BRITAIN’S minister for Europe poured cold water on Thursday on the prospect of Scotland enjoying a swift, smooth accession to the European Union if nationalists win an independence referendum this year.
The warning, coming 244 days before Scots go to the polls to decide whether they want to remain part of Britain, marked the latest instalment of a campaign by the government in London to keep a 307-year-old union with Scotland intact.
Minister for Europe David Lidington said Scotland would need to have unanimous approval from the EU’s 28 members on every detail of its accession if it was to gain membership by March 24, 2016 – the independence date pencilled in by Scotland’s nationalist first minister, Alex Salmond.
“On the basis of my experience as Minister for Europe for nearly four years, I find that a very implausible plan,” Lidington said in an interview.
Scotland’s government set out its vision for independence last year, including its ambition to become the EU’s 29th member, and says it believes membership can be agreed in time.
“It is in no one’s interests to exclude Scotland from the European Union,” a Scottish government spokeswoman said.
Opinion polls indicate that around a third of the Scottish public favour independence and another 15 per cent of voters undecided. The referendum is scheduled for September 18.
Nationalists say independence would end decades of economic mismanagement by London and give Scotland the flexibility to pursue its own agenda of jobs, growth and a greater focus on social justice.
The British government says the union generates benefits on both sides of the border. It says Scotland’s post-independence plans, which are based on a currency union with Britain, are unrealistic and could destabilise the Scottish economy.
Foreign Secretary William Hague is due to launch an analysis paper on Friday in Glasgow looking at EU and international issues raised by independence.
The government in London has already published similar papers analysing the impact of a split on other policy areas such as defence and the financial sector as part of its “Better Together” campaign.