Scotland in Europe: Alex Salmond backs EFTA membership for indy Scotland

EFTA instead of the EU could be Scotland’s best option, Alex Salmond has said

FORMER First Minister Alex Salmond said in a speech on Thursday (7 September) that a future independence bid should be made on the presumption of Scotland joining the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA).

EFTA, which currently consists of Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, is distinct from the EU but enjoys a number of the associated benefits of EU membership. EFTA members are included in the European Economic Area (EEA) along with EU member states, which means they have access to the EU Single Market, allowing free movement of goods and people.

READ MORE: In the spotlight: EFTA and the EEA - Scotland's post-independence options

Speaking at a Business for Scotland event, Salmond suggested that Scottish independence should not be tied to EU membership, and that EFTA membership could be the best and quickest option for Scotland.

Salmond said: “In a political sea of uncertainty, we would have the advantage of putting forward a defined proposition – an independent Scotland as a member EFTA with all the economic advantages that confers.”

He argued that “we have to offer something which is doable, feasible and speedily deliverable for the European connections of an independent Scotland”.

The speech followed confirmation from the UK Government’s Brexit Secretary, David Davies, on Thursday that the UK will not seek to join EFTA after leaving the EU and that the UK will no longer participate in the EEA agreement.

READ MORE: Robin McAlpine: Why joining EFTA instead of the EU could be the answer for Scotland

Salmond said the only thing which is “essential” for Scotland to secure from Europe is “the comparative economic advantage which comes from being part of the world’s largest single market with the many international connections such membership guarantees”.

This advantage, he said, could be gained not only from the EU but from EFTA through its access to the European Economic Area, which he said could “be secured for an independent Scotland quickly and effectively”.

The SNP position under Nicola Sturgeon and formerly Alex Salmond has been that an independent Scotland should join the EU, although Salmond has since supported the possibility of EFTA membership and met with EFTA members to discuss Scotland’s options earlier this year.

Salmond noted that the four EFTA member states are among the top 12 richest countries per head, and that Scotland within EFTA would have the choice of whether to join the Customs Union or not. Salmond also argued that, while Norway has expressed concerns over the UK joining EFTA, Scotland would not face the same barriers.

READ MORE: Icelandic legal expert says Scotland should join Nordics instead of EU

The Norwegian government told CommonSpace earlier this year that it would “keep an open mind on the question of [Scotland’s] possible membership of the EFTA,” but that EEA membership would be unlikely to be possible while Scotland remains part of the UK.

Salmond suggested that his comments were “not really” a significant departure from SNP policy because the Scottish Government’s Scotland’s Place in Europe policy document already proposes the possibility of EFTA membership for Scotland.

Salmond added: “EFTA membership can, if Scotland so wishes, be a prelude to full EU membership in the future.”

READ MORE: Callum McCaig: EFTA case has "strong merits" we should consider

Picture courtesy of Ewen McIntosh

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