What we really owe to the rest of the UK

THE WESTMINSTER government announced last week that in the event of “Scottish independence from the United Kingdom, the continuing UK government would in all ­circumstances honour the contractual terms of the debt issued by the UK government”.

The constitutional basis for the UK government position is further explained in Scotland ­analysis: Devolution and the implications of Scottish independence (HMG: February, 2013).

The UK government case, however, is that negotiation on “high-level” issues such as debts and assets would “need to be discussed early”, but only after the referendum in September.

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In fact, the negotiating framework for debt has clearly already opened.

Strangely, however, the ­elephant in the room, the UK’s £1.4 trillion (and rising) nat-ional debt played no substantive part in underpinning the UK government’s legal argument.

This is not least because: “there is no clear consensus in international practice as to the precise ­allocation of national debt in circumstances of state separation or dissolution”.

The UK government is, therefore, negotiating randomly in a political and legal vacuum of its own muddled making.

Meanwhile, the Better Together campaign prosecutes its own curiously bitter, resentful and threatening interpretation of the ­muddle.

Its tactics have included gratuitous promises that the remainder of the UK would refuse to co-operate either politically or economically with an independent Scottish Government. We have also had to listen to former Labour chancellor of the exchequer Alistair Darling drip-feeding us his lugubrious pessimism about the economics of a post-independence future.

This culminated in Mr Darling’s perverse claim that the UK government statement that it intended to honour its financial obligations to repay £1.4tn of UK debt would “reassure people” (whom, and of precisely what? that the UK did not intend to default?) in spite of the fact that the UK government’s legal opinion carries the explicit acknowledgement that the matter of terms will ultimately rest on political negotiation and “mutual consent” between the parties. 

Better Together was always the product of ill-assorted, unreliable parents; part creature of the UK government, part supplicant of the Labour Party. But now it has finally fulfilled its fateful promise to become a mere public, intellectual embarrassment.

John S Warren

Tullipan Court