Can Scotland remain in the EU?

14 Mar

‘Up to a point, Lord Copper’, as Evelyn Waugh’s famous journalist might have said.

But let’s start at the beginning. As Parliament clears the way for Article 50 to be triggered, Nicola Sturgeon is requesting a second referendum on Scottish independence – with a promise that, if she wins, she will keep Scotland in the EU.

Is that possible? Wouldn’t an ‘independent Scotland’ have to join the queue of countries lining up to join the EU? Well, the Scottish Government has an alternative solution – just don’t leave the European Economic Area (EEA) in the first place.

Doh…now you’ve pulled a fast one. You’ve switched from talking about the EU to the EEA – what’s the difference? Well, the EEA Treaty signatories are the members of the EU and the members of EFTA, and leaving the EEA is a separate legal process to leaving the EU. It is open to debate whether this would be an option for the UK – see some of my earlier posts – but it could make sense for Scotland, particularly since the EEA Treaty has some provisions for differential treatment of regions within signatory countries. So Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government, if they won a referendum, could say ‘when you give notice of your intention to leave the EEA, please exclude Scotland’.

Now it has to be said the legal eagles think this is impractical – see the LSE blog at for example. But it does raise some interesting points. If Scotland can do it, what about other areas that were strongly ‘Remain’ – London, for example, and Northern Ireland?

And for the Scottish Government, it’s beautiful politics and possibly good economics. A Scotland inside the EEA when the rest of the UK is outside could be quite attractive to some businesses south of the border. Financial services, in particular, might well find a base (or an expanded base) in Edinburgh quite appealing.

Triggering Article 50 is beginning to look like opening Pandora’s Box.




3 Responses to “Can Scotland remain in the EU?”

  1. Jeff Watson March 14, 2017 at 11:58 am #

    Great article Richard! But what baffles me is why does UK not just revote Brexit? Clearly there was misinformation. Clearly now people more informed on pros and cons. It was only an advisory vote anyways. It passed by thin majority and under significant misinformation, on advisory basis only. So exactly why the reluctance to just have a second vote. Geez how I wish US had option to revote on Trump without FBI and Russian influences. UK could even lose Scotland due to u willingness to just hold confirming further vote on Brexit. Why is UK not willing to do this?

    • gleedsaling March 14, 2017 at 3:58 pm #

      Very good question Jeff! In fact, the Liberal Democrats are pressing for a second referendum when the Brexit terms are known. Others are less sensible. For example, one politician said it was like cricket – ‘when the umpire’s finger goes up, you have to walk.’ Of course, being from the US you probably would not understand this. However, even for the English, it’s no longer the case – we have now introduced a third umpire of the electronic variety to whom appeal can be made if the first decision looks dodgy. So I guess we need a third umpire on Brexit – but I doubt if we will get one.

  2. BlasR March 14, 2017 at 2:40 pm #

    Pandora’s Box is the best description I’ve seen so far. Scary.

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