By Michinobu Yanagisawa / Japan News Assistant Editor Scotland’s Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop reaffirmed on Wednesday the nation’s plan to remain in the European single market even after the rest of Britain leaves.
Speaking in an interview with The Japan News at the British ambassador’s residence in Tokyo, Hyslop also expressed the devolved administration’s willingness to further strengthen economic ties with Japan.
Hyslop stressed Scotland’s decision to pursue its own single market strategy, citing British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Jan. 17 speech that made clear the British government’s plan to leave the single market.
“It’s possible and it would be in Scotland’s interests, and also in the United Kingdom’s, if Scotland could have, within the United Kingdom’s negotiating position, an opportunity for what we’re calling a differentiated option, where Scotland could remain part of the single market,” the external secretary said.
As the devolved administration’s cabinet member in charge of international relations, Hyslop explained that Scotland can keep its status in the single market by obtaining membership in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), a free trade and economic integration arrangement currently made up of non-EU four countries.
Guaranteed by the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement, the single market currently comprises 31 EEA member states — 28 EU member states and three of the four EFTA states, namely Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein.
The EFTA Convention stipulates that only a sovereign state, which Scotland is not, can become a member. However, Hyslop argued that Scotland can be part of EFTA, citing the case of Denmark’s Faroe Islands — currently outside the EU and the EEA — which has asked the Danish government to support its application for EFTA.
Behind the Scottish government’s energetic pursuit of the European single market lies Scottish voters’ stance in favor of the EU. In the Brexit referendum in June last year, Scotland voted to stay in the EU by 62 percent — the highest among Britain’s four nations.
With a strongly pro-independence but also pro-EU stance, Hyslop’s Scottish National Party has been a dominant force in the Scottish Parliament and in power in Edinburgh since 2007.
Scotland’s single market strategy, however, may face an uphill struggle, as some ministers of EFTA member states such as Norway have reportedly expressed skepticism about Scotland’s membership.
“The current [EFTA] rules would have to change or the United Kingdom would need to apply for, on Scotland’s behalf,” Hyslop said in the interview.
In the U.K., skeptical views are emerging about Scottish government’s leverage over the May administration, as the Supreme Court delivered a ruling that the British government is not obliged to consult with the devolved assemblies before triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to formally begin negotiations over Brexit with the EU.
Nevertheless, Hyslop stressed Scotland can have an influence, saying there are “two stages” in the devolved administrations’ consent to London’s moves. According to the secretary, while the first stage involved Article 50, the second stage will come when a certain negotiated outcome is reached.
“That will certainly require Scottish Parliament views and resolution in legal terms,” she said.
In 2014, the SNP lost a referendum on Scottish independence. With respect to whether the apparent gap over Brexit between Edinburgh and London may trigger another referendum, Hyslop said, “We’re not there yet.”
She added: “I think it [independence] will happen at some point. It’s not a case of if. It’s when that’s going to happen.”
During her visit to Japan from Monday, the secretary intends to promote bilateral ties. In Tokyo, she has participated in a variety of social and cultural events such as a meeting with Japan-based business people, Scottish seafood promotion and a seminar on dementia — an issue Scotland and Japan are equally facing.
From Thursday to Friday, Hyslop was to visit Nagasaki — a city to which Scotland has historical ties through such key persons as Thomas Blake Glover, the Aberdeen-educated trader based in Nagasaki who assisted in the 19th-century Meiji Restoration. She plans to nurture mutual economic cooperation by joining a meeting on local development of marine renewable energy, such as tidal wave power.
Hyslop said during the interview, “There’s an unrealized potential for opportunities for exporting from Scotland” to Japan. She identified food and drink as a particularly strong export area to Japan.
In 2015, Japan was Scotland’s 19th-largest export destination, lagging behind China in 14th. Currently, 85 businesses in Scotland have parent firms registered in Japan, employing 6,250 people, according to Scottish government statistics. Japan is Scotland’s seventh-largest source of direct investment.Speech