ACTIVISTS gathered in Edinburgh to attend the first of potentially many workshops on the European Union and how Scotland can align itself to re-enter the bloc.

Campaign group Yes for EU facilitated discussion for over three hours on Saturday, focused on Scotland’s policy alignment and divergence with wider European policy, and how to campaign on these issues.

Former MEP and SNP councillor Heather Anderson opened the day by thanking activists for “keeping going” in the campaign for Scotland’s independence and shared how she represented Scotland for only four days prior to Brexit.

The team then had a recorded interview with Kirsty Hughes, to explain and explore a potential Association Agreement with the EU.

While some make the argument for full European Free Trade Association/ European Economic Area (EFTA/EEA) membership to bridge the period until an independent Scotland joins the EU, Hughes said these claims were “misleading” and that these were not considered a transition path to full EU membership.

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Hughes, a researcher, writer and commentator on European politics and policy, told interviewer Sam Page that an Association Agreement would be the likely route to full membership, and would be a way for Scotland to get some pre-accession assistance.

An Association Agreement is the EU's main instrument to bring countries closer to EU standards and norms. For example, the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) signed in 2020 is an Association Agreement.

Hughes argued that if Scotland were to leave the UK then the TCA agreement - which currently regulates trade would "no longer apply to the correct geographical mass " - so the EU would have potentially two options.

Negotiators would have to talk to Scotland before it becomes a state to create a transition agreement or the EU would have to extend the TCA agreement with the UK and the UK would have to re-enter into negotiations.

Hughes highlighted that the EU is “used to negotiating” these agreements with several countries already having signed them and all countries currently involved in the wider EU enlargement have agreements in place.

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She also highlighted that it was “curious” the media and pro-independence political parties do not focus on them when arguing for independence, but concluded that this may be due to SNP and Greens preferring to focus on the “end goal” argument for Yes rather than the transition.

When asked why agreements were "hardly ever mentioned" by media or politicians, Hughes said: "I think it's quite curious in the Scottish case given that the aim of the SNP and Scottish Government is independence within the EU that they don't talk about Association Agreements more. 

"It may be part of a bigger issue around the way independence is argued for, where people like to talk about the final stage - when we're independent, and when we're doing as well as Denmark, or when we're in the EU - but of course, it's obvious to everyone that the transition is really important.

"Transition in a sense is at the heart of the independence debate because it's fine to say we'll be this sort of country in 10 or 20 years but people want to know about the immediate future."

In a recent Scotland Government paper on re-joining the EU, it states: "In order to ensure continuity of rights and obligations as well as legal certainty during the EU accession process, this Scottish Government would seek to agree transitional arrangements.

"These would provide certainty and facilitate the continuation of trading arrangements – in a broadly similar manner to those in place before independence – until Scotland joins the EU."

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Later in the day, Anderson (above), an organic farmer for 22 years, shared the current state of Scotland’s agriculture policy – and shared that she hoped the Scottish Government would be “bold” in its published details on future farm support measures.

Attendees then went on to watch videos produced by the European Union, the Irish Government, Scotonomics and the mainstream media on Europe.

They then broke into groups at tables to discuss trade barriers, farming, renewables and currency, the key constraints Scotland could face to achieving full alignment with the EU on these issues, how constraints can be removed, and the timelines for these.

Throughout the sessions, activists focused on the need for continuing establishment of positive relationships with EU counterparts and to be prepared for misinformation, and “horror stories” in Unionist arguments as well as mainstream media.

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One participant said that “details are critical” when it comes to arguments to re-join the EU – especially in the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway on trade infrastructure and legislation.

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Reflecting on the workshop, attendees said they had mixed emotions, with one sharing that the day had revealed how much Scotland had been “asset stripped”.

She said: “We’re being run down and underinvested in by a union that knows it’s lost the argument, that there is a positive argument for the union, so they are just asset stripping and it’s really upsetting”.

Another told organisers they would be keen to have the Yes for EU group attend their SNP branch with a condensed presentation to share the arguments for the EU.

He said: “I think you’d get a very warm welcome [from the branch] and it would actually help us when we’re talking to people on the doors. We were out this morning and to have some of the facts we’ve learned today, it would have really helped.”

You can donate to the Yes for EU group here.