But he was, ultimately, expressing little more than a personal view, even if that’s a personal view shared by many other EU leaders. There are other countries that have their own problems with independence movements, which are hoping that the Scots won’t vote for a precedent which would increase their problems. Whenever I hear someone saying that Scotland won’t be able to join the EU because ‘Spain won’t allow it’, I find myself wondering whether the Spanish unionists aren’t busy telling the Catalans that Cataluña can’t be independent because ‘the UK won’t allow it’.
The point is, of course, that no-one actually knows what will happen if the Scots vote yes. It’s completely unprecedented for the EU, and not only are there no rules to follow, but the member states facing the problem would, for their own reasons, oppose drawing up any rules in advance. Fear of the unknown works to their advantage. However confident the SNP sound on the one hand, and the unionists on the other, neither side can really be certain what will happen.
There are some things we can make a pretty good guess about though.
· The first is that, once the campaign rhetoric is safely stored away and the vote over, reality will intrude, and all involved will sit down around a table somewhere and start to discuss what needs to happen.
· The second is that the territory of Scotland is already part of the EU, and subject to the same parts of its treaties as the rest of the UK. This is not a negotiation starting from a clean sheet as is often the case with an ‘outside’ new applicant, where much of the time and energy in negotiations concerns the applicability or non-applicability of the various rules and regulations. The negotiation process will be much simpler, and the comparison with an external new applicant really isn’t valid.
· Thirdly, given that the whole history of the EU has been one of regular expansion, it is probably reasonable to assume that EU members will prefer to keep Scotland in than expel it, which is what a refusal would amount to. Whilst Scotland might conceivably go through a period when its territory is inside the EU but its government is not yet part of the institutions, I find it hard to believe that the other EU members would seriously wish to exclude the territory from the EU if negotiations are incomplete.
Both the UK and the EU have shown a remarkable capacity for pragmatism when necessary. Where is the evidence that a different approach would be pursued, and for what reason? Whilst, as I noted above, the SNP’s confidence cannot be backed up with absolute certainty, their view seems more likely than not to prevail.
There is one other big question which Barroso seems, sadly, not even to have been asked. His views as expressed were predicated on the assumption that Scottish independence amounts to secession from the UK, and that the UK retains all the rights of membership. If, however, one views Scottish independence as more a case of one equal party to a union deciding unilaterally to end that union, then both parts are ‘new’ countries, and neither ‘new’ country can claim a monopoly of the rights of the old. At the very least, there’s an arguable legal case that RUK would need to re-apply as well.