Hamish Macdonell

Euro crisis knocks Salmond off course

Euro crisis knocks Salmond off course
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A few years ago, SNP strategists coined the slogan 'independence in Europe'. They don't champion it too much now, for obvious reasons. To put it bluntly: they are in a pickle over Europe. Scotland's progress towards independence, which had seemed to be serene and almost unstoppable just a few months ago, has hit so much euro-induced turbulence over the last few days that it could be knocked off course for good.

The First Minister had to fend off question and after question at Holyrood this afternoon as opposition leaders – including a notable first performance by the Tories' new Scottish leader Ruth Davidson – tried to get Salmond to answer two very simple questions. What they wanted to know was this: would an independent Scotland have to join the euro and shell out more than £8 billion for the eurozone’s bailout fund?

Salmond deluged them with quotes and explanations from a number of experts, not one of which appeared to actually answer the central point about an independent Scotland and the euro. That is why the opposition parties feel that, at last, they may be able to halt the SNP's momentum.

This whole issue first boiled up two days ago when a report from the House of Commons said it was 'by no means clear' that Scotland would retain membership of the EU if it became independent – that is one of the certainties on which the SNP has built its plans for independence. But, more importantly, the report went on to say that if Scotland did become an independent member of the EU, Scots would be liable for more than £8 billion as a contribution to the eurozone bailout fund.

As soon as the report appeared, SNP ministers were asked to publish the legal advice they received on the subject. Clearly on the defensive, they refused even to say whether the advice existed. A letter from SNP minister Fiona Hyslop to Labour MEP Catherine Stihler stated:

'We consider that to reveal whether or not the information you have requested exists, or is held by the Scottish Government, would be contrary to the public interest.'

The problem for Salmond is that his desire to ditch one Union (with England) and join another (with Europe) is not looking as inviting as it once was. Scots are starting to ask why on earth would anyone vote to be closer to Europe at the moment but also, why would anyone want to leave one of the only countries in Europe weathering the storm precisely because it is not in the eurozone?

Indeed, the big worry for the Nationalists is that Scots may well decide to follow Hilaire Belloc's advice and 'always keep a hold of nurse for fear of finding something worse'.

The eurozone crisis has cost two European leaders their jobs so far with further ruptions, upheavals and potential calamities almost inevitable. However, one little-noticed side effect has been that the crisis has caused the first, serious and sizeable setback to the Scotland's charge towards independence. That is something that not even a politician of Salmond's undoubted skill could have predicted.