such as a lack of firm contracts. The Scottish Government is disappointed at the slow progress that there has been on this issue at UK level, despite representations from Scottish Ministers, farmers' representatives and food and drink companies over recent years. Independence would allow Scotland to create such an Ombudsman to provide better protection to our suppliers and primary producers.

Electronic Identification of Sheep

5.15. The principle of electronic identification was established as a mandatory EU obligation in 2003 following the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak of 2001. An independent Scotland would have represented our interests at working groups at both Commission and Council level to ensure to the best of our abilities that the unique system of seasonal animal movements and trade through markets was taken into account during development of the regulation and the implementing rules. This influence could have extended to the formation of alliances with other Member States in order to exert pressure and form voting blocks when needed.


5.16. Scottish agricultural scientists have recently been ranked 12 as leading the world in terms of citations per scientific paper. This reflects Scotland's long tradition of investment and excellence in agricultural research. However, even though agricultural research is a priority in a culture and economy where food production is important, Scottish scientists cannot deliver all the research required to enable the Scottish food sector to respond to the challenges facing future food production.

5.17. Over the past 50 or so years, a system has evolved for ensuring continued investment in the research groups with sufficient critical mass to support key parts of the agriculture and horticultural sectors within the UK. For example, there has been a focus in Scotland on (amongst other topics) potatoes, barley and endemic diseases of livestock; investment in England and Wales has supported research on wheat, tomatoes and exotic diseases of livestock.

5.18. The importance of maintaining such a co-ordinated approach will increase with a changing climate and increased constraints on public funding and there this co-operation will continue with "devolution max" and independence. Indeed it could stimulate new ways of co-ordinating funding for research, data and analysis to deliver the outcomes which will be required by all countries to cope with the future challenges of global environmental change.

Cross-Border Government Agencies

5.19. There is a need to consider the future role of cross-border government agencies and Non Departmental Public Bodies ( NDPBs) in an independent Scotland. There are a number of such bodies that are relevant to this report, and different bodies, with different functions and contexts would merit different approaches under an independent Scotland.

5.20. For example, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee is the nature conservation advisor to the Scottish Government in off-shore waters and carries out international nature conservation responsibilities. In an independent Scotland there would be scope for these functions to be carried out by Scottish Natural Heritage, delivering more integrated expertise in nature conservation, particularly in the marine environment.