Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Cameron EU referendum 'risks Scots jobs'

Nicola Sturgeon
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon said tens of thousands of Scots jobs rely on EU markets

Scotland's deputy first minister has claimed that Prime Minister David Cameron's pledge of an EU referendum is putting jobs at risk in Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon told an audience in Ireland that being in the EU had created and protected 64,000 jobs in the last decade.

Mr Cameron this week pledged a referendum on the UK's future in Europe, if he won the next election.

Ireland currently holds the revolving EU presidency.

The Scottish government, which is staging an independence referendum in autumn 2014, has also been involved in a row with opponents over the EU status of an independent Scotland.

In a speech in Dublin for the the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, Ms Sturgeon said the prospect of an in/out referendum on UK membership of the EU was causing damaging uncertainty for Scotland.

She told the audience of business people that an independent Scotland as an EU member was "overwhelmingly" in the country's economic interests.

"We are in no doubt that the single EU market continues to be, as it has been in the past, a driver of economic recovery, growth and jobs going forward," said Ms Sturgeon.

"In recent days it has become clear that the UK government could be on a collision course with the EU over the terms of her membership, and it is no longer fanciful to consider as real the possibility that the UK is heading out of the EU."

The deputy first minister went on: "Let me state emphatically that this is not a journey that the Scottish government wishes Scotland to be a part of, nor one that I believe would be supported across the Scottish business community or wider civic society.

"But it is a position that brings with it considerable uncertainty and one that could damage Scotland's EU interests and influence, and deter foreign investors from investing in our economy."

Westminster ministers say there is no guarantee an independent Scotland would remain in the EU, and argue Scotland currently benefits as part of the UK and EU.

Following the speech, a Downing Street source said Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond had admitted the terms of an independent Scotland's membership of the EU would have to be negotiated.

"Given that Scotland would be applying to join as a new member state, there are enormous uncertainties about the terms of such membership, over issues such as currency, rebates, opt-outs and borders," said the source.

"Therefore, independence does not bring any certainty about the terms of EU membership for Scotland."

The source added: "The prime minister wants the UK to continue to be a member of a reformed EU and he wants all the people of the UK to have the final say.

"Alex Salmond wants to deny Scotland the right to such a vote and instead leave it in the hands of other countries."

'Precise scenario'

The SNP government's opponents have made much of comments made in December by the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, who said: "If one part of a country - I am not referring now to any specific one - wants to become an independent state, of course as an independent state it has to apply to the European membership according to the rules - that is obvious."

But Scots ministers have insisted that, in the event of a 'yes' vote in the independence referendum, Scotland would remain part of the EU and negotiate its membership terms "from within".

Earlier this week, the European Commission rebuffed a Scottish government request for early discussions on the consequences of independence for EU membership.

It said talks could only take place with an EU member state when there was a was a "precise scenario" to discuss.

Ms Sturgeon has offered to draw up a joint submission with the UK government in an effort to clarify the issue - although that was rejected by Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, who said it was up to SNP ministers to set out detailed independence plans.