Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Didn’t red tape from the EU damage Scottish businesses?

A: No. 

EU regulations actually make life easier.  Regulation is essential for a market to function and many of the laws agreed across the EU would have to be passed  nationally if they weren’t dealt with in Brussels.  Obviously, there are things we could reform, but for some people to say that the EU creates laws that otherwise would not be there is entirely wrong.

Many of those who attack “red tape” are actually attacking rules that protect workers, the environment or consumers.  At their most basic, EU rules make goods and services safe; something we in Scotland would want to do anyway.  By making such decisions at an EU level, companies only need to look at one rule book, not 28 different ones.

The UK has the second least regulated product market in the developed world. The lowest is the Netherlands.[1] Since both are EU members, it is worth re-emphasising that it clearly isn’t the EU that is the cause of excessive regulation in Scotland, the UK or, indeed, other European countries.  

[1] ‘OECD Indicators of Product Market Regulation’, 2013.

Q: Why should Scotland try to rejoin such an undemocratic organisation?

A: You have been misled.  The EU is a fundamentally democratic organisation. 

The EU is democratic and accountable at every level. Any claims otherwise would be hilarious except for the fact that some people believe them.

It is made up of 28 democratically elected Member State Governments, acting jointly with the directly democratically elected MEPs in the European Parliament.

The MEPs and Member State Governments oversee the work of the European Commission, and appoint the Commissioners.  The Commission is the EU’s Civil Service. The Scottish Civil Service is not elected either and to pretend that the EU one somehow should be is flatly silly.

 Many of the problems we, in Scotland, face are not due to the EU’s lack of democracy, but instead due to UK priorities, often failing to work constructively with our EU partners. Poor outcomes are due to who speaks for Scotland in the EU.  As an example, an independent Scottish Government would have prioritised our fishing industry in a way that the UK Government simply did not.  Scotland’s fishing industry was described all the way back in 1970 as “expendable” by the UK Government in a leaked foreign office report.

The EU is not perfect, but it is democratic.

Q: Why should I want all our laws to be made in Brussels?

A: You shouldn’t, and they aren’t.

The SNP believes in power being as close to people as possible, and we have always argued that only those decisions that have to be taken at EU level should be taken at EU level. 

There are an awful lot of assertions made about how many laws agreed in the EU make it into domestic law.  

One of the most frequent myths you will hear is that the EU dominates domestic law. It doesn’t. This is often associated with the inaccurate statistic that 80% of UK law was made in the EU.  Originally, this myth sprang from a speech by former Commission President Jacques Delors who stated, in July 1988, that “within ten years 80% of economic legislation would be of EU origin”.[1]

He was wrong.

Pre-Brexit, around 15% of UK laws were agreed in the EU or had an EU influence and a similar figure applied to regulations.[2] This is the norm across the EU; Jacque Delors was wrong across Europe, both inside and outside the Eurozone:

  • 10% of French laws were directly transposing EU directives, while 25% of them included elements of EU origin;[3]
  • 9.6% of all primary and secondary laws in Denmark had an EU origin.[4]

[1] Renaud Thillaye, ‘British Political Parties in Europe: Reliable, Ambiguous, Reluctant and Dismissive’, Votewatch Europe/Notre Europe Brief, March 2014.

[2] ‘How much legislation comes from Europe? ’, House of Commons Research Paper, vol. 10/62 13 October 2010. See also: Renaud Thillaye, ‘British Political Parties in Europe: Reliable, Ambiguous, Reluctant and Dismissive’, Votewatch Europe/Notre Europe Brief, March 2014.

[3] M. Fekl and T. Platt, ‘Normes européennes, loi française: Le mythe des 80%’, Terra Nova, January 2010.

[4] Mark Bovens and Kutsal Yesilkagit, ‘The Impact of European Legislation on National Legislation in the Netherlands’, Utrecht School of Governance University of Utrecht, October 2004.

Q: The SNP regularly cites Scandinavia as a model for how we should do things. Why not just become like Norway?

A: Because Norway’s deal would be a bad deal for Scotland. Unfortunately, following the UK vote to leave the EU we need to look at sub-optimal solutions to address the democratic conundrum provided by the 2014 and 2016 referenda results. If we did follow the Norway model we would have to pay substantially to trade with the EU, would still have to implement much of the EU rule book, but would lose all our say in what it looks like.

The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is a trade pact that negotiates treaties with various nations on behalf of its members: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.  EFTA and the EU have agreed to create the European Economic Area (EEA), an extension of the EU single market.  Switzerland opted out of the EEA agreement, preferring just EFTA.  Norway is part of the EEA single market, as is Iceland and Lichtenstein.

A single market must have a single rule book.  The nuts and bolts of trade need to be defined and it is this sort of regulation that the EU spends much of its time working on.  This process does not involve EFTA countries, and nobody represents their interests.  The EFTA countries are simply presented with the law and a deadline for implementation.  They tend to implement faster  and more accurately than any actual EU member state.

The regulations adopted are not peripheral and cannot be ignored.  They are at the core of the single market and include energy, transport, company law, free movement of labour, free movement of capital, state aid, competition law, procurement rules, and lots more besides.  And Norway signs up to the lot without a say over any of them.

On top of this, Norway contributes, vastly, to various individual EU programmes.  One example of this is the research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020, which has provided excellent opportunities for Scottish universities.  Paying towards these extras and paying for the EEA mean that, between 2009 and 2014, Norway was the tenth largest contributor to the EU budget.[1]

Of course, Norway has the democratic sovereign right to choose whatever arrangements it wants, and the means to buy its way out of trouble. But if an ‘Out’ vote looks like the EEA or EFTA, then it would create a vastly undemocratic structure at huge expense and for what gain? Scotland needs to be a member of the single market and needs open borders to staff the NHS, our farms and the hospitality sector. More importantly, Scotland wants to remain within the European framework, something clearly expressed in 2016.

[1] ‘Our Global Future: The business vision for a reformed EU’, Confederation of British Industry Brief, November 2013.

Q: Why should I pay for migrants from the EU to come here and live off benefits?

A: You do not.  In the years up to 2011, EU citizens living here (but not born in the UK) contributed £4.96 billion more to the UK economy than they took out in public services, such as through the NHS, education, or welfare.[1]

People coming to Scotland could not simply claim benefits immediately, despite the impression sometimes given in parts of the press.  People from other EU countries living in Scotland could, quite rightly, access benefits, the NHS and education on the same basis as Scots.  For those opposed to the EU to claim that this is somehow a drain on resources is grossly offensive.

EU nationals contribute and create far more wealth for the Scottish economy than they “take”.

These rights went both ways.  A survey conducted by the Guardian identified at least 30,000 unemployed UK citizens accessing benefits across the EU.[2]  The number of EU citizens claiming anything is actually far more limited than the impression often given.  Around 15% of working age UK nationals claim Department of Work and Pensions benefits, twice the figure, at 7%, of working age non-UK nationals from the EU.[3]

There are currently around 181,000 EU citizens living in Scotland.[4] These men and women make a huge contribution, not just economically but culturally.  They choose to live in Scotland and raise their families here.  However, cultural and social arguments are often drowned out by a false financial case and a mean-spirited mentality that we in the SNP entirely reject.

[1] Christian Dustmann and Tommaso Frattini, ‘The Fiscal Effects of Immigration to the UK’, The Economic Journal, 2014.

[2] Research commissioned by the Guardian and reported in Alberto Nardelli, Ian Traynor and Leila Haddou, ‘Revealed: thousands of Britons on benefits across EU’, The Guardian, 19 January 2015.

[3] ‘Statistical Bulletin: annual report provides statistics regarding National Insurance Numbers (NINo)’, Department of Work and Pensions, 28 August 2014.

[4] ‘EU Nationals Living in Scotland’, SPICE, 20 December 2016.

Q: The EU is a mess, even its accounts aren’t signed off. Why should Scotland want back in?

A: Because you have been misled.  The EU accounts are signed off.  In 2014, the European Commission published the annual “Protection of the European Union’s financial interests” report, which detected fraud in just 0.3% of all EU expenditure.[1] 

A key part of this misunderstanding comes from the European Court of Auditors (ECA) report that comes out each year.  It is a hugely complex and technical report that does not actually use internationally understood accounting language.  The ECA assesses the EU budget by looking at the main departments of budgetary policy on a case by case basis.[2]  The often-repeated misunderstanding that “the accounts were not signed off” is simply untrue. 

The accounts have now been signed off for many years.

Revenue is described as completely “legal and regular”; Commitments are described as completely “legal and regular”.[3] The findings of the report are, in fact, based around working out the percentage “error” in each of these areas and any “error” beyond 2% will lead to the ECA not issuing “a Positive Statement of Assurance”.  Crucially, an “error” does not mean that fraud has taken place and not issuing a Positive Statement of Assurance does not mean that the accounts have not been signed off.

The Commission emphasised this in its reply to the ECA that an error, even a documentary one, in a procurement process will show up in the audit.[4]  The money spent in such a cases could have actually been spent correctly and the project completed successfully but if all procedures have not been followed then it will still be classified as an “error”. [5] This was recognised by the House of Lords Select Committee for the EU as far back as 2006: 



Furthermore, the often cited myth that the Brussels bureaucracy is enormous and inefficient has also been shown to be inaccurate. The reality is that the ECA said there was a less than 1% error in this department and the control systems in place were effective.[7]

[1] ‘Annual report 2014 on the Protection of the EU’s financial interests – Fight against fraud’, The Commission and of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), 2015.

[2] Mainly, the Revenue (money received by the EU); Commitments (money returned by the EU to member states to spend within their territory on the EU programmes they administer) and the Payments (money actually spent by the EU). ‘ECA Annual Report on the Implementation of the Budget 2013 ’, European Court of Auditors, 2014.

[3] ‘ECA Annual Report on the Implementation of the Budget 2013 ’, European Court of Auditors, 2014.

[4] ‘ECA Annual Report on the Implementation of the Budget 2013 ’, European Court of Auditors, 2014.

[5] ‘Annual report of the European Court of Auditors – Frequently Asked Questions’, EU Commission Fact Sheet, 2014.

[6] ‘Fiftieth Report on the European Union’, House of Lords, 7 November 2006.

[7] Administration error in 2013 was 1% and in 2014 0.5%. 

Q: What employment rights did the EU give me?


[1] The Working Time Directive guarantees a minimum of 4 weeks per year of paid annual leave. ‘Working Time Directive’, EU Commission.

[2] The EU sets a framework to ensure employers have an obligation to ensure the safety of their workers, and prevent occupational accidents. Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work.

[3] The EU guarantees a minimum level of effective protection to temporary workers, ensuring that flexible working arrangements are not used to deny basic rights to temporary workers or to undercut permanent employees. ‘Temporary Agency Workers’, EU Commission.

[4] Council Directive 92/85/EEC of 19 October 1992 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeedingCouncil Directive 2010/18/EU of 8 March 2010 implementing the revised Framework Agreement on parental leave.

Q: Why should Scots help pay to support the gravy train lifestyles of EU officials?

A: The costs of running the EU are actually remarkably low, despite the often repeated rhetoric.  The European Parliament costs each European citizen €3.10 per year which contrasts sharply with the UK Parliament which costs over twice as much at €7.30 per person per year.[1]

Furthermore, the Brussels bureaucracy, when assessed by the European Court of Auditors, was shown to have a less than 1% error in its budget and the financial control systems in place were described as effective.[2]

[1] ‘European Parliament: Facts and Figures ’, European Parliament Research Service, November 2014.

[2] Administration error in 2013 was 1% and in 2014 0.5%. ‘ECA Annual Report on the Implementation of the Budget 2013’ European Court of Auditors, 2013; ‘ECA EU Audit in Brief ’, European Court of Auditors, 2014.

Q: The EU costs a fortune, why pay?

A: The EU does cost money, as any club does.[1] The question is, what do we get for the money? The return in benefits, financial and otherwise, was more than worth the investment, as each of us gained over £1,000 per year from our membership. Besides, to stay outside the the EU yet remain within the single market will still involve a significant payment to the EU budget with no say in how it is spent.

The net contribution per capita of the UK was £116 per person which, although less than Sweden, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands, was still a significant amount of money.[2]  However, this is only half the story since the wider economic benefits of continued EU membership more than covered these costs and each individual made on average £1,225 per year from our membership.[3]

 Within Scotland the situation was actually even better. Scots made a net contribution per capita of only £8 per year which meant that the benefits dramatically outweigh any costs.[4] Scots are already much more likely to see the EU as good value for money than elsewhere in the UK and rightly so, as we did well out of the deal.[5]

The EU budget should also be seen in context. It is minor compared to what national governments spend. The EU budget makes up around 1% of EU GDP yet the budgets of the EU’s various governments represent (on average) around 49% of GDP.[6]

[1]  ‘The Impact of EU membership in Scotland’, SPICE, October 2015.

[2] ‘Our Global Future: The business vision for a reformed EU’, Confederation of British Industry Brief, November 2013.

[3] ‘Our Global Future: The business vision for a reformed EU’, Confederation of British Industry Brief, November 2013.

[4] ‘The economic consequences of leaving the EU’, Centre for European Reform, June 2014.

[5] ‘Internationalism or Isolationism? The Chatham House–YouGov Survey of British Attitudes Towards the UK’s International Priorities,’ Chatham House, January 2015.

[6] ‘Budget Facts’ EU Commission.