After the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016, the Scottish First Minister immediately set out to win over the bloc’s most influential figures. Nicola Sturgeon and co devised an entry plan in 2016, aiming to convince the EU that Scotland as an independent country was plausible and beneficial to all parties. Ms Sturgeon’s paper argued that Scotland could join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA) as a means of gaining full access to the single market if the UK sponsored it. It cited the Faroe Islands trying to join the organisation as precedent, even though they have a population of less than 50,000 and have been trying unsuccessfully for a decade to be admitted. The First Minister’s plan also involved the Scottish Parliament getting some control over everything ranging from immigration to business regulation to international trade negotiations. The document said this would allow Scotland to continue to mirror the business regime in the EU single market after Brexit.
However, she rejected a host of warnings that Scotland and England having different business and immigration regimes would inevitably lead to the creation of a hard border between the two.
Then-Spanish Secretary of State for the European Union, Jorge Toledo, rejected the First Minister’s proposals for a differentiated deal for Scotland whereby it would stay in the single market even if the rest of the UK comes out.
As EU member states must unanimously agree on policies such as this, the move gave Spain a veto on Scotland’s post-Brexit plans.
This came two days after Ms Sturgeon said Spain wasn’t likely to reject her proposals.
Mr Toledo said of the proposals: “If the UK leaves the single market, the whole UK will leave the single market. There is only one negotiator, the UK government.”
A former adviser to the Scottish Parliament’s EU committee also accused Ms Sturgeon of pursuing a policy that is “fundamentally dishonest” because she knew it had no chance of success.
It was not the first time Ms Sturgeon’s pursuit of Scottish membership of the EU had been rubbished.
Former President of the European Commission – Jose Manuel Barroso – claimed in 2014 that it could be “impossible” for Scotland to join the EU.
The statement was made just months before Scotland went to the polls to vote in the independence referendum, and proved to be a blow to Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon’s hopes of securing a Yes victory.
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At the time, the SNP had claimed that an independent Scotland would automatically be admitted to the EU, despite top European officials saying it would have to reapply as a new member state.
In its white paper on independence, the SNP government said Scotland would look to gain membership through Article 48 of the treaty of the EU.
But Mr Barroso questioned these claims in an interview.
The President of the European Commission at the time said: “In case there is a new country, a new state, coming out of a current member state, it will have to apply and the application and the accession to the European Union will have to be approved by all the other member states of the European Union.
“I don’t want to interfere on your referendum here, your democratic discussion here, but of course it will be extremely difficult to get the approval of all the other member states to have a new member coming from one member state.
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“We have seen Spain has been opposing even the recognition of Kosovo, for instance.
“So it is to some extent a similar case because it’s a new country and so I believe it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, a new member state coming out of one of our countries getting the agreement of the others.”
The tide in the EU appears to have shifted in recent years however.
Former European Council president Donald Tusk said in February that Brussels feels “empathy” towards an independent Scotland joining the EU.
When asked if this would be looked upon favourably, Mr Tusk said there would be enthusiasm but he warned the country would not be automatically accepted.
He said: “Emotionally I have no doubt that everyone will be enthusiastic here in Brussels, and more generally in Europe.
“If you ask me about our emotions, you will witness, I think, always empathy.”