The U.K. may have voted for a Brexit, but Scotland certainly didn't. That's what the Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tried to explain to other EU leaders in Brussels on Wednesday. Voters there supported staying in the EU by a near 2-to-1 margin, and Sturgeon — who supports independence for Scotland — argued it must not be dragged out of Europe against its will. Interestingly, though, Spain opposes Scotland excusing itself from Brexit.
Although some European leaders offered a "sympathetic response," as Sturgeon put it, acting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was not having it. Given the disaster Brexit has caused for Europe, both economically and politically, you'd think Scotland's desire to stay would be well received. So what's the deal? The real issue here is that to stay, Scotland would have to declare itself independent from the U.K. and that would complicate domestic politics in Spain.
The region of Catalonia, home to Barcelona in Spain's northeast, has been pushing for independence and held an unofficial referendum in 2014. The ruling conservative party at the time, which Rajoy heads, refused to recognize the results. If Scotland were able to declare itself independent from the United Kingdom, it would give Catalonia a potential road map to do the same thing. Thus he had these harsh words for Sturgeon and Scotland's bid to stay:
I am extremely against it, the treaties are extremely against it and I believe everyone is extremely against it. If the United Kingdom leaves... Scotland leaves.
In fact, he's so against it that he doesn't even want Sturgeon to address EU leaders. He said it's "very clear Scotland does not have the competence to negotiate with the European Union," and, "Spain opposes any negotiation by anyone other than the government of United Kingdom." If Catalonia were to leave Spain, it would also want to remain in the EU, but Rajoy has argued that it couldn't.
That has also been his position regarding Scotland for years. When Scotland voted on its independence, Rajoy said that the newly independent European nation would have to reapply, getting at the back of the line — a process that could take years. All the while Scotland could be kept out of the common market, the situation that the whole U.K. is now facing.
For Sturgeon and Scottish separatists, this must seem the perfect moment to win both independence and EU membership. She told reporters that this is just an early stage in the process; she sounded optimistic pointing to a "willingness to listen" among many European leaders. She said the path may be difficult but she hopes to preserve Scotland's relationship with the EU:
I have not been here today to reach any conclusions or to press anybody for any decisions or any commitments. I have been here to make sure that Scotland's voice is being heard and that Scotland's position is understood. I am confident that is the case — I found doors to be open here today.
Rajoy's opposition may become a moot point soon — he is just the acting prime minister. The country held an election on Sunday after months of negotiations between opposition parties failed to form a government. His party, the conservative Popular Party, came out first this time, but still don't have the needed majority.
Even if he were replaced by a more sympathetic ear for Scotland, French President Francois Hollande could prove another obstacle. He said, "The negotiations will be conducted with the United Kingdom, not with a part of the United Kingdom."
Thus Brexit seems likely to ensure that absolutely no one gets their way. Not Britain, not the EU, and not even Scotland.