Opportunities, responsibilities and the contribution of an independent Scotland as an EU member state
Scotland has much to offer the EU. EU membership as an independent country is the best way for us to collaborate on shared challenges and opportunities.
Scotland has abundant renewable energy resources, ambitious climate commitments, renowned research and innovation expertise and a vibrant and diverse culture. With these and other assets, an independent Scotland could help the EU to achieve its ambitions, including its climate change goals, while also contributing to energy security in EU member states.
This Scottish Government would apply to join the EU as soon as possible after independence. There is a clear, merit-based process for doing so and Scotland would follow that process.
Scotland is well placed to move quickly through this accession process. We are committed to EU values, and already have a high level of alignment with EU law and after being part of the EU for almost half a century, a thorough understanding of how the EU operates.
The Scottish Government recognises the responsibilities that come with EU membership and would commit to these fully.
The other nations of the UK and Ireland would remain Scotland’s close and valued friends and allies. By remaining in the Common Travel Area there would be no new passport or immigration checks at any of an independent Scotland’s land, sea or air border points with the UK and Ireland for those travelling between Scotland, the UK and Ireland.
Scottish citizens would be able to take full advantage of their rights as EU citizens, just as citizens of Ireland do.
Scottish businesses would be able to trade with the EU without restrictions. Checks on goods between Scotland and the EU would be removed and people living in Scotland would be able to offer their services throughout the EU.
Trade with the rest of the UK would be based on the trade arrangements agreed between the EU and the UK at the time. Measures would be put in place to smooth checks required as a result of Brexit on goods moving to and from England and Wales.
In recent years the EU has had to respond to a series of crises including climate change, COVID and Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. At the core of these responses have been efforts to strengthen the resilience of EU member states in the face of global challenges, and to promote economic recovery and solidarity for member states, communities and citizens. Central to the EU’s response on COVID has been the Next Generation EU Recovery and Resilience Facility – a fund of around €750 billion made up of grants and loans – to support member states’ recovery from the pandemic.
Brexit itself was also a huge challenge for the EU, and one where the EU member states maintained unity in response. The EU’s solidarity was seen in the establishment of the EU’s Brexit Adjustment Reserve, created to help all member states adapt to the impacts of Brexit; €920.4 million in funding was approved for Ireland, for example.
At a time of multiple global challenges, the EU also plays an important role as the largest donor of international development assistance. Recognising that financial aid alone is not enough to sustainably reduce poverty, the EU also plays an important political role.
The EU will likely continue to adapt to the changing global context. The Russian aggression against Ukraine in particular is leading to significant change in a number of EU policy areas, and the implications may be far reaching. For example, the debate around enlargement is developing, as are discussions in areas like strategic resilience (including energy supplies), the EU’s role in foreign and defence policy, and the European decision-making and policy-making architecture. The Scottish Government believes Scotland can benefit from direct participation in these strategic debates and responses.
Scotland also has the capacity to contribute significantly to the EU. Our scientists, our creative artists, our companies and our experience in sustainably managing natural resources and potential for major exports of renewable energy have much to offer the EU.
Scotland has a well-deserved reputation as a welcoming and inclusive country. Values are of critical importance to Scotland, as they are to the EU. We are committed to contributing to the common good in the pursuit of a fairer and greener society. We vigorously defend the freedoms and social rights of our citizens, and are fully committed to the rule of law. We also welcome people from the EU and beyond, bringing as they do a rich diversity to our communities and creating a vibrant and dynamic society.
EU membership brings enormous opportunities to independent states seeking to enhance the lives of their citizens, to safeguard the future for the next generations and to find the solutions to cope with the global challenges that confront us all.
In delivering a just transition to a net zero, nature-positive, wellbeing economy, we can make a constructive contribution to addressing global challenges. Scotland’s strengths in renewables, education, and research and development could help the EU develop technologies of the future and contribute to the crucial innovation the EU needs in order to make the transition to net zero, remain competitive and protect the EU’s independence and security.
After 47 years as part of the EU, Scotland has developed networks amongst policy makers in the European Commission, European Parliament, and EU member states and their regions. An independent Scotland would be able to build on these relationships, both through EU structures and informally, and to collaborate with EU partners to support our aims. The Scottish Government’s Brussels office has evolved over more than 20 years and would provide a strong foundation for a Scottish Permanent Representation to the EU when an independent Scotland joins the EU. The section below sets out just a few examples of what an independent Scotland would bring to the EU as a member state.
What Scotland would bring to the EU
The EU is committed to its values of promoting peaceful coexistence, respect for human rights, and prosperity built on co-operation, sustainable development and international law. An independent Scotland would share these values and be well placed to contribute to them.
If this Government forms the first government of an independent Scotland our approach would be based on rights, consistent with our focus on fairness and inclusion here in Scotland and our work on the rights of women, children and marginalised groups. We would focus in particular on contributing to the promotion of progressive and democratic values, addressing the global climate and nature emergencies, promoting sustainable inclusive growth and developing research and innovation partnerships to promote the prosperity and wellbeing of citizens.
Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has led many EU member states to reduce their reliance on imports of Russian oil and gas significantly. Scotland’s abundant resources of renewable energy make it ideally placed to become a reliable supplier of clean energy and to contribute to the EU’s energy security and transition to a low-carbon society. As an EU member state, Scotland could therefore help the EU achieve its net zero ambitions and climate change goals.
Further papers in the ’Building a New Scotland’ series will set out how Scotland can use the full powers of independence to deliver these resources, including opportunities as a supplier and exporter of renewables and hydrogen. They will also consider the opportunities for Scotland as a pioneer of new technologies in emerging sectors, with the ability to export both increasing amounts of renewable energy and manufacturing and intellectual property.
Scotland is an energy-rich nation. Scotland generates more renewable energy than is required to power all households in Scotland. We are also a net exporter of electricity, with our exports being enough to power all households in Scotland for over two years. Our production and capacity for further export will increase in future.
Hydrogen is a clean alternative to natural gas, and can be produced from a variety of sources, including renewable sources such as wind and solar. Scotland has the potential to be a reliable and low cost supplier of green hydrogen within the EU. The Scottish Government’s Hydrogen Action Plan sets out plans to generate 25 Gigawatts (GW) of hydrogen – equivalent to more than half of Scotland’s current energy demand – by 2045.
Hydrogen made in Scotland can help other European countries meet their own decarbonisation aims. The Scottish Government has already signed memorandums of understanding on exporting hydrogen and knowledge exchange with Hamburg and North-Rhine Westphalia in Germany, and with Denmark. Scotland’s surplus hydrogen production could also help the EU achieve the new hydrogen targets in the European Commission’s REPowerEU package, which supports the EU’s energy transition towards renewables. This shows that Scotland has the resources, the people, and the ambition to become a leader in hydrogen production.
Scotland’s large sea area and high average wind speeds provide significant offshore wind and tidal energy potential. Subject to planning and consenting decisions and finding a route to market, we have a potential pipeline of over 40 GW of offshore wind generation projects. At the same time as enabling Scotland to meet its ambitious renewable energy targets, that potential could help the EU deliver its sustainable growth strategy.
An independent Scotland could also play a role and support the EU’s priorities to develop the offshore grid and renewable energy potential in the North Sea.
Scotland’s innovation and contribution to the growth of renewable energy sources also has a strong potential to stimulate employment in Scotland and the EU. Scotland is already a hub for renewable energy and can expand this through EU membership, stimulating a growth in green jobs throughout Scotland from the creation of jobs in new ‘green’ technologies.
Our academic sector is a leading source of innovation and research and could help deliver new technologies of EU-wide importance. Scotland is a leader in the development and deployment of wave and tidal energy technologies with: the world’s leading wave and tidal test centre, the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney; the world’s largest planned tidal stream array; and, according to its makers, the world’s most powerful tidal stream turbine. Scotland remains among the best placed nations in Europe to deploy Carbon Capture and Storage due to our unrivalled access to vast carbon dioxide storage potential in the North Sea. This presents us with an economic opportunity to be at the centre of a European hub for the importation and storage of carbon dioxide from Europe.
Scotland is also well positioned to be an influential partner in supporting the EU’s transition into a resource-efficient and competitive economy. The Scottish Government is already taking significant strides to drive inclusive economic growth to reduce environmental and health impacts. This will be developed further through our approach to the circular and blue economies. This has the potential to support both the European Green Deal and the associated Green Deal Industrial Plan where in committing to becoming climate neutral the EU has set the standard for climate ambition, and the aims of the Recovery and Resilience Facility, which seeks to make European economies and societies more sustainable, resilient and better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the green and digital transitions.
An independent Scotland would be able to be a leading force within the EU to achieve our shared climate ambitions. This Scottish Government’s commitment to restoring and protecting Scotland’s nature is well aligned with the EU’s approach on halting biodiversity loss by 2030 and restoring nature by 2045. For example, we plan to protect 30% of Scotland’s land for nature by 2030 and invest more than £250 million over ten years to restore at least 250,000 hectares of degraded peatlands by the same date, as an important carbon store. Our Scottish Biodiversity Strategy will further drive the transformation needed in the way we use and manage our natural resources.
Scotland is currently driving diplomatic efforts for climate and nature action as the co-chair of the Under2 Coalition, the largest network of sub-national governments committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050 – or earlier – and by promoting the Edinburgh Declaration on Biodiversity. This demonstrates how an independent Scotland could be a valuable member state of the EU, willing and able to make a leading contribution to its climate change and biodiversity goals.
Scotland’s expertise and research institutions have much to offer the EU. Eleven of Scotland’s universities were in the top 200 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2024 for international outlook, demonstrating why Scotland is a destination of choice for students and academics from all over the world, and is highly respected for science and research. As part of the EU, Scotland would once again welcome Erasmus+ students from EU countries to our world class colleges and universities. EU students would, once again, enjoy the same access to higher education as Scottish students, which this Scottish Government has prioritised to include free tuition for those domiciled in Scotland.
Being in the EU would enable Scotland’s researchers to collaborate in European partnerships automatically, and also ensure Scotland’s involvement in setting the future direction of the flagship Horizon Europe programme. As a respected partner in European research programmes and technology partnerships, such as the Vanguard initiative, Scotland has expertise and best practice to share, including in areas such as data sciences, blockchain, renewable energy technology, ageing populations, anti-microbial resistance and advanced manufacturing. These areas are too great for individual nations to tackle alone. Collaborative research can also help develop technologies at scale.
An independent Scotland’s globally renowned research and innovation system could help the EU achieve its ambition of being a global leader in AI. The Scottish Government shares the EU’s commitment to adopting AI using a values-based approach and, as a member state, we would collaborate closely to maximise new technologies and data science techniques for social and economic benefit. This would be based on a foundation of our high ethical standards and public trust.
Scotland has a large cluster of scientists working in life sciences. This includes one of Europe’s largest concentrations of animal and veterinary science expertise as well as over 200 medical technology companies and 155 pharma services companies. As a member state, an independent Scotland could contribute in areas of expertise such as energy, the environment and fisheries. We have the third largest salmon aquaculture industry worldwide and are a major exporter of nutritious seafood, with the potential to make a direct contribution to enhancing European food security whilst also continuing to innovate to maximise sustainability and better conserve both the marine environment and marine biological resources.
Scotland’s technology sector has particular strengths in games and software development, data science, biotechnology, sensors and connectivity. The Scottish Government’s ambition is for Scotland to become Europe’s leading space nation, with Glasgow already building more small satellites than any other place in Europe. Scotland is therefore well positioned to contribute to the innovation and growth which will be critical to the EU’s long-term prosperity and sustainable growth. With Scotland being home to a thriving tech ecosystem, and a rapidly expanding computer games sector we also have much to contribute to the digital economy.
Scotland’s culture is internationally recognised and celebrated around the world. An independent Scotland would bring capacity, expertise and new ideas to the EU’s culture policy initiatives, particularly the Creative Europe programme. Scottish organisations have historically been active participants in the Creative Europe programme, from festivals and sculpture workshops to galleries and dance companies. When Scotland re-joins the EU, Scottish organisations could again play a key role in supporting cultural exchange and collaboration across borders. Artists from other member states would be able to work and perform in Scotland without the barriers they now face, such as the need for visas, work permits or onerous customs requirements. This would give EU artists better access to Scotland’s international festivals and the global platform they offer. It would also enhance the diversity and vibrancy of both the EU and Scotland’s cultural scenes.
More broadly, the reach and global influence of Scotland’s screen and creative industries sectors means that they can play an important role in helping to forge new cultural links, open up new international markets, and attract inward investment. Already, the screen sector attracts producers from around the world.
As a founding member of the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership, the Scottish Government welcomes the EU’s focus on the Beyond GDP agenda. We will continue sharing best practice and learning from others’ experience in applying a wellbeing approach to economic development.
Scotland occupies a strategic position on the northern edge of Europe, close to the Arctic. Under our proposals, membership of the EU and NATO, coupled with a strong relationship with the UK, would be the cornerstones of an independent Scotland’s security policy. This will be explored in depth in a forthcoming paper.
An independent Scotland would be able to work in partnership with the EU and other allies to deliver defence and security capabilities that keep Scotland safe and uphold international peace and stability. As a member of the EU, Scotland would be part of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), an integral part of the EU’s approach towards crisis management that draws on civilian and military assets. To fulfil our obligations under the CSDP, Scotland would contribute to missions that deliver diplomacy, humanitarian aid, development co-operation, climate action, human rights, economic support and trade policies, all of which are part of the EU’s toolbox to promote global peace and security.
Scotland’s values align with the EU’s ambition for peace-keeping and conflict prevention. Important EU-led missions, such as the military Operation ALTHEA in Bosnia-Herzegovina, depend on support from member states. Following Brexit, the UK withdrew its military forces from the operation which plays an important role in maintaining stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina. With independence and as an active EU member state, this Scottish Government would fulfil Scotland’s obligations under the CSDP fully, and support the EU’s international efforts for peace.
As a member of the EU, Scotland would play its part in the further development of justice, home affairs, security and defence policies. Our justice system, with its single national police force and single prosecution authority, is agile, well-respected and already a contributor to the administration of justice across Europe. We have experience of having a hybrid legal system, straddling both civil and common law traditions. As an EU member state, an independent Scotland could draw on this to contribute to the EU’s legal institutions and development of good law. And, as set out in ‘Building a New Scotland: Creating a modern constitution for an independent Scotland’, with a constitution of an independent Scotland setting out our values, we could enshrine and protect the EU values in law.
The EU, itself a party to major international human rights treaties like the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, plays an important role in ensuring compliance with human rights and equality standards across all EU member states. An independent Scotland would be able to deliver best practice at home and collaborate with other EU member states to promote international standards.
Scotland is, and will continue to be, a good global citizen, respecting its international commitments and welcoming people from all over the world. As an EU member state, Scotland would work with our EU partners on migration and asylum policy. We would participate constructively in EU refugee resettlement and relocation initiatives, taking our place in the EU’s decision-making process, as a member in our own right, reflecting Scotland’s values and goals.
Joining the EU
This Scottish Government would apply to join the EU as soon as possible after independence. The EU’s approach to enlargement is a merit-based process. Scotland’s unique position – having been part of the EU for over 47 years with a positive record of implementation of EU legislation and a high level of alignment with EU law – makes it well placed to move through the accession process quickly. When asked about Scotland joining the EU in 2016, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, former Ambassador and UK Permanent Representative to the European Union, commented: “I think that when independent the Scots could apply and probably get in pretty quickly through the door marked accession”.
In the meantime, this Scottish Government will continue to align with EU law and keep pace with future EU developments, where possible and appropriate. Scottish ministers will use their powers, which include a discretionary power to align Scots law with EU law in the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act 2021, to keep Scotland close to our European partners, to uphold the EU’s core values, and to protect and advance high standards across a range of policy areas. Doing so should also facilitate the process of Scotland’s future return to the EU.
As well as already having a high degree of legal and regulatory alignment with the EU body of law, Scotland also already has skilled people with a detailed understanding of EU law in devolved areas. This includes expertise and administrative capacity in areas related to EU law in agriculture, rural affairs and fisheries, environment, food safety and consumer protection, transport, education, justice, culture, health and some aspects related to financial support for regional development, science and international cooperation.
Furthermore, Scotland will be in an unprecedented situation: no other country has been taken out of the EU and its single market against its will, and there is no precedent for a country seeking to re-join the EU.
Over the past five decades, the European Community (which became the European Union in 1993) transformed from a grouping of six Western European democracies to the world’s largest economy, now encompassing 27 countries. Having expanded seven times, sometimes with one country joining on its own, sometimes with groups of countries joining at the same time, the EU has a clear accession process.
Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) provides the legal basis and defines the procedure for a country seeking membership of the EU. Under the terms of Article 49, in order to be eligible to join the EU, a country must:
- be a state in its own right within geographical Europe
- respect and commit to the values set out in Article 2 of the TEU. These are respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. Furthermore pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men must prevail
A state wishing to join the EU must also satisfy the “Copenhagen criteria”, notably:
a. political criteria: “stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities”
b. economic criteria: “a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the union”
c. the ability to take on the obligations of membership: “adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union, adoption of the EU acquis and the administrative capacity to effectively implement and enforce the EU acquis”
Once a country has had its application for membership accepted, it becomes known as a ‘candidate country’ and negotiations can start on the conditions and timing of the adoption, implementation and enforcement of the EU’s standards and rules (known as the ‘acquis’). The acquis is split into 35 different policy areas (known as ‘chapters’) which are opened for negotiation in clusters. Each chapter is closed once the candidate country meets the fundamental requirements (such as the rule of law) and has transposed the relevant acquis into national law, or can demonstrate that it will implement by the date of accession. Chapters are negotiated in parallel.
Before completing the negotiations, as a candidate member state an independent Scotland would in principle be able to join or have working arrangements with EU agencies such as the European Environment Agency, European Research Executive Agency (which manages Horizon Europe research grants) and Eurojust (which supports judicial coordination and cooperation to combat terrorism and serious organised crime). EU agencies:
- shape and advise on EU policies, either directly or through advice to EU institutions
- implement EU policies
- monitor compliance with EU law
- administer EU co-operation programmes
Financial and transitional arrangements, such as how much the new member state is likely to pay into and receive from the EU budget and which rules will be phased in gradually to give new or existing members time to adapt, are also discussed and agreed. As a relatively wealthy member state Scotland could expect to be a net contributor to the EU. This might not be from the day of joining the EU: a number of member states with relatively small economies have initially been net recipients but over time have become net contributors to the EU budget.
It is important to note that net budgetary contributions do not reflect the overall economic costs and benefits of EU membership. As shown above, many benefits go well beyond a simple financial calculation. Between 1973 and 2019, the UK’s net contribution to the EU budget averaged at £5.1 billion per year. In contrast, the Office for Budget Responsibility expects that UK productivity will be permanently lower due to Brexit, with lost output equivalent to roughly £100 billion every year, and lost revenues for the Treasury equivalent to roughly £40 billion a year, according to analysis by the Financial Times.
A candidate country can take the final steps to becoming an EU member state when it demonstrates that it will be able to play its part fully as a member, namely by:
- complying with all the EU’s standards and rules (the ‘acquis’)
- having the consent of the EU institutions and EU member states; and
- having the consent of its citizens – as expressed through approval in its national parliament or a referendum
The terms and conditions of membership, including any transitional arrangements (which can include temporary and permanent exemptions from EU rules, known as derogations), are incorporated into an accession treaty once negotiations have concluded.
In order to ensure continuity of rights and obligations as well as legal certainty during the EU accession process, this Scottish Government would seek to agree transitional arrangements. These would provide certainty and facilitate the continuation of trading arrangements – in a broadly similar manner to those in place before independence – until Scotland joins the EU.
When asked about the level of support in the EU towards an independent Scotland joining the EU, the former President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said “Emotionally I have no doubt that everyone will be enthusiastic here in Brussels, and more generally in Europe.”
The Scottish Government recognises the responsibilities and obligations of EU membership and would commit to these fully. As noted above, Scotland has the administrative capacity and a track record of directly implementing those parts of EU law for which the Scottish Government had devolved responsibility. In currently reserved areas, Scotland would build capacity as required to ensure it would fulfil all EU membership obligations.
The Scottish Government has always recognised that the terms of Scotland’s membership of the EU, including any transitional measures as a new member state, will be subject to negotiations with the European Commission and to the agreement of EU member states and the European Parliament, consistent with the relevant provisions of the EU Treaties. Given the merit-based nature of the EU accession process, this Scottish Government is clear that Scotland would be well placed to fulfil the requirements of the accession process under Article 49 of the TEU smoothly and quickly. The average time to join the EU is under five years (from the opening of the accession negotiations); Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the EU in under two years.
The third publication in the ‘Building a New Scotland’ series, A stronger economy with independence, sets out this government’s proposals for how an independent Scotland should put in place the macroeconomic framework necessary to provide stability, including the intention to continue using sterling in the early years of independence. To make the most of the full powers of independence, Scotland would, as soon as practicable, move from sterling to having its own currency, a new Scottish pound. Like other European countries, Scotland would ensure we had a well-functioning economy able to thrive in the European single market. People and businesses – both at home and abroad – could be confident in an independent Scotland’s economic strength and stability.
As a member of the EU, we would work jointly with other member states to encourage sustainable growth and stability. We would contribute to strengthening the EU’s economic competitiveness. This would provide opportunities for new and small businesses to develop, and give consumers in Scotland access to the best products at the best prices.
This Scottish Government would apply to join the EU as soon as possible after independence whilst continuing to use sterling at the point of application. The process of establishing a Scottish pound would be closely aligned with the process of re-joining the EU.
In relation to the euro, as the European Commission has made clear, no timetable for member states joining the eurozone is prescribed and as for other new EU member states, joining the euro would happen only if both the conditions for doing so (known as the convergence criteria) were met and the Parliament of an independent Scotland decided this was the right course of action to take.
The architecture of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) explicitly stipulates that a country will only join the euro when it is ready, and the convergence criteria are there to ensure that introducing the single currency would be desirable both for the member state and the eurozone as a whole.
One of the convergence criteria is for a country to participate in the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II) for at least two years before it can qualify to adopt the euro. The ERM II was set up to ensure that exchange rate fluctuations between the euro and other EU currencies do not disrupt economic stability within the single market, and to help non euro-area countries prepare themselves for participation in the euro area. Participation in ERM II is voluntary.
Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania still retain their own currencies, in some cases approaching 20 years after accession. Sweden, which became a member state in 1995, still uses its own currency. In 2017 the then president of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker said: “I have no intention of forcing countries to join the euro if they are not willing or not able to do so.”
In relation to fiscal issues, the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) framework, which seeks to ensure sustainable public finances so as to contribute to the stability of the EMU, is currently suspended to provide member states with the flexibility and resilience to respond to the pandemic and support economic recovery. In April 2023, the European Commission published a package of proposals to reorganise the EU’s economic governance framework. These proposals are expected to provide a more tailored approach to individual member states’ circumstances, while retaining the fundamental budgetary objective of fiscal sustainability.
As a member of the EU, Scotland would participate in the European System of Financial Supervision, which exists to ensure consistent and coherent financial supervision in the EU. Scotland would also play its full role in shaping and influencing future EU financial services laws and principles, many of which are recognised as global standards. And we would co-ordinate our economic policies with other member states. It is not the case, as some assert, that countries are required to meet the requirements of the Pact before joining. However, our fiscal policy proposals in ‘Building a New Scotland: A stronger economy with independence’ set out how an independent Scotland would be committed to fiscal sustainability and sound public finances.
Common Fisheries Policy
The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the set of rules for managing fishing fleets of EU member states, conserving fish stocks and facilitating trade and marketing of seafood. The aims of the CFP – to ensure that fishing and aquaculture are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable, and that they provide a source of healthy food for EU citizens – are ones which the Scottish Government supports and to which it has much to contribute. The CFP also implements international agreements which Scotland would be committed to respecting.
The Scottish Government recognises that some parts of the CFP have historically been challenging for some Scottish fishing interests. But EU membership brings wider benefits for fishing and coastal communities, including opportunities to increase seafood trade and support for those communities.
The EU is one of the world’s largest importers and consumers of seafood products. From 2016 to 2019, on average three-quarters (76%) of all seafood exports from Scotland went to the EU. These exports were worth an average of £703 million per year. With the benefits of freedom of movement, our seafood businesses, many of which currently struggle to hire the people needed, would be able to access more easily the labour they require to grow sustainably.
The CFP has too often been used as a scapegoat for poor management of fishing rights by the Westminster government during the period of our EU membership. The Westminster government repeatedly failed to engage in a constructive way to influence EU fisheries rules, or to prioritise marine interests to the extent that other member states did. Proponents of Brexit claimed that voting leave would “take back control over UK waters, set our own fishing policies, and support our fishermen.” But the reality is that since leaving the EU, the UK’s Trade and Cooperation Agreement has failed the Scottish seafood industry.
For some key species the Scottish fishing fleet has worse access to fishing opportunities now than it had under the CFP. Some sectors are being damaged by new trading and logistical costs. For example our salmon sector faces an estimated £3 million per annum in additional costs from new barriers to trade with the EU and wider Brexit disruption. Despite the Westminster government’s promises of annual quota negotiations, quota shares are – to some degree – fixed, even beyond the end of the adjustment period from 2026 onwards. If Westminster seeks to reduce or deny the EU’s future access to UK waters, compensatory trade measures can be imposed, including on other Scottish economic sectors. No trade deal or agreement can be reached with the EU that will be as favourable for our marine sector in the round as EU membership.
As a member of the EU an independent Scotland would have the fourth largest sea area in core EU waters and an opportunity to ensure Scottish interests were represented directly in fisheries negotiations in Brussels for the first time. Scotland is already well respected internationally for our approach to managing the marine environment and to marine planning, which helps to support both a healthy marine ecosystem and viable fishing communities. Our technical and compliance expertise would add significant value to delivery of EU strategic outcomes.
An independent Scotland would be able to bring a positive, collegiate and influential voice to the EU. We would be a champion of regionalisation – working in partnership with other member states to implement management measures in recognition of the different needs of different marine ecosystems. And we would use our expertise to support current and future reforms of the CFP, led by the European Commission, to maximise efficient and effective delivery of CFP outcomes.
Common Agricultural Policy
The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) aims to support farmers, improve agricultural productivity and ensure the sustainable management of natural resources. The latest CAP,  implemented from 1 January 2023, is based on a more flexible and results-based approach, and will support European agriculture to contribute to the ambitions contained in the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies.
Member states are able to tailor actions within the context of common EU goals for social, economic and environmental sustainability. These common goals complement our own ambitions for Scottish agriculture as set out in our Vision for Agriculture.
Re-joining the CAP would provide our rural economy with a stable funding framework and a guaranteed budget for agriculture for future years. As a member state, Scotland would work with others to continue to improve how the CAP supports the transition to net-zero and nature restoration.
Relationship with the rest of the EU
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 (currently the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement). But an independent Scotland’s EU membership would not be at the expense of the myriad and valuable relationships we have, and will continue to have, with the UK. The other nations of the UK and Ireland will remain Scotland’s close and valued friends and allies.
However, the context for this discussion is the UK’s poor relative economic performance, both before Brexit and after it. As noted above, leaving the EU will mean a long-term fall in productivity – the key driver of living standards – compared with European Union membership. There has been much recent analysis setting out the scale of the UK’s underperformance. The Scottish Government, in the first paper in the Building a New Scotland series, has shown that comparable independent countries to Scotland are both wealthier and fairer than the UK. The average national income, as measured by GDP, of those countries is £14,000 higher per head than the UK. Professor Adam Tooze of Columbia University in a discussion on whether the UK is in economic decline or not says the UK has “decoupled” from the economic development of other rich nations. The Financial Times has reported that “in 2007 the average UK household was 8 per cent worse off than its peers in north-western Europe, but the deficit has since ballooned to a record 20 per cent.
In light of this significant economic underperformance and Professor O’Rourke’s argument that before becoming a member of the EU the Irish economy may have suffered from an excessive reliance on a sluggish British economy, it is relevant to ask whether Scotland too should become a member state of the EU to avoid reliance on a low productivity, low growth Brexit-based economy. To enhance that debate the Scottish Government will set out through a series of speeches how an independent Scotland could adopt a different economic model to achieve higher growth, productivity and living standards.
All EU member states share responsibility to monitor and control access to the EU by land, sea or air from non-EU countries. Part of protecting our place within the single market would require putting in place normal border arrangements, just like any other country.
As set out in ‘Building a New Scotland: A stronger economy with independence’, checks on goods between Scotland and the EU would be removed. The rest of the UK will also remain an important trading partner for Scotland. Again as set out in that paper, the main component of exports from Scotland to the rest of the UK is services, whereas for manufactured goods international markets are more significant. The Scottish Government, for its part, would put in place measures to smooth checks required as a result of Brexit on goods moving to and from England and Wales.
A number of recent developments at a UK level make it difficult to state definitively what checks may or may not be required for exports from an independent Scotland to the rest of the UK. For example, Westminster’s main opposition Labour Party has stated that it would “tear down unnecessary barriers” and “eliminate most border checks” created by Westminster’s current approach to Brexit by putting in place “a new veterinary agreement for agri-products between the UK and EU”. The EU has veterinary agreements in place with several countries, including Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland. The CBI estimates that the EU-New Zealand Veterinary Agreement sees just 1-2% of its agri-food goods subject to physical checks upon arrival, compared to around 30% for the UK agri-food products currently entering the EU.
The intention of the Labour Party was confirmed at the end of August 2023 by Labour’s then international trade spokesperson who said the aim was to reduce checks to “the lowest practicable level.”
The current Westminster government, whilst not currently in favour of a veterinary agreement, recently published its Border Target Operating Model, setting out a new regime for goods imported to Great Britain both from the EU and from the rest of the world. The model is designed on a risk-basis, modernising trade by delivering a sliding-scale of checks that correspond to the level of product risk. It also sets in motion the development of a Trusted Trader Scheme and will be supported by technical solutions designed to minimise burdens on business. The Westminster Government says it will “move towards an increasingly digital border.”
This Scottish Government would expect to use a ‘Single Trade Window’ – a one-stop shop online platform where traders submit documents in advance, resulting in fewer and faster checks at the border. Many enforcement measures do not take place at the border itself. Instead, checks on goods are undertaken in shops or at other destinations, including food sampling to protect human health or customs and excise checks on alcohol to ensure that correct duties have been paid and that products are genuine. Through checks like these, and other systems such as spot- checks, we would ensure that the integrity of the European single market is maintained to protect consumers, confirm animal health and food safety and ensure fair taxation.
This approach, and a UK-EU veterinary agreement, would help minimise routine physical checks on goods using the main routes between England and Scotland. For minor routes, as along the Sweden-Norway border, Automatic Number Plate Recognition and cameras to monitor for non- compliance could be deployed.
Drawing from best practice around the world, an independent Scotland could seek to agree and develop the form of border that works best for our circumstances and needs and those of our partners in the EU and in the rest of the UK.
This Scottish Government would ensure that support is provided through:
- ample notice of any new trading arrangements, for both exporters and importers
- clear guidance to help Scottish businesses and businesses which trade with us to understand and comply with any new procedures
- practical help for companies trading with the rest of the UK, including a support service for paperwork and administrative requirements and a package of grants and loans that would be drawn up after detailed discussions with relevant businesses and business organisations. The Irish Government offered a package of support for industry after Brexit
- a new government ministry and minister with responsibility for trading with the rest of the UK
The Scottish Government is clear that free movement of people brings numerous benefits and opportunities – allowing citizens of the EU to live, work, establish businesses and study in any member state and giving them and their family members the same rights within the EU (see above). The Scottish Government is also committed to remaining an integral part of the broader social union that is the expression of the close economic, social and cultural ties that exist across the nations of the UK and Ireland. Independence does not threaten that social union. The EU has protected and enhanced the social and cultural links between Ireland and the rest of these islands. It was fundamental to the context for the peace process developed under the Belfast (“Good Friday”) Agreement and the EU has consistently demonstrated its commitment to the Agreement throughout the Brexit process.
In joining the EU, an independent Scotland would adopt what is called the Schengen acquis in so far as it concerns cooperation between police, customs and border authorities, and dealing better with illegal immigration. Under an arrangement called the Common Travel Area (CTA) Scotland would also retain freedom of movement with the UK and Ireland.
Ireland, as an EU member state, is part of the CTA, which is a long-standing arrangement recognised in EU Treaties. Scotland’s geography lends itself to a similar arrangement, in the event of Scottish independence.
Within the CTA there would be no new passport or immigration checks at any of an independent Scotland’s land, sea or air border points with the UK and Ireland for British, Irish and Scottish or EU citizens travelling within the Common Travel Area. It would also mean that rights to live, work, and access services, including housing, education and healthcare, would continue for British and Irish citizens in Scotland, and for the citizens of an independent Scotland in the UK and Ireland.
But in addition, Scottish citizens would be able to take full advantage of their rights as EU citizens, just as citizens of Ireland do.
Commentators overwhelmingly expect continued participation for Scotland in the Common Travel Area. For example, Professor Katy Hayward and Professor Nicola McEwen said in their UK in a Changing Europe report on Scotland’s borders after independence:
[G]iven its unique geographic and historic circumstances, most specifically the existence of the Common Travel Area (CTA), most experts assume that Scotland would most likely seek and be granted an opt-out from the border control elements of the Schengen Agreement during membership negotiations with the European Union. This would not only preserve free movement of people between Scotland and the rest of the UK but, importantly, would ensure free movement between Scotland and Ireland, its closest EU neighbour […]. The CTA […] already has legal recognition in the EU Treaties and was protected in the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement.
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