Scotland politics

Scottish referendum: EU legal advice received but will not be disclosed

The SNP government has received legal advice on an independent Scotland's membership of the EU, but it has refused to reveal what it says.

External Affairs Minister Fiona Hyslop confirmed to BBC Newsnight Scotland that advice had now been seen.

But she added that no government, whether at Holyrood or Westminster, would reveal such advice.

In October last year, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she had asked for legal guidance on the EU.

That advice was commissioned from the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland and it is understood he has now handed that over to the Holyrood administration.

Ms Hyslop told BBC presenter Gordon Brewer: "We have received legal advice. No government, whether it is the UK government or the Scottish government, would disclose that.

"But what we have said, and Nicola Sturgeon said this in October, is the White Paper would set out the proposals."

Labour MSP Ken Mackintosh, who was also being interviewed by Newsnight Scotland, asked Ms Hyslop: "Given that we are going to have a referendum next year, why won't you at least publish the terms of the legal advice before that referendum?

"Surely, it is pretty central to the arguments you are putting, surely the Scottish people will have the right to see that legal opinion before we vote on it?"

Ms Hyslop told Mr Macintosh that the material was "confidential".

She added: "The important thing is the White Paper that will set out the terms for the independence proposal will be consistent with the legal advice that we have received. Now, that is the reassurance that you are looking for, that was the reassurance promised by Nicola Sturgeon in October."

Ms Hyslop made her comments during an interview to discuss the view of former Irish prime minister John Bruton who believes Scotland "probably could" achieve EU membership within 18 months of a yes to independence.

The Scottish government wants to negotiate "continuing" EU membership if there was a yes vote in 2014.

However, Mr Bruton told the BBC he thought a formal treaty of accession would still be required.

He added: "There will always be uncertainty about what might happen afterwards, you are never going to get 100% assurance on all of the points you want assurance on."

Mr Bruton, who served as Taoiseach of Ireland from 1994 to 1997, went on: "The EU, ultimately, while it is based on rules and law, is a practical, political enterprise which works on the basis of mutual interest and compromise.

"Compromises are always found, sometimes with a bit of suspense involved, but they are always found to the big difficult issues in the EU."