Why Brussels finally gets the point of Scottish independence

By the time you read this I’ll be back in Brussels, but pretty sure I’ll still be raw from the cold, bleak feeling of powerlessness as I watched my country vote to stay, and parts of England I had barely heard of vote to leave. Scotland wants to remain, that is clear. We also have an SNP government and team that will work flat out to do what’s best for Scotland.

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First published in The Sunday Herald, 18 October 2015

I could not be more proud that Nicola Sturgeon’s priority was to reassure our European friends and neighbours living in Scotland that “you are welcome and your contribution is valued”. In our independence referendum all EU nationals had a vote because all EU nationals are part of our community now, and part of our future. There are a lot of fearful people out there, we’ll need cool heads.

And keeping cool heads will be a challenge. It is now heartbreakingly obvious that the Leave campaign had no plan for actually winning. In our independence campaign we agonised over the White Paper, a detailed blueprint so people could understand and test our proposition for change. Leave certainly learned their lesson from us, but drew the opposite conclusion. In the words of one Leave campaigner, “the more we tell you the more you’ll attack us”, but even I assumed there was a plan somewhere. Turns out not.

Within hours of the vote we saw the flagrant dishonesty of the Leave campaign dragged into the light. Nigel Farage disowned the £350m figure, even although it had been on the side of a bus for all to see, and Dan Hannan MEP, having been “working on this for 23 years” was desperate for us all to “take our time” in triggering Article 50, the provision in EU law that sets out how a member state exits.

Once Article 50 is triggered, formally by the UK government lodging a letter with Brussels, a two-year countdown starts, within which time all UK/EU relations need to be renegotiated or lapse. Formally the timing of lodging that letter is under the control of the member state. Nae chance.

The vainglorious conceit that the UK will be in charge of this process is the saddest delusion of all. My time in Brussels certainly knocks down the idea that you’re special, as the UK is now about to find. The EU, actually, has more issues to deal with than Dear Old Blighty, especially after a gratuitously insulting campaign where Europe’s leaders saw their citizens regularly called workshy scroungers and threats to national security.

Brussels will, with regret, make an example of the UK “pour encourager les autres” as discontent with the EU does exist in every state. As an example, even in the last couple days in Italian regional elections parties that want to reassess Italy’s relations with the EU did well, with similar indications coming from Spain in their election today, and France’s Marine Le Pen even gleefully tweeted, “And now France!”, turning her Twitter profile picture to the (British) Union flag. The UK will not be allowed to give those forces a positive example.

There will be an EU summit of Europe’s leaders on Tuesday and Wednesday in Brussels. The agenda is published. The UK is only invited to Tuesday, as on Wednesday the 27 other leaders, in the words of Council President Tusk, “will meet informally to discuss the political and practical implications of Brexit. First of all, we will discuss the so called 'divorce process' as described in Article 50 of the Treaty. And, secondly, we will start a discussion on the future of the European Union with 27 Member States.”

See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya.

The UK Commissioner has already tendered his resignation. There will be no British voice around the Commissioner table. His financial services profile, a kind of important brief, will be given to the Latvian Commissioner. Latvia, with a population less than half Scotland’s.

“If you Brits are going, go soon” is the overwhelming message. “Leave is leave, out is out” has been quite explicit, as Manfred Webber, head of the biggest group within the parliament, the EPP, said yesterday. But in reference to Scotland he was also quite explicit that the EU remains open to members. We’re not a member now, seen from Brussels as part of an EU member, but they know fine well we’re part of the EU and know fine well we want to stay.

As I have been travelling around the country, doing 43 public meetings since the Holyrood poll, it has been a tough message for some Nats to hear. In our referendum on independence a fair amount of people in Brussels and other member state capitals didn’t get the why of independence. They do now.

Alyn Smith is Member of the European Parliament for Scotland.