DOSSIER. A stateless nation that has made meteoric progress towards self-government, Alba (the Gaelic name for Scotland) did not even have its own parliament ten years ago, but today an independence party, the Scottish National Party, is in government and intends to hold a referendum on independence in 2010. With the SNP’s main political rival, Labour, struggling and the current First Minister doing well in the polls, Scotland seems better placed than any other nation to put the idea of internal enlargement of the European Union into practice.
The pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) is the largest party in the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, with 47 seats out of 129. Four years ago the SNP had twenty fewer seats, and the Scottish political scene was dominated by Scottish Labour, which supports devolution and the transfer of competences to Edinburgh but does not back the referendum on independence proposed by the SNP. See the article in The Herald.
The victory of Scottish nationalists in the May 2007 elections acted as a wake-up call, and Scotland's prospects for self-government have since improved greatly. In April 2008, the Commission on Scottish Devolution, an independent body responsible for reviewing the devolution process of the last ten years that will report directly to the Scottish Parliament and the UK Government next year.
Just a few months after being elected, SNP leader Alex Salmond presented a white paper entitled Choosing Scotland's future: a national conversation, which explores possible pathways to independence as well as options for other constitutional changes. The document also contains a draft bill on holding a referendum on independence. The white paper is available here [pdf].
One of the burning issues of Scottish politics is the Labour Party's attitude to Salmond's proposed referendum. The SNP forms a minority government and will therefore need to convince at least 16 opposition MSPs to back its referendum bill, given that it has already secured the support of the 2 Green seats. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are unlikely to support the motion, but the same cannot be said for Scottish Labour. Although Labour is unequivocally unionist, in the past some Labour MSPs have been keen to back a referendum while polls still suggest a victory for the "no" camp as a way of reversing current trends, which show a rise in support for independence. See the relevant Nationalia article.
Another important issue is the choice of questions that would appear on the ballot paper. The SNP wants voters to have three options (full independence, greater powers of self-government or maintaining the status quo), to be ranked in order of preference. The SNP's opponents have warned that, under this system, the independentists could snatch independence "by the back door" if only 26% of voters opt for secession from England as their first choice and remaining voters opt for independence as their second choice. See Scotsman.com.
If Scotland does eventually choose to become independent it would surely be the first stateless nation to be integrated into the European Union by internal enlargement, a concept introduced by Alfons López Tena in recent months. And the day Scotland becomes independent - or indeed any other stateless nation within the EU - it will automatically become a full EU member.
See Scotland profile for further information.