Back on October 5 I wrote an article in the Gibraltar daily newspaper, Panorama, in which I told how I got talking to a young politician by the name of Hadleigh Roberts at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester. 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 which saw her 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.
My answer to the first question was I did not believe the UK would block Scotland’s membership of the EU although that would largely depend on the fall out from the referendum and also what London’s relationship with Europe was at that time. Likewise 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 on October 21 saw both the two Nationalists parties take 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 has nudged the EC Vice President, Viviane Reding, to back its stance. She is from Luxembourg and so you may have expected she would back the notion that “small nations might be free”. Apparently not: she has confirmed that if Cataluña leaves the Spanish State it also leaves the EU. Be sure that Madrid has no intention of letting it back in but like the UK and Scotland eventually Spain might find it is better to have the Catalans on side rather than out in the cold. For now hard ball applies.
Spain’s premier Mariano Rajoy has also 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 further 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 in due course 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 SDP to come out fighting against Madrid.
Rajoy and the Partido Popular have a fight on their hands with the Basques and the Catalans: now they can add the Scots too and indeed maybe the British Government. Meanwhile Gibraltar is sitting patiently by: it has been fighting a 300 year old war with its Iberian neighbour and has seen it all before. If the Spanish State breaks up it will work in the Rock’s favour. Be sure Gibraltarians will gladly add the Catalans, Basques and now the Scots to their side in their battle to self-determine their own future.
The Scotland question has been answered but the answer begs still further questions.
(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on November 9 2012)