The National:

WHETHER an independent Scotland could become a member of the European Union, and, if yes, under what conditions and timescales, is back on the agenda with the finalisation of the Brexit process at the end of 2020. The UK’s new status quo implies that, in the foreseeable future, Scotland’s only route to EU membership is through independence.

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From an EU perspective, Brexit has changed the environment decisively when compared to the situation an independent Scotland would have faced after the 2014 independence referendum. Then, a vote for independence would potentially have meant an exit from the EU, followed by an uncertain accession process, facing not only some sceptical member states struggling with secessionist movements but also the potential veto of the rest of the UK. Now, EU countries recognise that Scotland has been taken out of the EU against its will and that there could well be a legitimate case to re-enter the EU.

This does, however, not mean that the process is automatic. An independent Scotland would have to show that it truly belongs in the EU, pursuing membership as a purpose in itself rather than the means to achieve independence. The last thing the EU would want at this stage is a new "awkward" partner. Key here is a strong and visible commitment to EU values and the rule of law, in step with the overall direction of European integration. It would be important for the EU to be convinced that an independent Scotland was not driven by a negative nationalism of "us vs them" but that it could even provide a bridge between the EU and the rest of the UK, helping to ease some of the frictions and unresolved issues.

This implies that an independent Scotland shouldn’t expect to get a special membership deal, with opt-outs and exceptions. Yes, the EU would consider temporary derogations for parts of the EU framework to ease the transition into membership for any accession country. Yes, the EU would take special circumstances into account, as has been done with the Common Travel Area for Ireland. But the overall message is clear, membership means having the benefits of being in the club while committing to the obligations and the acquis communautaire, the body of law that constitutes the European Union.

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The adherence to the EU framework would also apply in terms of the accession process. An independent Scotland would have to apply for membership under Article 49 of the TEU, needing to fulfil the conditions of membership before joining. This, most likely, would take some time, although the intervening period could be bridged by a pre-accession agreement that could already pre-empt many aspects of membership. Scotland would also have the advantage of being at the front of the queue, given that it would fulfil much, but not all, of the EU’s accession conditions.

Joining the EU has a strong technical component but it is, first-and-foremost, a political process. All member states and the European Parliament can wield a veto when it comes to a country joining. But if an independent Scotland shows its commitment to EU values, willing to fulfil the conditions of membership, it is inconceivable that it would be blocked permanently from becoming a member state.

There is, however, one caveat. If Scotland becomes independent in an unconstitutional manner with respect to the constitution of the existing state, i.e. the UK, it would create a dangerous political and legal precedent in the eyes of many, if not all, member states, raising fears that it could stir up secessionist movements. Under these circumstances, an independent Scotland would, most likely, not be legally recognised by a number of EU member states, leaving it politically and legally impossible to imagine member state status in the foreseeable future, if at all.

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In the end, whether an independent Scotland would become a member of the EU will thus largely depend on Scotland itself. If constitutionally separated from the UK, and willing to commit to EU values and accession conditions, it is highly likely that an independent Scotland would become a member of the European Union.

Fabian Zuleeg is the chief executive and chief economist of the European Policy Centre