From the Sunday Herald (16/12/12)
That simple truth, perhaps more than any other, undermines the recent ludicrous scaremongering of the anti-independence parties in relation to our place in the European family of nations.
For centuries Scotland was an independent European country, trading with our near neighbours on the Continent. And while that long pre-dated the modern European Union, the point is this: those same trading and economic considerations mean the EU and its constituent partners will want Scotland to continue in membership.
Why on Earth would they not, given the huge resources and advantages that Scotland brings to the European table?
Our greatest asset as a nation always has been and always will be our people and their ingenuity, but Scotland also has enormous natural resources.
And it is stretching credibility beyond breaking point to attempt to suggest, as some do, that Scotland – already an integral part of the club for four decades – would be excluded when we have such vast assets.
Scotland has around 90% of the EU's oil reserves and a huge share of the Continent's renewable energy, as well as some of the richest fishing grounds in Europe.
Would Brussels really want to lose such assets at a time when energy security is one of the dominating political and economic issues of the early 21st century?
Would Spanish, French and Portuguese fishermen want to be blocked from fishing the lucrative waters in Scotland's sectors of the North Sea and West Atlantic?
These are just a few of the many examples which could be cited which show that for overwhelming practical, political and economic reasons, the nations of Europe will be only too keen to see Scotland remain in EU membership.
And there is precedent which shows that, when hard-headed concerns like this are brought to bear, Europe is a flexible institution.
Realpolitik is a German concept and it found perhaps one of its greatest modern expressions in the country which gave birth to the term.
When the Berlin Wall fell in late 1989, few at that point would have expected a united Germany to be part of the then European Community within less than 12 months – but that is exactly what happened when German reunification took place on October 3, 1990.
Overnight, East Germany, which had been subject to Communist rule for four decades, became part of the Brussels club, despite stringent rules for new members which say a functioning market economy and a well-established democracy are fundamental prerequisites for membership.
Realpolitik – hard-headed political considerations – meant that the former East Germany was in.
How much more straightforward is Scotland's case, given our 40 years of existing membership, which by definition means we already meet the required criteria. The attempts by some in the anti-independence camp to conflate the argument surrounding the East German precedent in an attempt to draw comparisons between that country and modern Scotland are truly pathetic and simply betray the utter paucity of their arguments.
As a joint paper published earlier this year by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the British Academy put it: "There is no reason why an independent Scotland would fail to meet the Copenhagen criteria (the basic standards required to be eligible for EU membership, including democratic governance, the upholding of human rights and a functioning market economy)."
That same paper also observed that an independent Scotland's continued EU membership is "unlikely to be opposed".
Our consistent position – as attested to by documents published since 2007 – is that the specific terms of Scotland's continued EU membership will need to be negotiated. And while it is perfectly reasonable to argue that we would jointly inherit the existing UK opt-outs on the single currency and Schengen, it is nevertheless the case that on the question of the euro, for example, there is effectively a double-lock – there are other EU countries which have not adopted the single currency and have no intention of doing so, with Sweden perhaps the best example, that no nation can be forced into euro membership. And on Schengen, opting to stay out and instead co-operate with Ireland and the rest of the UK in the Common Travel Area is a justifiable proposition that, given their position in other circumstances, our EU partners would understand.
The pro-independence cause also now has the unlikeliest of allies on the currency issue: David Cameron. The Prime Minister has backed up the view of the many experts who say no country can be forced into euro membership when on Friday he said: "There are countries in the European Union who have no early or immediate or indeed longer-than-that prospects of joining the euro, and I think that is the important point."
Mr Cameron, under pressure from Tory Eurosceptics, has unwittingly demolished one of the anti-independence campaign's favourite scare stories.
That persistent undercurrent of Tory Euroscepticism – which in itself poses the biggest threat to Scotland's continued EU membership – has now helped to hole below the waterline the baseless scaremongering of Alistair Darling and the rest of the No campaign. An independent Scotland will keep the pound, and David Cameron has now confirmed it.
The opinion of European Commission President Barroso is important and is to be respected, as I said to Holyrood last week. However, it is by no means the only or the decisive opinion in the matter of Scotland's future in Europe.
I have asked Mr Barroso for a meeting, and I look forward to laying out the agreed process and pathway to an independent Scotland, as outlined in the Edinburgh Agreement, which will see us confirm our place as one of the historic nations of Europe.