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  1. ITV Report

Peter MacMahon's thoughts on the Spanish perspective on Scottish independence

Peter MacMahon talks independence in terms of the Spanish perspective Photo: ITV News

Scotland is a nation, not a region. A point made by First Minister Alex Salmond yesterday – Thursday 28 November - during fierce exchanges at Holyrood over Scotland’s place in the EU.

He was responding to a question from Labour leader Johann Lamont who raised the views of the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Scotland.

Mr Rajoy said on Wednesday 27 November that if a “region” of a current member state voted to become independent it would “remain outside the European Union”.

Ms Lamont would, of course, accept Scotland is a nation, she was merely quoting the Spanish premier.

The issues he raised, and which the three main unionist parties at Holyrood seized on, is central to the independence debate.

It should be pointed out that Mr Rajoy may have been aiming his remarks at a domestic audience.

He is strongly opposed to the Catalans- where "nationalists" control Catalonia's equivalent of the Scottish parliament - having a referendum on independence and has moved to try to ensure they don't.

But the issue goes wider than Catalonia and Spain.

In the past senior European officials have suggested that a new independent country would have to apply to join the 28 member bloc.

The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, has said so. Official spokespeople have echoed that.

Now, very few people think Scotland could not become a member of the EU were she to become independent.

Scotland is a modern, democratic nation governed by the rule of law. It meets the general criteria for membership

The question would be on what terms? Let’s take one issue in particular.

Would Scotland have to promise to join the euro, as Sweden has done?

Yes, say many well-placed observers.

No, say the SNP Scottish government, which argues that Scotland will inherit the same terms and conditions as the UK, including an opt-out on joining the euro.

There are differences. Sweden rejected the euro in a referendum, giving them a powerful argument against joining. Even so, they are committed in principle to do so.

One source who knows this subject inside out told me: “Sweden got on the train that takes them towards the euro, even if they have stepped back off it for now.”

The Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence disputes this. It states: “No country can be forced to join the euro against its will. They may well get back on board.”

Others say the euro is so central to the European project EU states would insist an independent Scotland would agree in principle to join the euro, at least in principle.

Where would that leave the SNP in terms of their policy of becoming part of a Sterling zone? In a difficult place, say the critics.

Let us assume the remainder of the UK agreed to Scotland being part of Sterling even though current UK ministers say that is “unlikely”.

It would then be in one single currency zone – Sterling - and pledged to join another one – the euro. The outcome, critics say, would be uncertainty in the financial markets.

This simply won’t happen, say the SNP. Again, to quote the white paper:

“In order to be considered for membership of the Eurozone, countries need to choose to include their currency in the Exchange Rate Mechanism II and there are no plans for Scotland to do this.”

SNP strategists I have been talking to say polling shows issues like the currency in an independent Scotland do not register with voters ahead of the referendum.

Electors are far more concerned about health, or education, or jobs, nationalists argue. They have a point.

But if the opposition can keep probing the currency plans and if it appears the SNP’s ideas are flawed – note the two ifs – then voters may begin to notice.