How Scotland fits into the EU

As Scots, you are represented in the EU firstly by six directly elected MEPs. They are elected to sit on committees relevant to you and represent your interests, making sure that laws work for Scotland.

The European Parliament has significant power over all the EU’s activities since all legislation must be approved by a majority of the 751 MEPs. In recent years this has been demonstrated on a number of occasions, notably rejecting trade deals that weren’t up to scratch and defending privacy rights.

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Beyond this, the Scottish Government itself has responsibility for a range of issues which significantly overlap with the EU. The Scotland Act 1998 set out that it is the responsibility of the Scottish Government and Parliament to implement European Union regulation when it relates to devolved issues.[1] Such issues range from economic development, law and order, local government, fisheries and agriculture, protection of the environment, transport and climate change. The policy aims of the EU have been closely tied to the Scottish Government’s 2020 Growth Strategy and there is a lot of common objectives between Scotland and the EU.[2]

So the Scottish Government is responsible for implementing EU laws. However, when it comes to agreeing what the laws actually say, under the current UK constitution, Scotland's Government is represented in the Council by the UK Minister. Scottish Government Ministers may attend, but always only with the permission of the UK Government.

Obviously, as an SNP MEP I would like to see Scotland in a different role. However, I want, here, to explain how things work now. Even with the great strides we have made since 1999 in speaking for Scotland, when it comes to the EU, the UK is our representative. This is not an EU issue, but a UK issue.

The Smith Commission, set up after the independence referendum, agreed that Scotland should expect a greater say in how the UK interacts with Europe.[3] Many European countries already operate such systems, notably Belgium where ministers from the federal states governments’ can represent and conclude agreements upon Belgium’s behalf.[4]

There has, however, been little significant change since the events of September 2014. This is not due to the EU. The EU structures are open to other ways for Scotland to be represented.

Did You Know?

Under the Scotland Act 1998, all Scottish legislation must be compatible with EU law. If Scotland were to leave the EU as part of the UK, no satisfactory explanation has yet been provided of how this will impact upon the Scottish Parliament. Clearly, it will have a significant impact on many areas that are devolved.[5]

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[3] ‘The Smith Commission Report’, November 2014. Gordon Brown: “We’re going to be, within a year or two, as close to a federal state as you can be” ‘Gordon Brown backs federalism in event of No vote ’, The Scotsman, 15 August 2014.

[4] Stéphane Paquin, ‘Federalism and Compliance with International Agreements: Belgium and Canada Compared’, in ed. D. Criekemans, Regional Sub-State Diplomacy Today (Leiden, 2010).

[5] ‘Exiting the EU: impact in key UK policy areas? ’, House of Commons Research Paper, no. 7213, 4 June 2015.