AS candidates to be the next SNP leader and first minister, one of you will be responsible for shaping Scotland’s current and future relations with the European Union.

The context is clear, though challenging. More than three years after the UK formally left the EU, Brexit is, regrettably, done. Outside the EU, Scotland shares the status of a “third country” along with the rest of the UK. Whatever the future holds, Scotland will not be part of the EU for some time.

At this stage, the twin approach of restating opposition to Brexit and coasting on pro-EU sentiment has definitively run its course. Instead, what matters are Scotland’s approach to EU affairs right now and the prospect of Scottish EU membership under independence. On both themes, it is time for substantive and lasting evolution in Scottish government and politics.

In that spirit, I put to you the following five questions on Scotland and the EU: 1. Will you deliver a credible and effective EU relations strategy for Scotland?

To succeed as a sub-state outside the EU, Scotland needs a realistic and focused EU relations strategy oriented to the post-Brexit era. It should define how Scotland will sustain mutually beneficial connections with EU partners. By definition, this work should be entirely separate from the independence debate. At present, the Scottish Government has no such strategy. The Sturgeon administration’s Global Affairs Framework is more a brochure than a strategy. Scotland’s connectivity with the EU, beyond headlines and photos, will depend on whether you deliver a credible and effective strategy for the years ahead.

2. Will you support a realistic conversation on Scotland aligning with EU law?

The purpose of the Scottish EU Continuity Act is to enable Scotland to align with EU law (which is always evolving). However, by its own admission, the Sturgeon administration undertook proactive and substantial alignment just a handful of times. Beyond pro-EU sentiment, the challenges, limitations and trade-offs of Scotland matching new EU laws are complex. You will have a decisive role in determining whether we have a realistic conversation on EU alignment.

3. Will you deliver a credible and serious prospectus for Scottish EU membership?

Scottish EU membership is now central to the primary case for independence. For years, we waited for the Sturgeon administration to provide substantive proposals on EU accession and membership, ultimately without answer. The three existing “Building a New Scotland” papers are vague and non-committal on the core aspects of joining the EU. Restating the aim of applying for EU membership is no substitute for addressing the mechanics of EU accession with honesty and detail. A genuine debate on Scottish EU membership will depend on whether you deliver a credible and serious prospectus for joining.

4. Will you be forthright about the choices and challenges of Scottish EU accession?

It would be perfectly possible for an independent Scotland to join the EU and, eventually, to become a successful EU member state. However, important issues would have to be faced as part of Scotland’s EU accession. A trade border between Scotland and the residual UK would be inevitable, if the latter still had the current post-Brexit deal. Scotland would need a pre-accession relationship with the EU, likely different from any other. A mature discussion will rest on whether you are forthright about the choices and challenges of EU accession.

5. Will you support greater Europeanisation of Scottish government and politics?

Scotland’s EU debate is at present largely dysfunctional. The root of that dysfunction is the relative lack of Europeanisation of Scottish politics (which is not about feeling “European”). In other words, Scotland is disconnected from what the EU actually means and does. Moreover, liking (or disliking) the EU is not the same as understanding how it functions. Vast improvements are required in this area. You will play a major role in shaping whether Scottish government and politics become more attuned to EU affairs in practice.

Your answers to these questions will set the course on Scotland’s EU relations.
Anthony Salamone
Managing Director of European Merchants