‘Independent Scotland would need to rework 8,500 treaties’

The document was dismissed as 'breathtaking arrogance' by Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Jane Barlow
The document was dismissed as 'breathtaking arrogance' by Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Jane Barlow
Have your say

AN INDEPENDENT Scotland would need to renegotiate about 8,500 treaties which the UK is currently party to, according to legal advice from two experts on international law.

The advice to the UK government that Scotland would have to “start again” and re-apply to every organisation the UK belongs to is contained in a 57-page document, which is due to be published today. It comes alongside the London government’s first paper on the implications of a UK break-up, which also comes out today.

The UK is a party to several thousand international treaties – 14,000 treaties are listed on the Foreign Office’s database and about 8,500 are still active – and is a member of many international organisations, including the United Nations, European Union, Nato, Interpol, International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation.

The authors, Professor James Crawford, of Cambridge University, and Professor Alan Boyle, of Edinburgh University, conclude that, in the event of Scottish independence, the rest of the UK would be the continuing state and member of international organisations and Scotland would need to apply for its own membership.

The document was immediately dismissed as “breathtaking arrogance” by Deputy First ­Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The UK government’s 100-page paper on the implications of independence, which will deal with legal and constitutional matters, will be unveiled today as the first of a series of publications through the year.

Further papers will follow looking at the impact of independence on issues such as foreign affairs, defence, tax,

pensions, energy and welfare.

In the supporting document, the UK government for the first time reveals the legal advice it has received on the international status of Scotland and the rest of the UK, should there be a vote for independence next year.

The report concludes that Scotland would have to agree a new series of legal, trade and defence agreements around the world. The opinion raises doubts over a report last week from the Scottish Government, which set a timescale of independence being achieved within 16 months of a Yes vote.

The document says there are several reasons why Scotland would become a “new state” and the remainder of the UK would be a “continuing state”.

First, the majority of previous cases in the 20th-century show the larger state is the successor state. Significant examples include UK/Ireland (1922), British India (1947), Singapore/Malaysia (1965), Bangladesh/Pakistan (1971-72), USSR (1990-91), Ethiopia/Eritrea (1993), Serbia/Monte­negro (2006) and Sudan/South Sudan (2011).

The academics also say the role of population and territory has been an important deciding factor in other cases where a “new state” has been created. If Scotland became independent, the “continuing” UK would have the majority of both the population (92 per cent) and territory (68 per cent).

And they claim that the UK’s prominent role in international affairs, including being one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, means that the rest of the UK continuing as the successor state would be accepted to prevent major disruption to international affairs.

Alistair Darling, chairman of the Better Together campaign, said: “This is a formidable legal opinion from two internationally respected lawyers. Their opinions cannot just be dismissed by the Nationalists.

“Again, it begs the question where is the advantage to Scotland of breaking its links with the rest of the UK, losing influence as well as all the other economic advantages that come from being together?”

But Ms Sturgeon said the UK government’s paper was contradicted by other legal opinions. She also argued that in the case of Serbia and Montenegro both countries agreed to Serbia being the continuing state – it was not settled as a matter of law. “Similarly, in the case of the USSR,” said Ms Sturgeon, “the republics that became the CIS agreed to Russia being the continuing state.

“This is an act of breathtaking arrogance by this Tory-led UK government, which shatters their claim that Scotland is an equal partner within the UK, and will only serve to boost support for an independent Scotland.

“For the UK government to argue that the UK will be a continuing state and that an independent Scotland would have no rights betrays a near-colonial attitude to Scotland’s position as a nation and gives lie to any suggestion that they see Scotland as an equal partner in the UK.

“It also raises a very important question for the UK government: if they are prepared to lay claim to the assets of the UK, are they also prepared to take on all of its liabilities, such as the UK national debt?”