LAST week saw the European Union adopt its mandate for negotiations with Switzerland “to modernise and deepen bilateral relations” – and offers a telling insight into what it is like trying to keep the perks of the EU club without paying the membership fee.

Not that many of us need reminding of that. The UK has provided an up-close masterclass of how not to negotiate with the EU. Indeed, this week I along with other members of Parliament were due to be in Brussels for the biannual Parliamentary Partnership Assembly.

Instead, it has been postponed because we’ll be voting on the abhorrent Rwanda bill which would have meant that the only members of the UK delegation would have been … members of the unelected House of Lords. So much for a serious political institution!

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Anyway, while the UK ties itself up in knots over a policy of its making, the EU gets on with the day job. This includes finding ways to update existing agreements with other partners such as, in this case, Switzerland.

Officially the Swiss Confederation, the country is known for its neutrality, alpine slopes and its high standard of living. It is also a member of the European Free Trade Association and participates in the EU’s Schengen Area. It also has partial access to the single market through a series of bilateral agreements in certain areas.

Sounds ideal?

As we’ll discuss later in this column, this seeming freedom of sovereignty brings with it further constraints in a hyper-globalised world.

The reasons for Switzerland’s unique position merit a brief digression. Switzerland has a high level of democratic participation, with some major decisions requiring ratification by referendums.

Equally, laws which are challenged by 50,000 voters within 100 days of passing require a nationwide referendum to be held before they are enacted. This high level of direct democracy means that last year Swiss voters had three referendums; for context, there have been three UK-wide referendums in total.

As such, when Switzerland applied to join the European Economic Area in 1992, the final decision to join had to be approved in a referendum, where the final result was 49.7% in favour and 50.3% against. Subsequently, the Swiss government also decided to suspend its negotiations for EU membership until further notice, formally withdrawing its application in 2016.

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Various reasons have been put forward for the Swiss reluctance to join such as concerns over maintaining its neutrality or how it would impact its unique democratic system, for example. Geography matters though and as such over the subsequent 30 years, a complex series of negotiations resulted in multiple layers of committees, treaties and bureaucracies.

The current negotiations emerged after the failure to form a broader institutional framework, with the aim of modernising current bilateral agreements. As the European Commission outlines on its website, the new agreements will help to “ensure a level playing field for competition between respective companies operating within the internal market and guarantee the protection of the rights of EU citizens in Switzerland, including non-discrimination between citizens of different Member States”.

It will also look to bring about an agreement for Switzerland’s participation in EU programmes such as Horizon Europe, its financial contribution to the EU’s social and economic cohesion, as well as relaunch negotiations towards agreements on electricity, food safety and health.

As the above demonstrates, if you’re not in the club, you can’t expect to get all the perks without paying a premium – out means out. The circumstances each state finds itself in differs of course and therefore each decision (or indecision) results in consequences one way or the other.

The Swiss seem content with their current model of continuous negotiations without having a say in the formulation of the rules they must abide by if they want access to the single market.

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Could we say that an independent Scotland would be in a similarly content position of trying to pick and choose its access to the single market? I would argue that no, it would not.

Not only would it expend a significant amount of time which could be spent on ensuring a smooth accession process; it would be costly, inefficient and, evidently, not a position backed by a majority of Scots who want to be back in the EU.

After all, as the Swiss have long known and accepted (and the UK Government is slowly realising) to be out of the EU as a European state in a hyper-globalised world means less freedom of choice in the laws and programmes that impact your economy and society. As an independent country in the EU, Scotland would not have to negotiate to be part of Erasmus+, Horizon Europe or accept whatever laws are decided in Brussels with no say.

Instead, we will be considered automatically as part of these programmes and have a voice in the legislation through representatives in the Parliament and other EU bodies.

Instead of having to negotiate on our own against a bloc of 27 other countries, we will be part of that bloc working together towards securing our common interests and building a better future for all our citizens across our shared continent.

I wish Switzerland the best of luck for their next steps in their relationship with the EU; for Scotland, I believe it is in our interests to pursue fully-fledged EU membership and I will keep working on persuading people towards independence in Europe.