Tories risk dragging Scotland out of EU, warns Salmond
UK lies at ‘margins of European influence’, says Scottish first minister
In a speech at the College of Europe in Bruges, in Belgium, Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond repeatedly emphasised the pro-EU sympathies of most Scots compared with “a virulent strain” of Euroscepticism found elsewhere. Photograph: Reuters/Francois Lenoir
Scotland could be pulled out of the European Union against its will because of the anti-European strain within the British Conservative party, said Scottish first minister Alex Salmond.
In a speech in Bruges in Belgium, Mr Salmond repeatedly emphasised the pro-EU sympathies of most Scots compared with “a virulent strain” of Euroscepticism found elsewhere.
He said British prime minister David Cameron’s pledge to hold an in/out referendum on EU membership in 2017 could see Scotland “dragged out of the European Union against our will”.
Mr Cameron’s referendum “is a position which no politician in Scotland would ever have considered to be reasonable. There is virtually no support for this step in the Scottish parliament”, he said.
The issue of Scotland’s right to EU membership has been a significant issue during the independence referendum debate, which will be put to a vote on September 18th.
Despite repeated pledges by four prime ministers to put the UK “at the heart of Europe”, Mr Salmond said, it now lies at “the margins of European influence”, disadvantaging Scotland.
Last year, Mr Salmond was criticised for claiming his government had received legal advice to the effect that an independent Scotland would automatically remain in the EU – it subsequently emerged that such advice did not exist.
However, the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, was widely judged to have erred earlier this year when he compared Scotland’s prospects for membership in the same breath as Kosovo.
Mr Salmond said Mr Barroso had “prompted surprise, even ridicule” since the Scottish independence debate has been “peaceful, inclusive, civic”, compared with a “contested unilateral declaration of independence” by Kosovo.
Lauding Scotland’s European credentials, he said it is one of the few countries in the EU that allows citizens from other EU states to vote in its national parliament elections – 160,000 will have the right to vote on September 18th.
“Tartan is the distinctive national cloth of Scotland. It’s made up of patterned threads of different colours. I like to think that Scottish identity is like the tartan. There are many colours, many threads, many strands to the Scottish tartan of identity.
“I’m emphasising this point for two reasons. It’s fundamental to the main message of my speech today – that an independent Scotland would be an enthusiastic, engaged and committed contributor to European progress,” he said.
Negotiations on Scotland’s membership of the EU would be completed in the 18 months between a Yes vote, if that came about, and the formal declaration of independence in March 2016, he said.