WE at the Scottish Sovereignty Research Group read with great interest two recent articles in The National: Judith Duffy’s “SNP’s Toni Giugliano calls for vision for independent Scotland in Europe to be outlined” and Reuben Duffy’s “EU referendum for an independent Scotland gives us a democratic choice”.

While both articles made valid points, the SSRG fundamentally disagrees that EU entry immediately after independence is feasible, practicable, or even wise. It is our informed view that membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is preferable, because it could be obtained rapidly, would restore trade with Europe, and enable subsequent EU accession if democratically decided.

In the first article, Giugliano holds that Scotland should “start thinking” and the SNP should “outline a vision” of what kind of European member-state Scotland should be. Giugliano dismisses EFTA membership, arguing that Scotland’s non-participation in EU institutions leads to a “democratic deficit”, whilst failing to recognise that an independent Scotland will be sovereign with no democratic deficit whatsoever.

The second article proposes a referendum on EU membership following a successful independence referendum, though he acknowledges that one will not be held anytime soon.

Therefore, any EU referendum could be a decade away, at least.

Prior to the May elections, the SSRG asked EFTA if the Scottish Government were to use these elections as a plebiscite for independence, would they consider this as legitimate grounds to join. They responded affirmatively, provided the Scottish Parliament affirms its sovereignty thereby acquiring the competence to negotiate international treaties, and the powers to abide by them.

EFTA explained that if independence were achieved using this method, the Scottish Parliament should simply send a letter to the EFTA Council requesting membership, which would have been granted at their next monthly EFTA Council meeting. At the following monthly EEA Council meeting, the EFTA members would propose that Scotland be admitted, for which they foresaw no impediment. Our view is that the EFTA official would not have proposed this if there were not agreement among members.

We currently have no indication what will trigger Scottish independence, or when. What is clear is that waiting for a Section 30 order from Boris Johnson is an exercise in futility, and another means must be rapidly found. The SSRG will be organising a conference in early August seeking broad party and civic participation to determine how Scotland can legally affirm its sovereignty, become independent, and begin to develop a written constitution.

Once sovereignty is affirmed, Scotland can join EFTA and re-join the EEA within weeks. The four freedoms of movement Scotland lost with Brexit: people, goods, services, and capital, would be restored. EFTA has already negotiated post-Brexit trading arrangements with the UK. Scotland joining EFTA will also facilitate cross-border trade between an independent Scotland and England.

Austria, Denmark, and Portugal were EFTA members before joining the EU, so there is nothing that stops Scotland from doing likewise. However, in the EEA, Scotland would negotiate EU entry from a position of economic strength rather than desperation, so the EU could not extract unreasonable concessions. Scots would then carefully consider the pros and cons of EU-EFTA membership, then hold a referendum over remaining in EFTA or joining the EU.

To join EFTA, the Scottish Parliament simply needs to affirm it represents the sovereignty of the Scottish people, holding the powers to negotiate treaties and the powers to abide by them. How much more economic damage, ruined industries, and erosion of devolved powers and institutions will it take for Holyrood to act?

Time will tell, but time is running out.
Dr Mark McNaught and the SSRG