Scotland's stance on Brexit: further autonomy and Common Market membership —or independence

Scottish government report seeks to keep Scotland within the European Economic Area even if the rest of the UK leaves it · Scottish First Minister says independence option "must remain on the table"

Sturgeon unveils report.
Sturgeon unveils report. Author: Office of the First Minister of Scotland
The Scottish government released this week the first official report on its stance on the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. The report's stated goal is to reconcile the overall result of the 23 June referendum in the UK —in favour of leaving the EU— with the result in Scotland —in favour of remaining. The Scottish executive argues that "the best outcome" for the whole of the UK would be to remain in the Common Market, even if the leaves the EU. If such a scenario is not possible, it warns, calling a second referendum on independence is an option with democratic legitimacy.

The Scotland's Place in Europe report agrees that the withdrawal must be implemented since it is a democratic mandate of the majority "in England and Wales." But in order to protect economic and commercial interests of Scotland and the wider UK, the Scottish government says it would be appropriate to remain in the Common Market through an agreement in the framework of the European Economic Area (EEA). This area provides for the so-called "four freedoms": free movement of people, goods, services and capital between member states. To be a part of it, EU membership is not required: Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are examples of that.

The Scottish government accepts that it is likely that the UK government does not want to keep the four freedoms in place. Thus, in its report it sets out an alternative agreement under which only Scotland remains in the Common Market while rest of the UK leaves. The Scottish executive says this is technically possible if the UK, as a state, remains an EEA partner and immediately requests that all its territories other than Scotland are exempted from the common space. This option could also allow Northern Ireland, which also voted to remain in the EU like Scotland, to remain in the Common Market.

Scotland's Place in Europe also explains that, in order to implement this solution, the UK government will need to devolve further powers to Scotland —including powers currently managed by London, but EU powers reclaimed after Brexit too.

Cooperation and independence

The Scottish executive agrees that applying those ideas will be difficult, and will require a positive attitude by the UK government. "Everything about Brexit will be difficult and unprecedented," Sturgeon warns. "The negotiations ahead will be characterised by a need to find practical solutions to a range of complex issues. It is in that spirit that we seek to find solutions that will respect the voice and protect the interests of Scotland."

If such an agreement is not possible, the report recalls that the current Scottish government was elected earlier in 2016 with a mandate to hold a second referendum on independence if "circumstances" in 2014 —when the first referendum was held— changed. The Scottish government believes that leaving the EU is enough change to democratically legitimize a vote on independence. "The option of independence must remain on the table," Sturgeon says, since "without that option, Scotland would simply have to accept the inevitability of whatever decisions the UK Government makes."