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2nd Mar 2024

Scotland's first minister tests EU waters

  • European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said Scotland had won the right to "be heard" by the EU. (Photo: European Commission)

Less than a week after the UK referendum - in which the English and Welsh voted to leave the EU, but the Scots and Northern Irish opted to stay - Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon embarked on a tour of the EU institutions.

The nationalist party leader has spent recent days saying that her people voted to stay in the EU, and could be willing to secede from the UK to protect their relationship with the EU.

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Sturgeon’s strong pro-European statements in the EU capital on Wednesday (29 June) heartened those who regretted the British vote.

EU political leaders cleared their schedules for the first minister.

“Scotland won the right to be heard in Brussels,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission on Wednesday.

But he also suggested EU leaders had enough problems with the UK for the moment.

“We don’t have the intention… to interfere in the British process. That is not our job,” he said.

Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who also visited Brussels for a post-Brexit summit, added that he was “extremely” opposed to EU negotiations with Scotland.

“If the UK leaves... Scotland leaves," Rajoy said.

Spain has previously threatened to veto Scotland’s chances of joining the EU if it were to break away from the UK.

The Spaniards, struggling with their own independence-minded regions, fear that Scotland’s success may inspire others.

A candidate country needs to receive the seal of approval from all the current member states before it can join the bloc. A single veto is enough to block an application for membership.

Sturgeon said she was not surprised at Rajoy’s position but added that it was her job to explore alternatives for keeping Scotland in the EU and give effect to the will of her people.

“If there is a way for Scotland to stay, I am determined to find it,” she said.

“My concern at this stage is to ensure that once the UK negotiation with the EU starts, all the options are on the table.”

Sturgeon told journalists she realised her task wasn’t easy but added that she left Brussels with a good feeling.

“Here, I've found a willingness to listen: open doors, open ears and open minds,” she said.

'Scotland has the right to explore options'

Sir David Edward, a former judge of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) who will advise the Scottish government on its relations with the EU, told EUobserver that Rajoy seemed to assume he had the right to bloc Scotland’s choices.

“Democracy is part of fundamental principles of the EU,” Sir David reminded. “A member state can’t just decide on behalf of the EU.”

He said the constitutional crisis unleashed by the UK referendum had given Scotland the right to explore its options.

“The situation has changed enormously since Scotland voted against independence in 2014, and it could change again by the time the UK finishes exit negotiations,” he said.

Scotland would use the time during the negotiation process to lay out scenarios for its future relations with the EU.

Sir David said it was possible to find solutions that Rajoy ”wouldn’t be able to block” - if the caretaker prime minister was still around by the time the UK leaves.

Scotland not giving up on EU membership

Scotland's EU spokesman has said the country is a special case that would not act as a precedent for places such as Catalonia or Corsica if it split from the UK to join the EU.

Scottish MEP: 'Independence not our first option'

A Scottish split from the UK remains on the table, a prominent Scottish MEP has said, as British PM Theresa May heads to Scotland to calm nerves on post-brexit EU relations.

May to Scotland: 'Now is not the time' for referendum

The UK prime minister did not rule out a new Scottish referendum, but disputes the timetable. The Scottish first minister responded by accusing London of trying to "undemocratically" block Scots from deciding their fate post-Brexit.

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