Whatever the outcome, Scots lawyers will be needed

SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: Edinburgh’s lawyers are debating independence as former members of the judiciary rendered in oil paints loom over proceedings.

Lawyers know they'll be in demand either way. Picture: TSPL
Lawyers know they'll be in demand either way. Picture: TSPL

Despite the differences in opinion, there is a general consensus, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the legal fraternity will find ways of benefiting whatever the result.

But there are warnings, too.

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David Sellar QC, who has worked on high-profile cases including the demutualisation of Standard Life, says firms are lining up to leave Scotland in the event of a Yes vote.

Lawyers know they'll be in demand either way. Picture: TSPL

“There are undoubtedly buttons waiting to be pressed,” he says. “I don’t think these institutions are bluffing.”

There are a few dozen people crammed into the Faculty of Advocates off the Royal Mile.

Law students make up much of the audience, but there are solicitors and those of an older, ruddier hue.

Advocate Brandon Malone is speaking for Lawyers for Yes. He thinks independence will provide a huge opportunity and says Scotland could continue to use the pound in the same way much-derided Panama uses the dollar. “Everyone seems to dismiss Panama as a banana republic, but Panama is doing very well,” he says. “They have a large and booming financial services industry and now they have found oil as well!”

Edinburgh’s solicitors are not known for being a radical bunch, but there seems a genuine appetite for independence. Mr Malone gets one of the biggest cheers when he says a vote for Yes will force the likes of Shell and BP to take Scotland seriously.

But Adam Tomkins, a professor of public law at Glasgow University, says the Scottish Government’s white paper is full of holes. “It can’t possibly have been written on the basis of legal advice.”

Unlike much of the wider debate, both sides have put positive cases. And, even if the worst case scenario is true, and Scots firms decide they must dismantle operations in Edinburgh – they’ll need lawyers for that.