Carmichael Questions SNP EU Policy

The Scottish Government is facing demands to fill in the "missing detail'' on plans to achieve independence as part of the European Union.

Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish Secretary in the UK Government, listed four key questions for External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop, who is due to appear before Holyrood's European Committee today. 

The Scottish Government expects to achieve a smooth transition to full EU membership in the 18 months between a Yes vote and formal independence from the UK. 

Critics say Scotland may have to re-apply and they question whether it is possible to renegotiate terms according to the SNP's timetable. 

Mr Carmichael, a Lib Dem MP, hopes Ms Hyslop will reveal whether any other member state has backed the Scottish Government's preferred route and if there is a fall-back plan for negotiations if ministers hit obstacles. 

He wants details on how Scotland can claim to be a "constructive partner'' in the EU while SNP ministers publicly rule out a commitment to join the euro, and asked what evidence there is that Scotland can enjoy "preferential'' membership terms. 

"The Scottish Government could make a significant contribution to the referendum debate by filling in a great deal of missing detail on its plans to take an independent Scotland into Europe,'' he said. 

"It's clear there are no short-cuts to entry or to preferential terms and conditions and that a growing number of key figures close to the decision-making process are casting doubts on their preferred route into the EU. 

"This is something which should concern everyone in Scotland and it is imperative that people have answers. I made these issues clear to the European Committee when I laid out just some of the expert opinion and evidence which points towards a difficult and protracted process to gain EU membership. 

"The Scottish Government, and Scotland, cannot afford to ignore this problem any longer. Assertion alone will not convince anyone. They must show the public their detailed plans for dealing with this potential issue.'' 

The White Paper on independence states: "Following a vote for independence, the Scottish Government will immediately seek discussions with the Westminster Government and with the member states and institutions of the EU to agree the process whereby a smooth transition to full EU membership can take place on the day Scotland becomes an independent country. 

"We will approach EU membership negotiations on the basis of the principle of continuity of effect. That means that Scotland's transition to independent membership will be based on the EU treaty obligations and provisions that currently apply to Scotland under our present status as part of the UK. It will avoid disruption to Scotland's current fully integrated standing within the legal, economic, institutional, political and social framework of the EU.'' 

A spokesman for Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "The question Alistair Carmichael needs to answer is why he supports a Tory Government that risks dragging Scotland out of the EU against our will, with all the consequences that would have for jobs, investment and prosperity. 

"Scotland is already in the EU and has been for 40 years - and no member state has said that it would veto Scotland's continued membership. We have put forward a suggested mechanism by which Scotland can make the transition from being in the European Union as part of the UK to being part of the EU as an independent country. 

"This can be done with continuity of effect and no detriment to other European states. And as a wide range of experts, including former European Court Judge Sir David Edward and Honorary Vice President of the European Commission Graeme Avery have said, this is a process that will take place in the period between a vote for independence and Scotland becoming independent.''