Scottish independence: EU membership and the Anglo–Scottish border

Primary Author or Creator:
Institute for Government
Institute for Government
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Assessment report
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The implications of an independent Scotland joining the EU or EFTA would include a border with rUK, some interim border arrangements, and considerations about currency 


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There are indications that the EU would welcome an application from an independent Scotland. Full membership of the EU may take up to a decade to complete. As a new member state, Scotland would probably have to take on the normal obligations, which may include the use of the Euro.  A hard border with England would be the consequence of EU membership.  Even a looser relationship, similar to Norway, with the EU would require a customs border with England.

The UK’s exit from the European Union has reinvigorated calls for a second Scottish independence referendum, but it has also fundamentally changed the context in which independence might conceivably come into effect. In a nutshell, the UK–EU decision to conclude a loose trade deal through the Trade and Cooperation Agreement means that an independent Scotland would have to choose between having a frictionless trading relationship with the UK or with the EU. It would not be able to have both.

Ultimately, there are no easy solutions to this problem. EU membership would bring with it both costs and benefits, the arguments around which have been well-rehearsed in the past five years of debate over Brexit. But the implications of EU membership for an independent Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK have not been widely discussed.

The impact of Scotland rejoining the EU on trade across the Anglo–Scottish border would be a central issue of debate in any future independence referendum campaign, particularly if the Scottish government made clear that a vote for independence would lead automatically to Scotland seeking to become an EU member.

Ultimately it would be for Scottish voters to weigh up the costs and benefits of the status quo – remaining part of the UK outside the EU – and the form of independence promoted by the Scottish government. As the SNP sets out its plans for the path to independence, it should be open about the trade-offs of the alternative routes that an independent Scotland could take, and clear about the route it is advocating – including the detail of the new relationships it envisages with Scotland’s nearest neighbours. That will allow Scottish voters to make up their mind with a clear understanding of the choices and challenges that would lie ahead.