News In Focus
Government has acted without specific advice on EU, Sturgeon admits
23 October 2012
The Scottish Government has not to date taken specific legal advice on the position of an independent Scotland in relation to membership of the European Union, but is now consulting the law officers in the wake of the Edinburgh Agreement signed last week.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made the surprise admission in a statement at Holyrood today on the effect of the agreement, concluded between the Edinburgh and London Governments to provide the legal basis for the holding of the independence referendum.
Debate has centred on whether a newly independent Scotland would qualify automatically for EU membership, and whether it would be entitled to be admitted on the same terms as the UK or whether it would have to adopt the euro and the Schengen Agreement on border controls.
Ministers have previously said that they were acting on the basis of legal opinion in maintaining that Scotland would qualify for membership on the UK's terms, although senior EU officials have recently suggested that Scotland would have to go through an application process as a new member state.
Today Ms Sturgeon revealed that the Government had been acting on the basis of views of experts other than its own advisers. She said: “The Scottish Government has previously cited opinions from a number of eminent legal authorities, past and present, in support of its view that an independent Scotland will continue in membership of the European Union - but has not sought specific legal advice. However, as the Edinburgh Agreement provides the exact context of the process of obtaining independence, we now have the basis on which specific legal advice can be sought.
“The views of these other eminent authorities will continue to be highly relevant, but the Government’s position in the independence white paper will be based on and consistent with the advice that we receive."
She added that the Government was no longer maintaining its appeal to the Court of Session against the ruling of the Information Commissioner that ministers should disclose whether they have been acting on legal advice. The Government had taken the position that it was accepted practice not to make such disclosures, but the Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew, considered it in the public interest in terms of the Freedom of Information Act for this to be made known.
Ms Sturgeon commented: “I should also make clear that, in confirming that the Government has now asked for law officers' advice, I have both sought and received the prior agreement of the Lord Advocate.”