THE founder of the Scottish Centre on European Relations addressed myths around Scotland’s re-entry to the EU during The National and Believe in Scotland’s Open Minds on Independence event this week.

In January we asked readers to nominate an undecided voter they know, who would receive a free 12-week subscription to The National in the run-up to the election.

Those signed up not only have access to the daily newspaper and online content – we have also been sending them a series of specially curated articles helping to build the case for independence. These pieces have focused on everything from economic myths to pension claims.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about the Yes Challenge and Open Minds on Independence

This week we held the first in our new series of Open Minds events, which are exclusive for those signed up to the initiative. We asked them to submit questions they still have about independence and brought on experts to help address them.

Editor Callum Baird hosted this week’s session, and was joined by Believe in Scotland’s Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, European relations expert Dr Kirsty Hughes and The National’s community editor and top columnist Shona Craven.

One of the first questions submitted to Dr Hughes focused on the myth that Scotland would have to go to the back of the queue in order to rejoin the EU after becoming independent.

“No, in that sense there is no queue,” Dr Hughes told viewers. “If Scotland was independent today and starting talks with the EU today we’d be behind Serbia and Montenegro because they’re already in talks, they’ve been through screening, they’ve got an association agreement. But we could maybe overtake them in six months or a year. There’s nothing to stop that happening.”

She said, however, that EU entry is a “political process” as well as a technical one – pointing out that any EU member state can veto an application, and has changed its stance on enlargement over the years.

“So in the previous commission to the current one, led by John Claud Juncker, he basically said right at the start nobody’s going to join for five years,” Dr Hughes recalled. “There were lots of reasons for that, and it was mainly to do with the West Balkans, but I suppose if Scotland had been trying to join then it might have just got put together with the West Balkans – even though it might have been very easy to bring it in politically. It might have been put in that broad group of candidate countries.”

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Despite that, she said, Scotland was in a strong position. “Apart from that political side of it, which as you know you cant always predict where politics may go, the EU allows European states to join, it has a very clear technical process. As I said, Scotland’s going to be ahead in that technical process.”

Baird then asked about other myths surrounding Scotland and the EU. “There are others that spring to mind,” he said. “One that Scotland would have to join the euro, and the other that Scotland wouldn’t be allowed to join because its deficit is not under 3%.

“In terms of meeting those criteria … what is the truth in that?” he asked.

Dr Hughes explained that all EU member states have to commit to joining the euro, and only Denmark and the UK had opt-outs. She thought it was “important to remember”, though, that these opt-outs came after they secured their membership of the bloc.

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She went on: “Once in you’re in the EU and you’re not in the euro, actually because by then you’re a member state, you can’t be forced to join. So Sweden has managed its exchange rate very closely vis a vis the euro because its population don’t want to join, it hasn’t joined.”

On the deficit question – which MacIntyre-Kemp also discussed in detail later in the session – Dr Hughes said while there is, or was, a “general expectation” for member states to stick to the 3% deficit requirement, there have been exceptions like Croatia.

“It actually came in with a deficit above 3%, but it was expected to have a plan to bring it down pretty quickly,” she explained. “So it’s wrong to say you must have hit the 3% before you join, but it would also be wrong to say ‘oh you can do anything you want’.”

She said the situation is changing rapidly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic – with the EU lifting limits on deficit and debt with no firm date on when to back them back to their previous levels.

“There’s a lot of debate going on at the moment about whether it makes sense to put them back or should there be new criteria because certainly, most member states are not going to have the right levels of debt to meet those criteria anymore,” she said. “So I think in that sense we’re actually in a more fluid and healthy place – it’s not healthy in terms of the recovery from the pandemic – but it’s made politicians and member states face up to these issues more quickly than they might have done if they’d just been on a steady track.”

Other clips from the Open Minds on Independence event will be available to view online next week.