By Alex Orr
The dust has now settled on Prime Minister Cameron’s notorious “Bloomberg address”, pledging an “In-Out” Referendum in 2017 on the UK’s European Union membership should the Tories win the next General Election.
The Prime Minister, under UKIP and Tory backbench pressure, said he wants to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU and then give people the "simple choice" between staying in under those new terms or leaving the EU.
Given the results of the Eastleigh by-election, where UKIP finished second pushing the Tories into an embarrassing third place, it is a strategy that has clearly not worked. And the prospects are that Labour will be pushed into a similar pledge.
This is however a game changer when it comes to the small matter of Scottish independence. What the EU referendum debate does is highlight the irony of those opposing independence on the grounds that Scotland would have to re-apply for EU membership, when the UK is in fact potentially heading towards the exits.
The argument that the impact of a referendum to be held on Scottish independence next year will be destabilising to the economy, but one in 5 years time somehow won’t, is equally absurd. For those who want Scotland to remain within the EU, this can only be guaranteed through Scottish independence.
The prospect of an EU referendum does however create an interesting debate for those of us north of the border. Those born after 1957 have never had the chance to vote on the UK’s relationship with the EU (the EEC as was in the 1975 referendum), but those in the rest of the UK are potentially set to have such a vote in 2017. This will not include Scotland which, should it vote yes in 2014, will have achieved its independence in 2016.
I, like many, am wholly in favour of an independent Scotland’s continued membership of the EU and the benefits it has brought. It also provides a forum in which smaller nations can have a genuine influence. Ireland, for example, now holds the EU Presidency, having taken this role over from Cyprus. What is of some concern however is that those in what remains of the UK will have a debate on their future constitutional relationship with the EU, but we in Scotland will not.
There is a clear need for a national debate, potentially a referendum should there be the demand, on an independent Scotland’s relationship with the EU. This is especially relevant given the likelihood that what remains of the rest of the UK will have a different relationship with the EU post the proposed 2017 referendum.
According to recent polling around 60% of Scots would like there to be a referendum and I am in no doubt that Scotland would decide to stay within the EU, which the polls also indicate would be the case. But such a debate will serve to take the heat out of the debate, heal many old scores and settle this issue for at least a generation.
Alex Orr is a SNP European Parliamentary candidate and board member of the European Movement.