Scotland: Humza Yousaf takes plea for closer EU ties

A native of Pakistan, the current political leader of Scotland Humza Yousaf wants his country to secede from England and join the European Union. A man from a former British colony wants to destroy the UK?

He emerged as the leader of the Scottish National Party following Nicola Sturgeon’s messy exit from the political scene earlier this year — and just as a funding scandal engulfed his party, writes POLITICO.

But, despite the firestorm at home, Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf is in Brussels with a clear message: ‘Don’t close the door to Scottish membership of the European Union.’

In an interview with POLITICO, Yousaf said that Scotland is ready and waiting to join the EU if it becomes independent — a priority he believes has become all the more relevant since Brexit. “Sixty-two percent of Scotland voted to stay within the European Union in 2016. But unfortunately we have been taken out of the EU,” Yousaf said.

Scotland rejoining the EU would by no means be an easy road. After a failed referendum attempt in 2014, there is the fact Scotland is still a part of the United Kingdom, with no clear route to a second vote.

Were it under his control, Yousaf said, “We would have had [a second Independence referendum] yesterday.” But the U.K. Supreme Court thinks otherwise, ruling late last year that the Scottish government cannot hold an independence referendum without the U.K. government’s consent.

Yousaf believes that the vote for Brexit — which took place two years after the Scottish referendum on independence — has been a game-changer when it comes to Scotland’s EU membership stance.

“If people in 2014 had known what would happen in 2016, I have no doubt that people would have voted for Scotland to become an independent country,” he told POLITICO at Scotland House, the Scottish government’s headquarters at the heart of the European Quarter in Brussels.

Opinion in Scotland remains sharply divided on independence. Yousaf’s Scottish National Party, which has continually promoted the cause, is battling the biggest crisis of its time running Scotland’s devolved government.

Yousaf’s predecessor Nicola Sturgeon was arrested and released without charge pending further investigation earlier this month amid a police probe into the SNP’s finances. Her husband Peter Murrell, formerly the party’s chief executive, was arrested in April as part of the same investigation, and also released without charge.

A recent Ipsos poll showed support for the SNP slipping 10 percentage points in six months.

“I’m not sure there’s any other country that has been part of the European Union for as long as we have, been taken out against our will, and then is looking to rejoin,” he said.

But even if Scottish independence were to become a reality, another potential challenge is political support around the EU table – Spain, in particular, has professed opposition to Scottish membership due to its possible implications for Catalonia, a region of Spain with a strong independence movement.

Yousaf says the Scottish government has a “very warm relationship” with the Spanish government, and reaches out regularly. Referring to recent comments from the Spanish government, Yousaf said, “They’ve made it abundantly clear — and I agree with them — that the situations in Scotland in Catalonia are different.”

As Scotland prepares for a scenario that may never happen, Yousaf will use his trip to Brussels this week to call for continued cooperation between Scotland and the EU — in particular on the energy supply Scotland can offer the EU as it tries to wean itself off dependence on Russian gas and oil.

“We have huge potential to export renewable energy and clean energy to Europe,” he said.

“Scotland has a lot to offer. Why would you not want a country that has the renewable potential that we do?”