John Ferry John Ferry

The FOI response that exposed the SNP’s EU delusion

(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Tony Blair famously regretted his government’s introduction of freedom of information laws. ‘You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it,’ he wrote in his memoirs.

Blair complained that FOI is not used by ‘the people’ but by journalists as a mallet to beat the government over the head with. But in recent years in Scotland, FOI has at times been used by the public to reveal critical information the SNP administration at Holyrood would rather keep secret.

An extraordinary FOI response was published this week, outlining secret advice on the prospects for an independent Scotland joining the EU. It confirms that SNP politicians who claim that secession creates a pathway for Scots to reclaim their EU citizenship are misleading the electorate. One section of a report to Scottish ministers reads:

There would be a direct trade-off, the report states, between an independent’s Scotland integration into the EU and cooperation with the rest of the UK.

There may be areas in which Scotland, upon independence, is not ready to take on full requirements of EU membership. Key among those is the currency question.

Another part states that ‘some commentators’ have suggested it could take as little as three-to-four years to negotiate accession — before going on to say that ‘timing will also depend on how the Scottish government approaches other policy issues, including the question of an independent currency.’ The report also informs ministers that new members states are ‘committed to be able to adopt the euro in due course after membership’.

The SNP’s post-secession currency position is for Scotland to continue to use the pound sterling informally (also known as ‘sterlingisation’) for a number of years after separation, before eventually introducing its own new currency. It has always been clear that sterlingisation is incompatible with meeting EU entry requirements — but the SNP has steadfastly refused to acknowledge this.

The nationalists are also reluctant to accept the economic implications of introducing a hard trade border with England. Yet the FOI response revealed briefings which drew heavily from an Institute for Government (IfG) report on the Anglo-Scottish border after independence. The report explained that Scottish exports to the rest of the UK are worth three times as much as exports to the EU. There would be a direct trade-off, the report makes clear, between an independent Scotland’s integration into the EU and cooperation with the rest of the UK.

The twin processes of Scotland seceding from the UK and acceding to the EU would be highly complex. Separation negotiations with the UK would probably need to be concluded before accession negotiations with the EU could begin. The IfG paper concludes that ‘Scotland’s path back to EU membership could take the best part of a decade’.

The FOI request was submitted in December 2021. The length of time it has taken for the response to finally be published tells its own story — one of the Scottish government’s lack of openness about the realities of independence.

Also interesting is the note the Scottish government published as part of its response:

Following the Scottish Information Commissioner’s decision about the applicability of exemptions in this case, and about the scope of the request, the Scottish government is now publishing this information in full. However, it should be noted that much of this information, some of which was written several years ago, was never seen by ministers and does not reflect current government thinking. The policy proposals in these documents were never approved by ministers and it would therefore be inaccurate to suggest that any of the details within reflect past or present government policy.

It reads like a clumsy attempt by the Scottish government to cover its tracks on its dishonesty about the realities of EU accession — while leaving the door open for future misdirection. Does it really expect people to believe that Scottish ministers are not reading briefings on the feasibility of their key policy?

I have written previously about the SNP’s readiness to mislead on the realities of an independent Scotland joining the EU — and how it shows contempt for both the Scottish electorate and the EU itself. This latest FOI, and the Scottish government’s shiftiness around its publication, signals a continuation of that approach and a chronic inability to deal with reality. Tony Blair may have come to hate the FOI laws he introduced. In Scotland, however, they have emerged as a key tool for shining a light on the actions of a mendacious government.