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Thursday, 10 November 2011

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond questioned over cost of Euro membership

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond came under fresh pressure over whether an independent Scotland would have to join the Euro - a move which Labour said would leave the country facing an £8 billion bill.

Mr Salmond insisted that if Scotland became independent it would not be “dragooned into the Euro”.

But Labour leader Iain Gray told his SNP rival that the “evidence is stacking up” that Scotland would have to join the European currency.

He cited a range of experts who said that would be the case - including Professor Andrew Hughes Hallett, a member of the Scottish Government’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Mr Gray demanded: “If the First Minister has crystal clear legal advice on this question, will he publish it?”

n response to that, Mr Salmond referred Mr Gray to a section of the Scottish Ministerial Code, which “requires that the privacy of opinions expressed and advice offered within the Government should be maintained”.

New Conservative leader Ruth Davidson also challenged Mr Salmond on the issue, accusing him of being “feart to publish the legal advice on an independent Scotland joining Europe”.

The issue was raised at First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament after a new report by the House of Commons Library set out the three likely options for post-independence Scotland and what would remain of the UK.

These include both parts continuing in the European Union (EU) after separation, Scotland being forced to re-apply for membership while the rest of the UK continues, and “dissolution”, where both parts would be forced to re-apply.

On entry to the Euro, the report suggested Scotland could lose the UK opt-out unless member states agreed otherwise.

It finds that Scots would contribute £92 per person to the EU budget without the English rebate, or £16 if the rebate was carried over into an independent Scotland, based on 2008-9 figures.

But it added the figures are a “back of the envelope” calculation.

However, Mr Gray said if Scotland were to join the Euro “our contribution to the bailout fund would currently be about £8 billion”.

He asked: “Is that a bill the First Minister is happy to see Scotland pay?”

Mr Salmond, however, insisted: “This idea that Scotland would be dragooned into the Euro is totally wrong, it is completely without foundation.

“Scotland’s position will be the same of the rest of the United Kingdom as we become an independent country.

“We will have exactly the same rights, the same obligations, and this idea that Scotland is treated differently, as some sort of region, I think is only shared by those who don’t understand the important, valid point that Scotland is not only a nation but a European nation.”

But Mr Gray claimed the First Minister “simply asserts we would not have to join the Euro” while “evidence is stacking up” that may not be the case.

He said that experts from the London School of Economics and University College London disagreed with the First Minister, along with Prof Hughes Hallett and the Treaty of Maastricht.

Mr Salmond responded by citing Lord Mackenzie Stuart, a former president of the European Court of Justice, telling MSPs he had said that Scotland and the rest of the UK would “be in the same legal boat” if the Union came to an end and that “if Scotland had to reapply, so would the rest”

“I think we can reasonably say that the late Lord Mackenzie Stuart is an authority on such matters,” Mr Salmond said.

“I think we could also reasonably say that I have no knowledge that he was friendly ever to the SNP’s position.

“He looked at precisely this case and the argument is Scotland and the rest of the UK would be in same legal position.”

The First Minister also quoted Eamonn Gallagher, a former director general of the European Commission, who had said that “Scotland and the rest of the UK would be equally entitled to continue their existing full membership of the European Union.”

He said he hoped Mr Gray would “accept these important legal authorities whose view has been published” and would “now abandon this attempt to somehow suggest that Scotland with its enormous natural resources, the dominating position of the European Union’s oil and gas resources, its great renewable resources, would somehow not be wanted by the rest of the European Union”

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