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by Liam Kirkaldy
17 July 2014
Eurovision spin contest

Eurovision spin contest

Better Together and Yes have been pouring over comments from European officials with the angst of a love-sick teen for months.

With both sides desperate to get the EU’s backing for their position, they have been torturing themselves – and us – through endless fixation with what each official statement means.

The back and forth over comments from Jean-Claude Juncker – in which he said there was a need to consolidate the current EU, rather than continuing to expand – are a case in point.

Juncker said: “Over the next five years, there won’t be any new member states acceding to the European Union. It’s hard to imagine that one of the candidate states with whom we are negotiating will have, in time, met all the accession criteria.”

Better Together seized on this, saying the comments showed that it would take five years for an independent Scotland to join the EU.

Douglas Alexander said that the comments represented a ‘hammer blow’ for the nationalists: “On Europe and on the pound, Alex Salmond is a man without a plan.”

He added: “The Nationalists’ case on Europe now has so many holes in it, it resembles a block of Swiss cheese.”

Things then got more confused, with the BBC’s James Cook reporting that Juncker’s comments did not refer to Scotland, but instead about countries outside the EU.

Nicola Sturgeon responded by demanding an apology from Better Together.

She said: “This blatant act of dishonesty is a major blow to the credibility of the No campaign.

“In their desperation to talk Scotland down and spread fears and smears, the No camp have wilfully twisted what Jean-Claude Juncker said. They said that Mr Juncker was talking about Scotland – and his spokeswoman has confirmed that he was not. Their claims now lie in tatters.”

Someone obviously forgot to mention this to David Cameron, who was still using Alexander’s ‘hammer blow’ interpretation of the comments in PMQs yesterday, even after they had been clarified.

As ever the story brings more questions than answers, not least over which is worse – the ‘hammer blow’ to the Yes argument, or the ‘major blow’ landed on Better Together. At least both camps agree that some sort of blow took place.

The level of spin going on should come as no surprise – questions over an independent Scotland’s relations with the EU are key to the whole debate.

And Europe reared its head again today, with the SNP launching an attack on Margaret Curran, claiming that she had misrepresented the ‘border effect’ on trade between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK by comparing it to the situation in north America before the establishment of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The SNP argues that there would be no trade barriers between an independent Scotland and the rUK because both countries would be in the EU.

A party spokesperson then pointed out that the only threat to that arrangement would come from a UK In/Out EU referendum.

So we are back where we started, with UK euroscepticism yet again providing ammunition for the Yes camp.

But it is not as simple as that.

Yes is arguing that we should vote for independence because the UK may leave the EU.

But the SNP also saying that both nations need to be in the EU to preserve current free trade arrangements, which would be critical to a post independent Scotland’s economy.

This means that the same reason to vote for independence – euroscepticism – is also then a reason not to do so – because if Scotland became independent and the UK left the EU, we would lose free trade.

So which is it? It may be time for Yes to reinterpret Juncker’s comments again.

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