Building a New Scotland: an independent Scotland in the EU

This paper sets out the Scottish Government’s vision for an independent Scotland in the EU.


This paper sets out the Scottish Government’s vision for an independent Scotland in the EU.

This summary shows that joining the EU as an independent nation offers Scotland the chance to regain what has been lost because of Brexit and what devolution cannot deliver. For the first time, Scotland would be at the table advancing Scotland’s interests directly in the EU. An independent Scotland would contribute positively to the EU and its member states.

This summary is available in the other versions:

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The evidence that informs this summary, as well as references to sources, is provided in the full text. You may also wish to see the ‘Why EU membership matters’.

Scotland, the UK and EU

The historic nation of Scotland entered into a voluntary political union with the nation of England in 1707. Within that union, Scotland has always retained distinctive national institutions and systems.

The UK Parliament retains control of macroeconomic policy, foreign policy and defence, and most social security and taxation powers.

Devolution and the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament has demonstrated the advantages of self-government for Scotland. In 2014 people in Scotland voted in a referendum on whether or not to become independent. This followed a campaign in which commitments were made by those arguing against independence that voting ‘No’ was the only way to secure Scotland’s place in the EU.

Scotland shares the EU’s founding principles and core values – based on human dignity, equality, rule of law, freedom, democracy and human rights. This was made clear when the people of Scotland voted decisively to remain in the EU in 2016.

Brexit has prompted renewed debate over whether it is better for Scotland to be independent and inside the EU as a member state in our own right.

The paper presents evidence that the Westminster government’s decision to pursue a ‘hard Brexit’ has resulted in Scotland losing out economically, socially and culturally. The Westminster approach to negotiations was characterised by unnecessary friction with the EU and disregard for the views and interests of the people of Scotland.

Scotland has been removed from the single market and the EU’s network of highly favourable trading relationships across the world. The people of Scotland have lost their right to live, work and study across the EU.

Scotland is therefore in a unique situation – a country in a voluntary union of nations removed from the EU and its single market against the wishes of the majority of its people.

EU membership would bring many benefits to Scotland

Evidence shows that EU membership has economic, societal and cultural benefits. It would:

  • mean Scotland was part of the world’s largest single market, with free movement of goods, services, capital and people. This market is seven times the size of the UK so Scottish firms would be able to trade freely with more businesses and sell to more customers
  • provide more and better opportunities for training and employment for people in Scotland.

We could attract and retain people from across the EU to sustain our businesses, world-leading universities and public services

  • create opportunities to foster cultural exchanges and develop research partnerships to promote the prosperity and wellbeing of our citizens
  • place Scotland at the heart of an organisation with global reach. We would work together with our partners to develop EU policies and collaborate on tackling global challenges such as climate change
  • allow Scotland to regain access to the EU’s law enforcement tools, which help in the fight against cross-border crime and threats

And as an EU member state an independent Scotland would have direct representation across EU institutions. This would enable Scotland to contribute to collective decisions which reflect Scotland’s priorities through democratic and transparent processes.

The paper sets out these and many more benefits of EU membership.

Scotland has much to offer the EU as a member state

Just as the EU has lots to offer Scotland, so Scotland has much to contribute to the EU as a member state. For example:

  • Scotland’s strengths in renewable energy, research, development and innovation could help the EU develop technologies of the future and contribute to the transition to net zero
  • Scotland’s world class colleges and universities would once again welcome Erasmus+ students from EU countries
  • Scotland’s vibrant culture would make an important contribution to a dynamic and forward- looking EU

An independent Scotland would be well placed to contribute to the EU’s values. The Scottish Government is committed to contributing to the shared EU agenda of social justice and the pursuit of a fairer and greener society.

Independence is the only realistic way to achieve EU membership

An independent Scotland’s EU membership would not be at the expense of the valuable relationships we have, and will continue to have, with the UK. As a member of the EU, an independent Scotland’s trading relationship with the rest of the UK would be governed by whatever agreed trade arrangements between the EU and the UK were in place at the time. The other nations of the UK and Ireland will remain Scotland’s close and valued friends.

The paper sets out the process for joining the EU. It shows that Scotland already has the knowledge and networks to underpin successful EU membership. Scotland’s laws are already highly aligned with EU laws. As a result, this Scottish Government is clear that Scotland would be well placed to fulfil the requirements of the accession process smoothly and quickly.

The Scottish Government’s proposal is that an independent Scotland would apply to re-join the EU as soon as possible.

Scotland would be in an unprecedented situation. No other country has been taken out of the EU and its single market against its will. Nor has any other country applied to re-join the EU.

The majority of people in Scotland, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government never wanted to leave the EU. EU membership is central to Scotland’s future economic and social success. Independence is the only realistic way to achieve it.



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