By Martin Kelly
Spain will not interfere in any EU membership negotiations if Scots vote Yes in this year’s independence referendum.
Spain's Foreign Minister has told the Financial Times that the Scottish referendum is different from the situation in Catalonia and that Madrid will not block a legal bid for membership of the European Union.
José-Manuel García-Margallo said: "If Scotland becomes independent in accordance with the legal and institutional procedures, it will ask for admission. If that process has indeed been legal, that request can be considered. If not, then not,"
He added: "We don’t interfere in other countries' internal affairs. If Britain's constitutional order allows – and it seems that it does allow – Scotland to choose independence, we have nothing to say about this."
The comments were welcomed by the Scottish Government, with Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon describing them as "common sense":
"This is very welcome confirmation of the common sense approach which will prevail following a Yes vote in September's referendum." She said.
The stance of Spain, which is facing its own constitutional issues in Catalonia, is a blow to those who oppose Scottish independence. Key figures in the No campaign have highlighted Spain as a possible stumbling block to Scotland’s EU membership.
However the Edinburgh Agreement, signed by both the Edinburgh and London governments, has ensured a legally binding referendum and, now according to Madrid, effectively ruled out a Spanish veto.
Nicola Sturgeon added: "Scotland is already part of the EU and as such already complies with all the rules and terms of membership.
"Scotland's referendum is enshrined in the Edinburgh Agreement, which commits both the Scottish and UK Governments to respecting the result and working in everyone's best interests afterwards – so there is no question that it is 'legal' and that it passes that test in terms of the view of the Spanish Government.
"Scotland's continued EU membership as an independent country is overwhelmingly in the interests of the rest of Europe, and the rest of the EU will be keen to ensure Scotland remains a part – that is not only our view, it is one shared by hugely respected experts like Graham Avery and Sir David Edward.
"Scotland is a European nation, and if the people decide we should be independent we will have equal status and a place at the top table in Europe for the first time ever."
A suggestion by Mr García-Margallo that Scotland could find itself forced to join a queue of new applicants, which would mean having to "resolve a mountain of problems" was recently challenged by Graham Avery, an honorary Director General of the European Commission who has argued that placing obstacles to Scottish EU membership would make no sense.
In evidence to the Scottish Parliament's European and External Affairs Committee last week, Mr Avery said: "It’s pretty obvious if you think about it for a moment that it’s manifestly in the interests of the rest the United Kingdom for Scotland to be a Member of the European Union on the first day of independence.
"It’s obvious that the common sense solution would be for Scotland’s membership of the European Union to be effective on the same day as its independence.
"In my view 18 months is a realistic figure for the timespan."
Despite a growing number of experts now siding with the Scottish Government on the issue of EU membership, the Better Together campaign still insist that negotiations will be problematic.
Speaking to the Herald newspaper, Better Together leader Alistair Darling claimed a Yes vote would result in Scotland being thrown out of the EU and trying to get back in.
The Labour MP said: "The Spanish foreign minister has confirmed, yet again, that the negotiations to get back into the EU would be tortuous and would take a long time. And what's more, it could be blocked by just one country.
"There would be a lot of uncertainty for business during this period. Something that we absolutely don't need.
"This blows a hole in the nationalist claims in their White Paper that it would all be plain sailing. Every analysis says that it wouldn't be. It is time that the nationalists admitted it."