Cultural figures call on EU to set path for Scottish membership

Writers, academics, musicians and actors seek guarantee of EU membership if Scotland votes for independence.

The English novelist Neil Gaiman is among those who have signed the letter [File: Reuters]

Cultural figures from the European Union and United Kingdom have called for Brussels to set out a path for Scotland to rejoin the bloc in the event a majority of Scots vote for independence in a future referendum.

In an open letter published online on Thursday by the Europe for Scotland group, more than 180 individuals from the UK and all 27 of the EU’s nations urged European officials to “make a unilateral and open offer of membership” in advance of any second independence vote.

“We want the people of Scotland to know that Europeans everywhere would welcome them back in the European Union if this is their democratic wish,” the letter, which was also translated into several other European languages, said.

Overall, a slim majority of UK voters opted in favour of Brexit in 2016, but in Scotland, a sizeable 62 percent majority voted to remain part of the EU.

Push for second referendum

Many in Scotland see the UK’s divorce from the bloc as being enforced against their will.

The rupture has strengthened calls for a second vote on independence in the country less than a decade after 55 percent of Scots voted against seceding in a 2014 referendum, which was billed as a “once in a generation” poll.

The rally for a re-run is being led by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who heads the country’s devolved Holyrood government and the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Recent opinion polls have suggested a majority of Scots are now in favour of independence post-Brexit, with the issue expected to take centre stage in next month’s Holyrood elections, which the SNP are predicted to dominate.

Sturgeon has said Scotland would automatically move to re-enter the EU under her leadership if a second referendum on independence returned a vote in favour of exiting the UK – effectively making any such poll a double referendum.

But her plans have been met with opposition by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has ruled out granting Scotland a second vote on independence. A legally binding poll would require sign-off from Westminster.

‘Choice between two unions’

Noting the “impasse”, the open letter signed by 182 figures – including Italian author Elena Ferrante, English novelists Ian McEwan and Neil Gaiman and Scottish actor Brian Cox – said the EU should “support Scotland’s democratic choice about its future” and petitioned Brussels to act in line with the country’s “unprecedented” situation.

“The usual process is for the EU to respond to a membership request only when it comes from an independent country,” it said.

“Scotland deserves a different process. While it is legally part of the UK, the Scottish government cannot negotiate with the EU. But the EU can declare that, because Scotland has already long been part of the EU, should it become legally and democratically independent, it need not apply as a ‘new’ accession candidate.

“Instead, the EU and its member states should make a unilateral and open offer of membership – an exceptional proposal to match Scotland’s exceptional circumstances.”

The letter also urged the bloc to offer continuity to Scotland and demonstrate a willingness to support the country’s economy through possibly “challenging months” of transition before rejoining the EU.

“These are important issues because they will make it possible for any referendum to be a clear, practical and democratic choice for Scotland between two unions, the EU or the UK.”

Al Jazeera contacted the SNP and the UK government’s Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland for comment on the letter.

The Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland declined to comment. The SNP had not responded at the time of publication.

Source: Al Jazeera