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Would Spain ever allow an independent Scotland to join the EU?

On Monday afternoon, just hours after Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, revealed that she will make a bid to hold another referendum on independence in the light of Brexit, Spain’s government poured cold water on the proposal indicating that Scotland’s place within the EU wouldn’t be automatic.

Would Spain ever allow an independent Scotland to join the EU?
The Scottish Saltire (Top) and the nationalist flag of Catalonia fly side by side at a rally in Glasgow. Photo: AFP

Alfonso Dastis, the Spanish Foreign Minister spoke up to insist Scotland would have “to join the queue” to become a member of the EU if it did break away from the United Kingdom following a referendum.

The reasoning in Madrid is pretty obvious and comes as no surprise to anyone. It's the same line trotted out in the run up to Scotland's referendum on independence in 2014 – when 55 percent of Scots voted to stay within the UK. 

Faced with its own troublesome secessionist challenge from Catalonia, the Spanish government is keen to shut down any talk that could prove encouraging to the northeastern region's own independence aspirations.

“Spain supports the integrity of the United Kingdom and does not encourage secessions or divisions in any of the member states. We prefer things to stay as they are,” Dastis said at a press conference during a visit to Peru.

He explained that if Scotland were to split from the UK, whether it was before or after the UK’s exit from the EU would make no difference.

 A newly independent state of Scotland could not expect any special treatment because it was only an EU member as a part of the UK and as such would have to reapply.

Scotland “would have to queue, meet the requirements for entry, hold negotiations and the result would be that these negotiations would take place,” he said.

In such circumstances, entry of a new member into the EU is outlined in article 49, which requires unanimous decision among all member states, a rule which effectively gives each country the power to veto a new member.

Would Spain actually veto Scotland?

Despite Dastis’ outlining Spain’s position on Scotland joining the queue, the government of Mariano Rajoy has never specifically stated its position on whether it would stand alone and veto Scotland’s entry.

Although Spain clearly discourages secessionists, it would be hard pushed to justify a refusal to allow a newly recognized state to join the EU provided it had broken away in a lawful way.

Although Scotland can be seen as trailblazers in the independence movement where developments are keenly watched by Catalans, Spain’s Prime Minister has always been at pains to point out the differences in their situation.

Madrid’s opposition to a Catalan independence referendum is primarily based upon a clause in the Spanish constitution which states that Spain is “una e indivisible”, one and indivisible, and that the territory of the Spanish state is the patrimony of all of the people of Spain and therefore no one region can unilaterally make a decision that affects the unity of the whole.

For that reason Madrid claims a Catalan independence referendum would be unconstitutional, and has blocked one at every turn, even taking the former regional president to court for staging a symbolic vote.

It is on the same grounds that Spain has refused to recognise the independence of Kosovo –declared unilaterally by Kosovo – which Serbia claims is unconstitutional according to the Serbian constitution.

However, none of this applies to Scotland’s independence bid.

Scottish independence, if and when it comes, will have to be entirely legal and constitutional. It will have to be recognised by the Westminster Parliament. That means that Spain cannot be opposed to it for reasons of legality.

They would therefore struggle to come up with reasonable grounds to veto Scottish membership of the EU.

Scotland’s first referendum in 2014 was conducted with the permission of Westminister, and any future vote would have to take place in a similar framework.

This is one of the many reasons that Madrid persistently points out that Catalonia and Scotland are very different cases.

Hope for Scotland?

In fact last week, Esteban González Pons, an MEP and senior member of Rajoy’s Popular Party, admitted that Spain would not automatically veto Scotland’s entry into the EU.

 “If Scotland wants to come back [into the EU] they have to begin the procedure as would any other country.” Pons said, keeping strictly to the party line.

But asked if Spain would want to veto Scotland he said in the interview with a BBC correspondent in Brussels: “No. If they are thinking about Scotland the Catalonian situation is very different to the Scottish situation.”

So `perhaps, if and when it comes to it, Spain won't ruin Scotland's EU dreams after all.

 

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BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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