During the first independence referendum campaign, the Scottish Government announced that Scotland would become independent 553 days after the referendum (on 24th March 2016). This was widely criticised at the time for leaving too little time for all the negotiations.
Most people seem to assume that would be the case this time as well. For instance, in an article by STV News about fast-tracking Scotland’s EU membership application, they suggested the following possible EU membership timeline:
- Autumn 2018 – Scotland votes Yes to independence
- March 2019 – Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, leaves the European Union
- 2020 – Scotland becomes an independent nation
- 2020 – Scotland applies to join the EU
- 2021 – The European Commission and the Council give the green light and negotiations begin
- 2023 or 2024 – Majority of MEPs, all EU member states and Scotland ratify the treaty of ascension and the country joins the EU
And yet, if we look at other countries that have gained their independence recently, they have invariably become independent much more rapidly. As Alister Rutherford has pointed out, “Slovenia held a referendum on 23rd December 1990 and declared independence on 25th June 1991. Montenegro needed even less time. The referendum was held on 21st May 2006 and independence was declared on 3rd June of the same year. Some countries moved to independence without a referendum. Slovakia for example passed an act of independence in their parliament on 17th July 1992. There followed five months of negotiations which ended with the dissolution of Czechoslovakia on 31st December 1992. Slovakia then became formally independent on 1st January 1993.” The longest delay I’ve found so far was the 260 days it took Georgia to gain independence from the Soviet Union.
Of course it’s impossible to sort out very much during such a small amount of time. Lots of questions would remain unresolved for a while and would get settled later. The time before independence would be spent putting in place sensible transitional arrangements. For instance, Scotland and the rUK might decide that Scotland will continue to use the Pound Sterling for two years after independence day, and the EU might agree that we’ll remain within the EU’s Customs Union until EU membership has been agreed on (or rejected).
It actually makes sense if you think about it. Why should Scotland be dragged out of the EU for a year only to join immediately afterwards? Potentially this would involve setting up a new customs regime only to revert to the previous on as soon as it’s been implemented. It’s much more straightforward to become independent sooner rather than later and then sort out the details afterwards. It’s just like a divorce: People normally separate first and then sort out the details of the divorce afterwards, rather than staying together until they’ve divorced.
I therefore imagine a more sensible and realistic timescale would be as follows:
|31 March 2017
|Theresa May triggers Article 50
|30 August 2018
|Second independence referendum
|28 February 2019
|Scottish independence day
|4 March 2019
|Scotland sends a membership application to the EU and asks to remain within the Internal Market and the Customs Union in the interim.
|4 March 2019
|Scotland sends a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations expressing the intent to remain a party to all treaties signed and ratified by the United Kingdom.
|14 March 2019
|The European Commission and the European Council agree that Scotland can remain within the Internal Market and the Customs Union without voting rights while the membership application is processed.
|31 March 2019
|Brexit takes place – the rUK leaves the EU. Scotland is not yet a member state but remains within the Internal Market and the Customs Union.
|26 September 2019
|Formal EU membership negotiations begin.
|28 February 2021
|The new Scottish currency is launched, linked to a basket of Euro and Pound Sterling.
|9 May 2021 (Europe Day)
|A majority of MEPs, all EU member states and Scotland ratify the treaty of ascension and the country joins the EU. Alex Salmond becomes Scotland’s first ever EU Commissioner, and 13 Scots are elected to the European Parliament (not 6 as before independence, but the same as Denmark).
|28 February 2024
|The rUK leaves Faslane, taking their nuclear weapons with them.
|28 February 2034
|The last of many independence treaties between Scotland and the rUK is signed (this one finalising the maritime border).