Scotland may have to reapply for membership of international organisations such as the UN and EU if it votes for independence, according to legal advice published by the British government on Monday.
The rest of Britain would be a “continuing state” with the same status it currently has in international law if Scotland secedes after a next year referendum, two experts said in a legal opinion commissioned by London.
But Scotland would become a “new state” and therefore would not automatically be party to thousands of treaties and membership of bodies also including Nato, the IMF and World Bank, the legal opinion said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said it was taking the “the unusual step of publishing, in full” the 57-page document to clear up uncertainty about the legal status of an independent Scotland.
“If Scotland became independent, only the ‘remainder of the UK’ would automatically continue to exercise the same rights, obligations and powers under international law as the UK currently does, and would not have to renegotiate existing treaties or reapply for membership of international organisations,” Downing Street said in a statement accompanying the legal opinion.
The opinion, by professors James Crawford of Cambridge University and Alan Boyle of Edinburgh University, gives four reasons for its conclusion.
Firstly the majority of cases in recent history worked on similar principles, such as Britain and Ireland in 1922, India in 1947, Singapore and Malaysia in 1965, Bangladesh and Pakistan in 1971, the Soviet Union in 1990 and Sudan and South Sudan in 2011, it said.
Secondly, a majority of population and territory has been an important deciding factor in such cases: the “continuing” UK would have a majority of both population (92 per cent) and territory (68 per cent), said the legal opinion.
Thirdly Britain’s “prominent role in the international order” – as one of only five permanent United Nations Security Council members, a Nato member, a nuclear weapons state under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and member of the European Union – meant any change to its status would “cause huge disruption”.
Finally the British government has already ruled out agreeing to become a “new state” as well.
The government said that the two experts “reject suggestions that an independence vote would lead to the creation of two new states and say that it is impossible in law for two states to inherit the same legal personality as the old state.”
They also rejected suggestions that an independent Scotland would revert to its status before the 1707 Act of Union.
Crawford is an Australian state counsel and nominee to be a judge on the International Court of Justice. Boyle is an expert in international environment law, the law of the sea, the law of treaties, international law-making and the settlement of international disputes, Downing Street said.
London’s political parties including Cameron’s Conservatives are campaigning for Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom, while the Scottish National Party based in Edinburgh wants it to become independent.
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond’s economic advisers said in a report that is also due out on Monday that Scotland should keep the pound if it votes to split from Britain in the next year referendum.
The alternatives would be adopting the euro or a new currency.
Cameron meanwhile on Sunday urged Scottish voters to avoid splitting up the country, saying: “Put simply: Britain works. Britain works well. Why break it?”
An Angus Reid poll of 1,003 people in The Scotsman newspaper on February 4 found that 32 per cent of people in Scotland supported independence, with 47 per cent against. Twenty per cent were undecided.