UK’s Scots independence claims ‘on very thin ice’

UK Government report has attempted to portray legal implications of Scottish independence as "traumatic and burdensome", a leading lawyer has claimed. Picture: PA
UK Government report has attempted to portray legal implications of Scottish independence as "traumatic and burdensome", a leading lawyer has claimed. Picture: PA
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UNIONISTS have called on the Scottish Government to publish any legal advice that suggests Scotland would not have to start again in terms of international treaties and memberships of organisations such as the EU.

• Leading lawyer says Whitehall claim on an independent Scotland inheriting UK debt but not existing international treaties resting “on very thin ice”

• Professor David Scheffer claims Westminster-authored report aims to portray legal implications of independence as “burdensome and traumatic”

• Comments appear on Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s blog in wake of UK government analysis on implications of Scottish independence

The call came as the SNP highlighted a paper by legal expert Professor David Scheffer, claiming the UK government was “on very thin ice” asserting that the rest of the UK would be the continuing state in the EU should Scotland become independent.

The comments by the former US ambassador and leading international human rights expert were hailed by the SNP Scottish Government as proof that the UK government’s claims made in a paper last month were just an “assertion”.

But the Scotland Office pointed out that Prof Scheffer was an exert in criminal law, while the UK government legal advice came from Prof James Crawford, the world’s leading expert on new states.

A Better Together spokesman said: “The overwhelming body of evidence suggests Scotland would indeed be a new state if we decide to go it alone. If the Scottish Government hold legal advice to the contrary, then they should publish it.”

In a critique of the UK government’s paper published last month on the implications of independence, Prof Scheffer said: “The Whitehall report is at its weakest when examining the rights of EU citizens in Scotland.”

He said Scots were also EU citizens and would have a right to claim continuing citizenship.

Prof Scheffer also disputes the UK government’s claims that Scotland was “extinguished as a matter of international law”, stating it is built on a “pyramid of presumption”.

Prof Scheffer went on: “The Whitehall report’s bold presumption that national liabilities would have to be negotiated and thus shared between Scotland and the rest of the UK under the continuator theory rests on very thin ice.

“On what legal basis would Scotland be obligated to assume any significant level of UK liabilities if the rest of the UK is the continuator state?

“The Whitehall opinion offers no basis for establishing an obligation to share financial liabilities.”

The intervention was welcomed by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who pointed out that even the UK government’s expert, Prof Crawford, had already said the SNP’s timetable to joining the EU in less than two years was “realistic”.

She added: “Prof Scheffer’s expert opinion makes crystal clear that the UK government’s claims about Scotland are nothing more than assertions.”

A Scotland Office spokesman said: “Prof Crawford, one of the world’s leading experts on new state formation, has said leaving the UK would see Scotland become a new country, with all the issues that entails.”

Referring to Prof Scheffer’s law background, the spokesman added: “It is difficult to argue that the view of a criminal law specialist negates the century worth of hard evidence which supports the UK position.”