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20 February 2017, 14:31
An independent Scotland could be a full member of the European Union by 2023, according to two leading academics.
Tobias Lock, from the University of Edinburgh, and Kirsty Hughes, of Friends of Europe, said political goodwill in the EU could see Scotland fast-tracked to membership if a second independence referendum delivered a Yes vote.
In a report, the pair highlight a sea-change in attitudes since the 2014 ballot, driven by the majority vote to remain in the EU north of the border.
They write: ''At the time of the 2014 independence referendum, the Brussels mood music towards Scotland was negative and discouraging.
''European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso suggested it would be 'extremely difficult' for Scotland to join the EU. Now, the head of the European Commission office in London talks of a 'normal' accession process for Scotland.
''There is considerable political goodwill to Scotland in EU capitals since it is facing Brexit despite having voted to remain. That political goodwill, on current trends, is likely to feed into an effort to fast-track Scotland's EU membership in the event of a successful independence vote.''
The pair said it is ''not obvious'' Spain would block an independent Scotland's membership as a result of concerns over Catalonian independence demands if the process is ''legally and constitutionally sound''.
They argue that if Scotland voted for independence in autumn 2018, it would be unlikely to be able to formally stay in the EU when the UK leaves in March 2019, assuming Article 50 is triggered next month.
However they conclude that on a ''normal'' accession process, Scotland could take up full EU membership in 2024 if it formally separated from the UK in 2020.
This process could be accelerated if informal talks were able to take place before the end of 2020, making Scotland an independent member state by 2023.
They write: ''Scotland already meets almost all of the EU's acquis - from the single market and the Common Agricultural Policy, to the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the customs union. So it would already meet most of the EU's current 35 chapters that have to be negotiated for the accession process.''
Ms Hughes and Mr Lock say it would be unlikely that an independent Scotland would be able to keep the UK's budget rebate and would probably ''face being a very small net contributor to the EU's budget'', but would be likely to retain the UK's opt-out of the Schengen area.
''It would probably have to commit to eventual euro membership, but would not meet the criteria yet, and would, like Sweden, be able to postpone this (probably indefinitely),'' they write.
''The real challenge for Scotland will be not to diverge from existing and future EU policies between Brexit in March 2019 and its potential accession in 2023 or 2024.
''The combination of a UK-EU27 Brexit transition deal, and an agreed EU-Scotland accession path, should ensure Scotland does not start to unravel EU policies, but rather adds those few policy areas where the UK currently has opt-outs.''