The possibility of Scotland leaving the UK is looming large the closer we get to March 2019. This comes despite all the immediate defense and prospective EU membership concerns the country is facing. All warnings aside, Scottish PM Nicola Sturgeon seems to believe that ‘no Brexit is preferable to no-deal’ amongst news of a NO DEAL Brexit Minister to take form. In the same vein, a recent poll showed that almost half of Scots said they would leave the Union (with the UK) if a second referendum were to be granted by Westminster. However, even if Theresa May gets compassion for Holyrood, this vote cannot take place before the UK officially exists the EU, which makes for a long wait for those 49% anti-unionists. A word of caution, almost half is not even half which means that predictions cannot possibly make for an accurate portrayal of the feeling/temperature in Scottish rooms, not to mention a conjuring of a post-Brexit scenario.
Nevertheless, the reality remains that we have now officially entered the last full year of the UK – and hence, Scotland – enjoying membership in the EU. Therefore, I found it appropriate to sketch a brief picture of the Scottish-European relations throughout time.
The year of 1295 brought with it the signing of the Auld Alliance, a treaty between Scotland and France through which France became Scotland’s closest ally, both being united by the hatred they carried for the English. From the 1295 until the 1707 Union with England, Scotland enjoyed close relations with a number of European nations, namely Scandinavia, the Low Countries, Ireland, Italy and Poland, having a notable mercantile presence in Copenhagen, Bergen and Danzig.
Fast forward to the 1970s when Europhile UK PM Edward Heath decides to apply for European Economic Community (EEC) membership. While a majority of Scottish MPs did vote against entry in the House of Commons vote, seven Scottish Tory politicians published an analysis named Scotland and Europe: seven viewpoints, supporting entrance into the EEC. After the accession treaty was signed in 1972, four Scots were sent to Brussels to represent the UK, amongst which the noteworthy mentions would be Scottish MP George Thomson, who was one of the founders of the European Regional Development Fund and Lord Mackenzie Stuart who was appointed to the European Court of Justice.
In terms of EEC funding, Scotland has received more than twice the national average per head of population in the form of grants and loans throughout the 70s. The money was routed via the Coal and Steel Community, the European Social Fund, the European Investment Bank and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The funds also helped with the inexorable population decline the Highlands region was suffering from which could not have been easily bypassed. This downward spiral was stopped in its tracks three decades later when the EU transitional support funds came through and helped boost local business and SMEs. Everything from infrastructure, financial services and biotech up to culture, lifestyle and tourism benefited from the transfer of knowledge both ways, namely from local to international markets and vice versa.
In June 1978, on the occasion of the first direct elections to the European Parliament Winnie Ewing from the SNP – who later began contributing to the development of the Erasmus programme- became the first of Scotland’s ‘appointed’ Members of the European Parliament to win a democratic mandate. With her election, 21 million pounds were given through the ERDF to Scotland. The money was used in the construction of harbours, roads, water infrastructure and sewerage in both the Islands and the Highlands. In 1983, Scotland received another 4.5 million pounds to modernise its fishing fleet and create fish farms. What is more, Scotland benefited from many other types of European grants so that by 1984, Scotland was receiving more than twice the EEC’s average rate of financial assistance. Apart from the fishing industry, EEC funding went into training Scottish workers, into the gastronomy industry of Glasgow (through a 2 million-poundloan for a pie and sausage factory), into modernising airports around Scotland and into art festivals (e.g. Pitlochry Festival Theatre). Research has showed that for every 40 pence Scotland put into European aid, they got 1 pound back.To put it into perspective, in 1983, Scotland has contributed 325 million pounds to the EEC and has received funds worth 410 million pounds.
Secessionist thoughts were wondering through Scottish minds even in the 80s when MSP Jim Sillars published a pamphlet called Moving on and moving up in Europe. This movement only gained traction when in 1988 the SNP’s annual conference was carried under the motto ‘Independence in Europe’ which became SNP’s official policy as well.
A year later, in the 1989 EP elections, Scottish politician David Steel became the first British politician to campaign and deliver a party political broadcast in another European country, in this case, Italy. While he did not become MEP, he did make history through his vicious attacks at Thatcher, calling her a ‘woman out of step with others’.
Starting with the entrance in the new decade, the entrance of the European Union into Scotland became gained just as much significance. Between the 1990 and 1992, Ian Lang – the Secretary of State for Scotland –made his political life’s missions to emphasize the role of Scotland into the ‘Europe of the regions’. He underscored the part Scotland Europa plays in promoting Scotland’s business across EU bodies and focused attention on the European Central Support Unit’s Scottish office. In December 1992, the European Summit took place in Edinburgh, also named the ‘Athens of the North’. The Summit was hugely successful and truly memorable having played the part of putting the Community back together and put us all back on the track for recovery’ according to PM Sir John Major. Apart from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra playing ‘Ode to the Joy’, a 25.000-strong march through Edinburgh also took place during EU’s leaders’ meeting at Holyrood Palace. Alex Salmond, SNP leader at the time and future Scottish PM, had seen the manifestations as ‘a chance to tell the world that the solution to the Scottish question is independence in Europe’.
Later on, Scotland directly benefited from the creation of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) which included five Scottish members directly nominated by Scotland’s main political parties. Not long after, on June 1999, three Labour MEPs and two Conservative MEPs were elected. Back in Scotland, a European Parliament office was established in Edinburgh as one of the six regional offices of the EU. Its first head, Dermot Scott, believed that ‘the more closely the two parliaments work together, the better Scottish interests will be represented in Europe’. Edinburgh, alongside Glasgow, also became part of the Eurocities network and could ‘twin’ themselves with cities across the EU.
With the creation of the single market, 61% of Scottish exports went into the EU, while Scotland was an exporter on branded personal computers (35%), banking machines (65%), workstations (80%) and electronic notebooks (51%). These Scottish exports increased to the point whereScottish Development International created an office in Dusseldorf. The European Elected Members Information and Liaison Exchange (EMILE) forum was later established by future Minister Jack McConnell where Scotland’s 8 MEPs, members of the CoR and the European Committee met twice a year. A Scottish European Green Energy Centre (SEGEC) aimed at exploiting Scotland’s potential on the European energy market was also established.
Regardless of the 2008 financial crash which affected the EU budget just as much as the United States, various projects from Scotland continued to be beneficiaries of the 2007-2013 structural funds. These funds have in the past supported the construction of the Fife’s Ferrytoll park and ride scheme and the Falkirk Wheel. Apart from the Structural Fund programme, many Scottish students continued to benefit from Erasmus placements (e.g. 1243 Scots in 2010-2011), while Scottish universities have managed to attract a great deal of investment used for the purposes of research.
In conclusion (and potentially in contrast to the tone of the article), it is important to note, as mirrored in the beginning of this article, that ‘the EU is founded on the treaties which apply only to Member States who have agreed and ratified them. If part of the territory of a Member State woukd cease to become part of that state because it were to become a new independent state, the treaties would no longer apply to that territory’. In other words, this newly independent state would become a third country in relation to the EU. This segment of EU law is particularly noteworthy as talks of further devolution to the point of independence keep the headlines in Scotland. Nevertheless, no matter the outcome, Scotland has very much laid its path towards a central role in the EU.
The numbers are taken from the Scotsman, the Aberdeen Press and Journal and the booklet Scotland: 40 years in the European Union.