No gra­cias Señora Stur­geon!

Inf lu­en­tial Span­ish MEP tells the SNP Scot­land will never be a mem­ber of EU

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - By Ge­or­gia Ed­kins

AN in­de­pen­dent Scot­land would be barred from join­ing the Euro­pean Union, ac­cord­ing to one of the most pow­er­ful fig­ures in Brus­sels.

Scot­land’s floun­der­ing econ­omy – il­lus­trated by a £12.6 bil­lion fund­ing black hole, re­vealed in a pub­lic spend­ing re­port last week – would pre­clude the coun­try from re­join­ing the EU.

Span­ish MEP Este­ban Gon­za­lez Pons, chair­man of a Brexit work­ing group for the EU’s Euro­pean Peo­ple’s Party – an in­flu­en­tial um­brella group of na­tional par­ties – said it is clear Scot­land would not meet the cri­te­ria for mem­ber­ship.

The an­nual Govern­ment Expenditur­e and Rev­enue Scot­land re­port pub­lished last week by the Scot­tish Govern­ment re­vealed the full ex­tent of the coun­try’s fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties.

Scot­land has a fund­ing short­fall of £12.6 bil­lion, 7 per cent of our to­tal eco­nomic out­put – the largest pro­por­tion in Europe and more than dou­ble that of EU tar­gets for mem­ber states.

The EU stip­u­lates that any po­ten­tial mem­bers must have a max­i­mum bud­get deficit of 3 per cent of GDP.

Mr Gon­za­lez Pons said Scot­land’s fi­nances are ‘far from’ meet­ing EU en­try stan­dards. He also branded Ni­cola Stur­geon’s am­bi­tions for an in­de­pen­dent Scot­land to join the EU ‘frus­trat­ing’.

In a blis­ter­ing put-down, he claimed ‘no­body’ in Brus­sels is talk­ing, or even think­ing, about Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence. And he vowed Spain would scup­per Scot­land’s at­tempts to join if it ap­plies for mem­ber­ship as an in­de­pen­dent state.

Mr Gon­za­lez Pons said: ‘It’s ob­vi­ous that the Scot­tish fig­ures are not those the Euro­pean Union expects from coun­tries that want to be mem­bers. The fig­ures are far from the Euro­pean fig­ures – very, very, very far. It would be a prob­lem.

‘But that is not the big­gest prob­lem for Scot­land if they want to be a mem­ber of the Euro­pean Union.

‘There is a po­lit­i­cal wall they face that is very dif­fi­cult for Scot­land to climb. That is that, no­body – when I say no­body, I mean no­body – at the Euro­pean level is think­ing about an in­de­pen­dent Scot­land be­ing a mem­ber of the Euro­pean Union. Scot­land is not a con­cern for the Euro­pean gov­ern­ments. What they may be talk­ing about in Scot­land, it is not ar­riv­ing in Brus­sels.’ Mr Gon­za­lez Pons has pre­vi­ously said Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence would spark a ‘domino ef­fect’ across the Con­ti­nent – and that it would be ‘im­pos­si­ble’ for Scot­land to get a sep­a­rate, spe­cial deal.

Speak­ing of the First Min­is­ter’s claims that Scot­land would break away from the UK to avoid be­ing ‘dragged down a po­lit­i­cal path we don’t want to go’ – re­gard­ing Brexit and Boris John­son’s will­ing­ness to leave with­out a deal in place – he said: ‘It’s frus­trat­ing.’

Pre­vi­ously, it had been thought that an EU mem­ber­ship ap­pli­ca­tion for Scot­land would be a ‘rel­a­tively easy’ process.

Fabian Zuleeg, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Euro­pean Pol­icy Cen­tre think-tank, told a news­pa­per in 2017: ‘An in­de­pen­dent Scot­land would have to go through the ac­ces­sion process, so it would not be au­to­matic. But as Scot­land does largely ful­fil the [mem­ber­ship] cri­te­ria, it would be a rel­a­tively smooth process.’

How­ever, last night Mr Gon­za­lez Pons warned that the main bat­tle that both Miss Stur­geon and the SNP will face in join­ing the EU will be win­ning the sup­port of the Span­ish del­e­ga­tion.

He said: ‘If Scot­land be­comes an in­de­pen­dent coun­try af­ter Brexit and Scot­land asks to be­come a mem­ber of the EU, they have to re­mem­ber that Scot­land will need the una­nim­ity of all the Euro­pean Union coun­tries.

‘If all mem­ber states do not ac­cept Scot­land as mem­ber, Scot­land will never be a mem­ber of the Euro­pean Union – it’s not only econ­omy, it’s not only pol­icy. Spain is think­ing about what is hap­pen­ing in Cat­alo­nia. We will al­ways be against an in­de­pen­dent Scot­land as a mem­ber of the Euro­pean Union.

‘In this mo­ment we will say no to an in­de­pen­dent Scot­land be­ing a mem­ber of the EU.’

Last night, SNP deputy leader Keith Brown said: ‘The UK Govern­ment’s han­dling of Brexit has been com­pletely in­com­pe­tent and any pre­tence that Scot­land is an equal part­ner within the UK has gone out the win­dow.

‘The Span­ish govern­ment has re­peat­edly con­firmed they would not op­pose an in­de­pen­dent Scot­land re­join­ing the EU. Vot­ers know that the only threat to Scot­land’s EU mem­ber­ship is the Tory Govern­ment, which is drag­ging us out of the EU against our will.’

WHEN it emerged that – for the first time since tak­ing of­fice – Ni­cola Stur­geon was go­ing to dodge the pub­li­ca­tion of the Scot­tish Govern­ment’s an­nual ac­counts, it raised a few eye­brows.

Not only would she palm-off all ques­tions to a ju­nior col­league, but she would be miss­ing in ac­tion com­pletely – get­ting as far from the po­lit­i­cal event of the day as pos­si­ble, by dis­ap­pear­ing off to Shet­land. Just what was go­ing on?

Well, as Alex Sal­mond said when he was in the hot seat a few years ago: ‘The fig­ures are in, the jury is in, th­ese are the GERS (Govern­ment Expenditur­e and Rev­enue Scot­land) fig­ures and there is no dis­pute about that.’

But that was in the days when the SNP pointed to GERS to show how well Scot­land was do­ing com­pared with the UK. Af­ter sev­eral more years of SNP mis­man­age­ment of the Scot­tish econ­omy, the pic­ture is some­what dif­fer­ent.

It’s clear why Ni­cola Stur­geon body-swerved this hugely im­por­tant day in the po­lit­i­cal cal­en­dar – the fig­ures were hor­rific, and much worse than any­body ex­pected.

Scot­land has an enor­mous black hole in her fi­nances – more than £12 bil­lion – and is run­ning a deficit of 7 per cent.

To put that in con­text, the next worst per­form­ing coun­try in Europe is Cyprus, whose deficit is 4.5 per cent. The deficit of the UK as a whole is just 1.1 per cent.

So, what does that mean? It means Scot­land’s deficit is nearly seven times that of the whole UK.

It means that – be­cause we pool and share our re­sources across the whole of Bri­tain – Scots are around £2,000 bet­ter off in terms of tax and spend than we would be on our

own. And it also means that the Na­tion­al­ists’ eco­nomic case for in­de­pen­dence lies in tatters.

To bring that deficit down to a level where an in­de­pen­dent Scot­land would even be el­i­gi­ble to join the EU – as Ni­cola Stur­geon says she wants – would re­quire vi­cious tax hikes or swinge­ing cuts to pub­lic ser­vices, the likes of which have never been seen in this coun­try in my life­time.

It rounds off a tough week for the Na­tion­al­ists. The Elec­toral Com­mis­sion, in­de­pen­dent ar­biter of elec­tions and ref­er­en­dums, told the Scot­tish par­lia­ment that any sec­ond in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum would need to have its ques­tion as­sessed and ap­proved.

The SNP wants the same Yes/No for­mat as last time, but the Com­mis­sion ruled that out for the Brexit ref­er­en­dum, which is why that poll ques­tion was ‘Leave’ or ‘Re­main’. Its as­sess­ment was that any ques­tion ask­ing ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ un­fairly ben­e­fits the ‘Yes’ side. More than that, the Com­mis­sion rec­om­mended a gap of at least nine months be­tween pass­ing the leg­is­la­tion for a vote and polling day.

NI­COLA Stur­geon wants an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum in the sec­ond half of next year – although she has not yet done any­thing con­crete, such as re­quest the Sec­tion 30 pow­ers re­quired from the UK Govern­ment, to make this hap­pen.

The gen­eral Ref­er­en­dums Bill go­ing through par­lia­ment isn’t due to fin­ish its pas­sage un­til Christ­mas at the ear­li­est and there would need to be leg­is­la­tion passed af­ter that about specifics like the date, ques­tions and length of cam­paign.

The First Min­is­ter likes to put on a show about the in­evitabil­ity of Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence. She pre­tends that all she needs to do is

click her fin­gers for an­other ref­er­en­dum to hap­pen, and claims that her side would win at a can­ter.

But she has not yet pushed the but­ton and re­quested the trans­fer of pow­ers in or­der to make one hap­pen. Why?

Last time, her side got to pick the date, pick the ques­tion and had eco­nomic data (in­clud­ing fan­tasy oil fig­ures) that they could spin just about plau­si­bly enough to per­suade peo­ple that ev­ery­thing would be all right. Even with th­ese ad­van­tages, they lost by 11 points.

Now the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion is re­strict­ing her abil­ity to make a re­run on her terms, and her dread­ful han­dling of Scot­land’s econ­omy is com­ing back to bite her.

Af­ter whip­ping her sup­port­ers up to fever pitch with prom­ises of a ref­er­en­dum just over the next hill, she is stalling on try­ing to make it hap­pen. No won­der she chose to slope off to Shet­land in­stead of face the mu­sic.

Ni­cola Stur­geon can for­get about EU PUT IN HER PLACE:

WARN­ING: Span­ish MEP Este­ban Gon­za­lez Pons

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