Why the Scottish Government has drawn up Europe proposals and what they mean

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has published proposals for protecting Scotland’s place in Europe after the vote to leave the European Union (EU).

In the referendum on June 23, Scotland voted to stay in the European Union (EU) by a margin of 62% to 38% while the UK as a whole voted to leave by 52% to 48%. Ms Sturgeon pledged to ensure the vote north of the border was taken account of and said her government would explore all options to protect Scotland’s place in Europe, setting up an expert group to look at the issue. This included looking at options that might allow Scotland to remain in the single market even if the rest of the UK leaves.

:: What does the document say about the UK Government’s position?

The Scottish Government wants the UK to remain in the European single market and argues this could be achieved by it staying in the European Economic Area (EEA) and within the EU customs union. The paper argues there is “no basis whatsoever” for the assumption that those who voted to leave the EU also wanted to exit the European single market. Scottish ministers argue that staying in the single market is crucial for the economy.

:: What about different options for Scotland?

The Scottish Government says that despite an “overwhelming” case for the UK Government continuing European single market membership through the EEA, it is not confident that will happen. In that case, Ms Sturgeon has put forward alternative proposals which she argues would allow Scotland to remain in the single market even if the UK leaves.

This could involve something similar to a “Norway-style” agreement, with Scotland potentially becoming a full or associate member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and thereafter becoming party to the EFTA EEA agreement. Other variations could see Scotland, through the UK, enter a direct association with the EEA or seek associate membership of EFTA and subsequently becoming party to the EEA agreement.

:: What about new powers for the Scottish Parliament?

The paper argues that more powers will have to be transferred to Holyrood in order to deal with the consequences of Brexit and potentially pursue a separate arrangement for Scotland. This would include powers in areas of Scottish Parliament responsibility such as fishing and agriculture being repatriated from the EU in addition to new controls over immigration and trade negotiations.

:: How has the UK Government responded?

The UK Government welcomed the publication of the paper and said it will “give it careful consideration”, emphasising the government was committed to securing a deal that works for the UK as a whole. However, Chancellor Philip Hammond appeared to rule out a special Brexit deal for Scotland as “unrealistic” during a visit to Edinburgh earlier this month.

:: What about Scottish independence?

In the days following the Brexit vote, Ms Sturgeon said a second referendum on Scottish independence was “highly likely” and in the document she reiterates that independence is her “preferred option” for protecting Scotland’s place in Europe.

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on a draft Bill that could bring about a second vote on the issue but polling data suggests that support for independence has not surged since the Brexit vote. Ms Sturgeon says the focus of the paper is to look for common ground with the UK Government on a solution that would protect Scotland’s position in the single market “from within the UK”.

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