An independent Scotland could probably not join the EU until 2030

Scotland’s desire to remain a part of the EU is not so easily satisfied even if a new independence referendum is carried out rapidly. Three different timetables (which can partly be in parallel) have to mesh.

  1. Exit process for UK from EU
  2. Independence process for Scotland from the UK
  3.  Application and accession process for an independant Scotland into the EU.

Looking at these 3 timetables, I reckon the earliest an independent Scotland could enter the EU in its own right would be around 2030.

Brexit now sets in motion an exit process for the UK from the EU. The only deadline is that the process will be completed 2 years after the UK invokes Article 50. However it is up to the UK to invoke Article 50. So the start point is flexible and is solely in the control of the UK government of the day. Even if Cameron is replaced by another Prime Minister, it will be up to his new government and the UK parliament to decide when they are comfortable enough to start the ball rolling (because then the 2 year deadline will apply). There is no reason for the UK to give up too early its current time pressure advantage which will pass to the EU once Article 50 has been invoked. I see the earliest that a UK government is prepared for this will be around March 2017. That would give an exit being effective in March 2019.

March 2017 is probably the earliest a new referendum on the independence of Scotland could be held. Using the timetable put forward by the SNP for the 2014 referendum, it would then be March 2019 before Scotland was an independent nation. This may be a little too optimistic both for when the referendum could be held and for the time required for the legal measures necessary. Whether the UK parliament could be handling the bills necessary for exiting the EU simultaneously with passing the bills for Scotland’s exit from the UK is also doubtful. Nevertheless I assume a referendum could be held by March 2017.

To apply for EU membership, Scotland would need to have, and be able to show, a “stable” economy and stable, established institutions. With the best will in the world, this is going to require at least 3 years (and probably more) as an independent nation. Assume anyway that Scotland can submit an application for membership sometime around 2022/2023. The minimum time needed for accession of a new member has been the 3 years for Finland and Sweden. It is more usually of the order of 10 years with countries with weaker economies taking longer. It is not unreasonable to assume that a newly independent Scotland would need 7 years for accession.

Accession times to the European Union (pdf)

And that would take us to 2030 for an independent Scotland’s accession to the EU.


 

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