By Martin Kelly
The Scottish National Party has mounted a direct challenge to anti-independence politicians on their stance on Scotland in Europe, after two Lib Dem politicians suggested that Scotland can be independent and a member of the European Union.
In an interview with Catalan news agency ACN, the President of the European Liberals Graham Watson argued that the independence debate in Catalonia and Scotland is "a very important issue for the EU" adding that the European Union "has to be sufficiently strong but also a sufficiently flexible entity to allow people to express themselves within it, and that may mean some changes to boundaries".
In the article, Mr Watson also said he would not see any problem "with an independent Catalonia, inside the European Union".
The views of the senior Lib Dem follow comments from party colleague and former Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore who said he believes there will be no objections from other EU member states to an independent Scotland being granted its own EU membership.
In an interview to ACN, Mr Moore insisted he saw "no reason to believe that any country around Europe would have an in-principle objection to any new Member State coming forward and I don't mean Scotland as I mean anywhere in the European Union". He added that "the EU had a proud record in Europe in recent times of expanding its borders and including people in".
Mr Moore's comments marked a softening of his stance on the issue of Scotland's status within the EU should the referendum in 2014 result in a yes vote. Previously the former UK coalition minister has claimed that a Yes vote would see Scotland forced out of the EU and having to negotiate its way back in.
Head of anti-independence group Better Together, Alistair Darling, has claimed that Scotland could be forced to wait up to ten years for EU membership. Speaking in February this year, the Labour MP said that an independent Scotland, "would face a lengthy application process to the EU."
Responding to the comments from Mr Watson and Mr Moore, SNP MSP Christina McKelvie said they piled pressure on anti-independence campaigners who have consistently claimed Scotland's EU membership would be jeopardised by independence.
Calling for opponents of independence to match the words of the two party colleagues in relation to Scotland and the EU, Ms McKelvie, who is also the convener of the Scottish Parliament's European Committee, said:
"These are very welcome comments from a senior Lib Dem who is well-respected in Europe, and they are reinforced by the remarks by the former Secretary of State for Scotland. I would urge their colleagues to match these words in relation to Scotland, instead of engaging in the silly politics of 'Project Fear'.
"In the case of Mr Moore, his tone is startlingly different from before he was sacked from the UK Cabinet."
Earlier this month, an EC official confirmed that Scotland could still legally negotiate a continuation of its current membership from within the European Union following a Yes vote.
Mario-Paulo Tenreiro, who is responsible for institutional questions at the Secretariat General of the European Commission said it would be "legally possible" for such negotiations to take place whilst Scotland remained an EU member.
Ms McKelvie added: "With our own membership of the EU, we will be able to ensure that Scotland always has a voice at the European top table so that the interests of Scotland and our economy are always protected and promoted.
"An independent Scotland will be a constructive member of the EU. As an independent member, we will be able to defend our national interests in a way that we cannot do as a devolved part of the UK.
"Instead of continuing with their self-described 'Project Fear', politicians in the anti-independence campaign should take heed of these comments and match these words in relation to Scotland.
"It is perfectly clear that the only threat to Scotland's EU membership comes from Westminster, and its growing determination to pursue isolationism and withdrawal.
"The only way that people can safeguard Scotland and the Scottish economy from such damaging isolationism is with a Yes vote for independence next September."
In August the Law Society of Scotland published a report that concluded that Scotland's membership of the European Union would encounter no legal barriers.
The legal paper pointed out that Scotland already complies with EU treaties and acquis and therefore qualifies "in legal terms for EU membership in its own right." and added that "Scotland would have the capacity to be recognised as an independent state".
In July, leading academics and politicians from Denmark insisted that a newly independent Scotland would encounter no problems continuing its membership of the European Union. MP Rasmus Helveg Petersen said Scotland would find the process of acquiring its own membership "fairly quick" and a "mere formality".
The Danish government official said: "It would be very clear [...] it could happen overnight."
The spokesman on foreign affairs for the Denmark's Social Liberals added: "The criteria is very objective, Scotland would qualify. If Scotland wants it, yes. It would be a mere formality."
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