A LEGALLY and constitutionally independent Scotland would be eligible to join the European Union and could be back in the bloc “four to five years” after making an application, according to a study by leading experts.

The detailed report by the Scottish Centre on European Relations, published today, highlighted the wide range of nations which have joined since the first expansion of the bloc in 1973 and concluded Scotland “does not look like an outlier”.

“In many ways, an independent Scotland would look well positioned to join the EU. It would certainly be eligible to apply as a European state ... And, compared to the range of states that have joined the EU in the last sixty-three years, Scotland does not look like an outlier,” the report said.

“Those states include 11 countries from central and eastern Europe and the western Balkans ... and three of the European Free Trade Area states – Austria, Finland and Sweden ... They include the still-divided island of Cyprus, and the group that joined in the 1980s – Greece, Portugal and Spain – having emerged from dictatorship in the 1970s. They also include a number of states who had re-gained their independence before joining the EU – including the Baltic three, and the ‘velvet divorce’ that split the former Czechoslovakia into two states.”

It added: “In the face of a legally and constitutionally valid independence process, it is hard to argue that an independent Scotland (with 47 years experience as part of the EU, within the UK) would not be likely to succeed in joining.”

The report, edited by Dr Kirsty Hughes, stated that Scotland would overtake other potential candidate countries in gaining entry if it became independent in the next few years. It also looked at a wide range of issues that would be involved in the country rejoining the EU as an independent member, including what currency it would use, whether it would have to rejoin the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and dealing with a border with the rest of the UK that was not a member.

On the issue of whether it would have to join the euro, the report pointed out that currently only 19 countries out of the 26 members are in the eurozone. It said that all members are obliged to give a commitment to join the euro, though several of the seven who had not joined, including Sweden, have no concrete plans to do so.

However, it warned loudly opposing joining the euro could scupper membership chances.

“It would not be possible for [an independent Scotland] to avoid having to commit to the adoption of the euro; and if politicians were too vocal about their non-commitment to taking such a step, there is a danger that the EU might in the end not agree to Scottish membership,” the report stated. “That said, the EU retains enlargement as a strategic objective and an independent Scotland, committed to European integration, would certainly be welcome.”

On the CFP, the report said an independent Scotland would have to re-join and that the policy would “probably cause friction” between most of the fishing industry and the Scottish Government.

However, it added “there may be concessions or assistance the Scottish Government could negotiate with the EU to ease Scotland’s return to the CFP “.

On moving to EU membership, Fabian Zuleeg, of the European Policy Centre, said Scotland may need two transition periods to deal with the constitutional positions, the first as it leaves the UK, the second as it becomes an EU member. In terms of the latter, Zuleeg said Scotland could seek associate membership of the European Economic Area, ahead of ultimate EU membership Katy Hayward, of Queen’s University, Belfast, considered the Scotland-UK border issue and argued that despite being a land border, arrangements could be similar to those currently operating on the Republic of Ireland-Britain sea border. But she warned trade barriers would be economically negative for Scotland and for rest of the UK; how bad would depend on the future UK-EU relationship, and whether any bilateral deals could be struck.

The report also argued Scotland would have more representation in the EU as an independent country than it did as a part of the UK including 13 or 14 MEPs (compared to six as member with the UK).

Concluding, Hughes said: “Accession to the EU is a substantial, detailed and time-consuming process – and has different implications for an independent Scotland post-Brexit. But it is a manageable process, and considering the diverse range of 22 states that have joined the EU after its initial launch, it would be hard to say Scotland could not, like these states, join too if that was its goal.”