Scottish independence: Better Together boss sets out Union case

Blair McDougall, head of Better Together which is the official campaign to keep the Union, answers your questions

The head of the campaign to retain the United Kingdom has said an independent Scotland would clearly have to apply to become a member of the European Union.

Blair McDougall, of Better Together, told BBC Scotland that prominent figures from across Europe had supported the position.

The SNP government says an independent Scotland would negotiate its terms "from within" the EU.

Scottish ministers are staging the independence referendum in autumn 2014.

Speaking in a BBC webcast, Mr McDougall also said plans for the future of Scottish devolution would be set out "long in advance" of the referendum.

And he said there was a clear argument for Scotland remaining part of the UK, by sharing opportunity and risk, while maintaining a distinctive, devolved parliament in Edinburgh.

On the issue of Europe, Scottish ministers have insisted that, in the event of a 'yes' vote in the referendum, Scotland would remain part of the EU and negotiate its membership terms from within.

In December, the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said: "If one part of a country - I am not referring now to any specific one - wants to become an independent state, of course as an independent state it has to apply to the European membership according to the rules - that is obvious."

Start Quote

People have consistently said across Europe that Scotland's a new state - it will have to negotiate. I don't think there's any doubt on that”

End Quote Blair McDougall Better Together

More recently, Ireland's European affairs minister, Lucinda Creighton, said an independent Scotland would be welcomed by its EU neighbours, but added: "If Scotland were to become independent, Scotland would have to apply for membership and that can be a lengthy process."

The Westminster government, on behalf of the UK as a member state, has so far declined to seek EC legal advice on the issue, after a request from Scottish ministers, saying it was up to the SNP to make the case for independence.

Asked if the coalition government in London should definitively put the matter to rest by going to the European Commission, Mr McDougall said: "I don't think it's in any way unclear what the position of the European Commission is."

"President Barroso has been really clear. He was asked in the context of Scotland, so he was clear about what he was saying, if there is a new state that state has to submit a new application for EU membership.

Blair McDougall Blair McDougall says "we get the best of both worlds at the moment"

"People have consistently said across Europe that Scotland's a new state - it will have to negotiate. I don't think there's any doubt on that."

On the issues of more powers for Holyrood in the event of a vote against independence, Mr McDougall said the main three parties which were part of Better Together - Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, were in the process of setting out their thoughts on the issue.

"All three parties have said, I don't think its a big surprise that they said it, that long in advance of the independence vote, people will be able to look at their proposals for the future of devolution."

Setting out the case for the Union, Mr McDougall said: "Our argument is pretty clear. We think we get the best of both worlds at the moment.

"We get strength and opportunities and shared risk of the United Kingdom with a distinctive Scottish Parliament, with powers over things like health and education."

Home market

He added: "We think on the economy we're better together, because we sell twice as much to the rest of the United Kingdom as we do to the rest of the world.

"We think that for social reasons we're better together. If you or I, god forbid, have some sort of rare illness, we can go to any NHS hospital in the whole of the United Kingdom and be treated."

On the economic issue, Mr McDougall said: "If you ask any small business person whether it's as easy to trade with countries in the European Union, like Germany or France, as it is to trade with our home market of the rest of the United Kingdom that would tell you that actually it's quite a different affair trading with the EU, even within the single market of the European Union.

"When you have such an important home market, when you have so many jobs dependent on the union of the United Kingdom, why would you even risk making it more difficult to trade?"

Meanwhile, Blair Jenkins, head of the Yes Scotland campaign for independence, has urged Better Together to discuss arrangements for a joint disclosure of campaign donations.

Mr McDougall responded: "We've always said, before too long, we'll publish the names of all of our donors.

"We've said we'll do it in the first quarter of this year."

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