Editorial: A reality check for Alex Salmond

After all the bombast, reality is intruding on Alex Salmond at last. Brussels is yet to issue a formal confirmation, but a letter from the European Commission to a House of Lords committee sets out clearly that, were Scotland to split from the United Kingdom, it would have to reapply for EU membership.

At the very least, the clarification is an embarrassment for the Scottish First Minister. Not only has Mr Salmond repeatedly claimed that an independent Scotland would automatically remain within the EU; he already faces accusations of "lying" over an interview suggesting such pronouncements were based on legal advice which had, in fact, never been sought.

But the ramifications of the Commission's letter do not end there. It also exposes the extent to which the Scottish National Party leader has oversold independence.

Mr Salmond has certainly talked a good game, painting an unrestrainedly rosy picture of a Scotland comfortably financed by North Sea oil, liberated from the costly and self-serving priorities of Westminster yet still safely ensconced within Europe. He even speaks airily of a post-independence break-up of the BBC, turning the existing assets of the Corporation's Scottish arm into a new national broadcaster.

Real life is, of course, both more complex and less certain. Far from business-as-usual in its relations with Europe, a go-it-alone Scotland will have to start again from scratch, not just on membership but on British-brokered opt-outs such as the single currency, or the Schengen passport-free area. And all this in the teeth of opposition from existing members – not least Spain – keen to discourage separatist rumblings of their own.

Europe is, of course, just the beginning of the story. Scotland's share of Britain's hydrocarbon revenues is also a hotly contested issue, and with output declining, the North Sea is no long-term bet regardless. With less cash coming in, it is far from clear how all the promises of state largesse can be funded. Carried away by his own rhetoric, the Scottish First Minister wants it all his own way. Welcome to the real world, Mr Salmond.