In “breaking news” during a dull ding dong of a debate on Newsnicht on Wednesday evening, we were breathlessly told that Spanish Prime Minister (Prime Minister right, so he must be someone really important) Mariano Rajoy had made an important intervention in the debate about whether Scotland should keep paying for railway lines between London and Birmingham, weapons of mass destruction, and Ian Davidson’s expenses.
We really require a drum roll at this juncture, or possibly a mariachi band – yes I know that’s a Mexican thing but are you telling me BBC Scotland would know the difference? – in a major new development Mariano Rajoy said … what he’s been saying for the past 18 months or so. Nada nuevo. Jackie Bird could have done a salsa to it, while Gordon Brewer practised imperious looks in preparation for his tango with Johann Lamont, but it would still have meant “nuhin new”.
What Rajoy said was that new countries would be outside the EU. He’s been saying this for quite a while now, he regularly trots it out as a threat against Catalan independentistas. It was of course covered in the Spanish media, although it came way below stories about Rajoy’s unwillingness to explain how he’s been managing his party’s finances after a series of corruption scandals enveloped the Partido Popular. La Moncloa, the seat of Spain’s government, is not in a happy place. Not much new there either.
What would have been more interesting, and you know, would have made this news as opposed to a bit of mutual backscratching between anti-independentistas, would have been if Mariano had said “Spain would veto an independent Scotland’s entry into the EU and cancel flights between Prestwick and Malaga.” Which if nothing else would at least make him popular with people who hate Ryanair. But he didn’t say that.
Rajoy’s the Spanish PM, he and his cabinet of obsessive centralistas madrileños decide Spain’s foreign policy. If he wanted to send a clear signal that Scotland would have a tough time getting into the EU, he could have said so. But he didn’t say that either.
Here’s what he did say, in both the original Spanish and my English translation, as quoted in El Pais newspaper.
“Desconozco lo que dice el libro blanco que se ha presentado ahora, pero lo único que me gustaría es que se presentasen con realismo las consecuencias de esa secesión. Yo respeto todas las decisiones de los británicos, pero tengo muy claro que una región que obtuviera la independencia quedaría fuera de la UE. Es bueno que lo sepan los escoceses.”
“I don’t know what it says in the White Paper which has been presented today, but all I would like is that the consequences of that secession are presented with realism. I respect all the decisions of the British, but I have made it very clear that a region which obtained independence would be outside of the EU. It’s good that the Scots may know that.”
The El País article which the quote came from is entitled Rajoy usa Escocia para lanzar un aviso a Cataluña ‘Rajoy uses Scotland to launch a warning to Catalonia’. Rajoy’s comment was not aimed at Edinburgh, but at Barcelona. He was reminding them that Madrid has furren pals tae gie it hauners.
What he was doing was sending a wee quid pro quo to Davie Cameron, because Westminster will share the quid with Spain but not Scotland, so Davie would say something helpful in Mariano’s Proyecto Miedo against the Catalans. Like threatening to slap an extra tax on charter flights to Sitges or reopening El Bulli for Bullington Club reunion dinners.
The Spanish reports which the breathless Scottish media told us constituted a new twist in the debate quite explicitly said that Rajoy was merely restating a position that Madrid has held since it first heard the phrase independencia catalana. El País even introduced Rajoy’s words with recordó, which means ‘he reminded/recalled’ as in what you do when you’re reminding people of things you’ve already said before. But that didn’t stop the Scotsman crowing that “Alex Salmond’s vision of EU membership after independence was dealt a significant blow tonight.”
The whole thing about it not being new and not being directed at Scotland must have got lost in translation. There’s a BetterTogether filter on all news reports from Spain, nothing which doesn’t support the scare story du jour gets through. Besides, “Here’s something someone said nearly two years ago” lacks the sense of urgency which is a vital component of any warning of impending doom.
Despite the bluster, Madrid is not going to issue a statement saying that Spain will veto Scottish membership of the EU. It’s a bit like the argument over whether an independent Scotland would retain the pound. You get a lot of “Oooh missus! How very dare you!” from Westminster, but they don’t actually rule it out because Westminster knows that it’s in the interests of the rUK to agree to a currency union after a Yes vote. Spain knows it’s in Spanish interests to agree to Scottish membership of the EU after a Yes vote.
There are many reasons Spain knows it’s in Spanish interests to welcome Scotland into the EU. None of which can be voiced before a Yes vote, for reasons of both international and domestic politics. Rajoy is hardly likely to admit to them before the referendum.
Scotland would be a net contributor to EU funds, which a Madrid with an eye on EU budgets will certainly have considered. Spain is a net recipient of EU funding, and all those agricultural subsidies and investment in infrastructure for poorer regions depends on a healthy EU balance sheet. That’s not been doing too well of late, and the bottom line is that people short of dosh don’t deprive themselves of potential creditors.
We also provide access to fishing grounds that provide employment to the culturally and economically important Galician fishing industry, Mariano’s home region. If you’ve ever seen a fish counter in a Spanish supermarket you’ll know what a very big deal seafood is. Then there’s a whole trawlerful of other reasons, like our energy resources, the importance of political stability during a time of economic crisis in the eurozone, and enough Realpolitik to satisfy Angela Merkel at her sternest.
Perhaps most importantly, Scotland will not be the permanent obstacle to EU agreement posed by the rUK. The political geography of the EU is changed, the rUK is no longer a state on the periphery, it will be surrounded by EU members. That increases the incentive for the rUK to be more collaborative in European initiatives.
And finally there’s the not unimportant consideration that the average Spanish person, doubtless including Mariano Rajoy, does not bear Scotland any ill-will. Quite the reverse actually, there is a surprising amount of affection for Scotland in Spain. Even the most fervent opponent of Catalan independence or nationhood will cheerfully point to Scotland as an example of “a nation”.
But the important point in terms of Spanish domestic politics – which is all that interests Rajoy – is that Spain does not need to veto Scottish membership of the EU in order to send a signal to the Catalans. Neither does it need to do so in order to block Catalan accession to the EU.
Madrid’s case for refusing to recognise an independent Catalonia rests upon grounds which are not applicable to Scotland. The constant and repeated line from la Moncloa is that Scotland has a constitutional right to hold an independence referendum, Catalonia does not. Scottish independence will be negotiated and agreed with Westminster, and will be recognised by Westminster. Members of the Spanish government have said repeatedly that under such circumstances Spain could have no grounds for objection.
In the event of Scottish independence Madrid will recognise Scotland while at the same time stating that its reasons for recognising Scotland are precisely the same reasons why it cannot recognise an independent Catalonia. They will also protest, without the slightest shred of shame, that they’re not being hypocritical.
La Moncloa already has the only legalist reason it requires to block Catalan independence and international recognition, it doesn’t need to damage its relationship with an independent Scotland in order to prove a rhetorical point it’s not actually making. That’s Realpolitik in a modern Europe.
Even Rajoy’s statement that an independent Scotland would automatically be outside the EU does not imply that Spain would ensure that Scotland’s negotiations to join the EU would be protracted. But it’s in the current interests of Madrid to imply that they would be. There have been no independence referendums yet, so both la Moncloa and Westminster want to make out that Scottish or Catalan accession to the EU is more horrendously complex than assembling flat pack furniture with only three screws, the wrong sized Allen key, and a plastic spoon.
The point of EU negotiations should be easy to understand, even for leader writers in the Scotsman. Apart from the obvious goal of EU membership, what are EU membership negotiations for? They are to ensure that applicant countries are in accord with EU standards on a whole raft of issues, from democratic government, human rights, press freedom, the economy, the environment, and a whole lot more besides. The negotiations are extremely lengthy and complex because it takes time for a country to ensure compliance on environmental protection standards for newts, and regulations on the minimum number of newspapers willing to publish made up stories about EU banana regulations. This is what takes years to sort out.
Scotland’s already done all that though, having to do it all over again would be like having to surrender your driving licence in order to use public transport. Scotland already possesses a valid EU driving licence, we don’t suddenly forget how to drive because we’re taking the independence bus.
What Scotland needs therefore, is not to have to take its EU tests all over again, with all the frantic swotting and overdosing on RedBull that would entail, what we need is for our licence to be validated. That’s a political decision, and one which will only be revealed after a Yes vote has taken place, because in the current political landscape it’s in the interests of both the Moncloa and Westminster to pretend they might do otherwise.
Confronted with the reality of a Yes vote, both will do what is in their national interests under changed circumstances. And that means Westminster will agree to a sterling union and Moncloa will agree to Scotland in the European Union.