Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Britain delays its divorce with Scotland

British authorities published the conclusion of international lawyers reflecting the negative impact of withdrawal of Scotland from the United Kingdom. Independent Scotland, if it gains independence in 2014, will have to discuss its membership in the EU and other institutions, and the UK will lose its influence in the world, experts say.

The report was signed by lawyers, professors James Crawford with the University of Cambridge, and Alan Boyle with Edinburgh University. The authors of the report argue that the most negative consequence of Scottish independence from the United Kingdom will be the loss of influence followed by the loss of population and territory (8 and 32 percent, respectively). In addition, considering the importance of the UK to the EU, NATO and the UN Security Council, any alternative to retain Scotland's rights would result in a huge gap in the international order, the authors reported. For Scotland, the main negative aspect would be the loss of membership in international institutions.

The authors of the report explained their position referring to the practices of international law, under which England, Wales and Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom and will be its successors, and Scotland will have to confirm its rights. This practice is evident from precedents of gaining independence by countries in the 20th century, including separation of Ireland from Great Britain in 1922, and Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971.

The First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, strongly disagrees with their findings. Obviously, he has little concern about the problems of the United Kingdom, and believes that Scotland, in the event it gains independence, will be acknowledged as an international authority by March of 2016. The Scottish National Party insists that an independent Scotland would remain in the EU through negotiations, a priori excluding other options, and then would hold a referendum on joining the Eurozone.

However, there is much more at stake than the fate of Scotland. It is all about creating a precedent in the EU, and Scotland's example would be followed by Catalonia and other applicants for independence, among which are the Basque Country, Flanders, Madeira, and South Tyrol. Therefore, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and Italy will do everything possible to not allow the precedent, and no "a priori" evidence of Scotland' authority in the EU is expected. The UK authorities are not interested in its separation either. Now they are doing their best so that the Scots vote against separation at the referendum.

In addition to the report, the results of opinion polls were published, indicating that 60 percent of Scots oppose independence. At the end of January of 2013 a campaign against secession was launched, called "Better Together." The organizer, a member of the Labour Party from Edinburgh Alistair Darling compared independence status with the purchase of a one-way ticket. He urged voters to realize that they are deciding the future of the entire country, and there will be no way back to the union with Great Britain. According to Darling, the process of admission to the EU would take 8-9 years, which may adversely affect the economic and social aspects of life.

However, the concerns about the EU do not correspond with the recent statement of Prime Minister David Cameron about a possibility of holding a referendum in Britain on withdrawing from the organization. If the Government of the United Kingdom does not want to be in the EU, why should Scotland aspire to be a member? It is not part of the Eurozone. As for the confirmation of membership in other international organizations (UN, NATO, WTO, IMF), the matter will be resolved much faster and quieter, because there are no doubts about the legitimacy of the referendum in Scotland.  

The Scottish Government is optimistic. In early February, it published a road map reflecting its intentions to solve all the issues of national status restructuring by March of 2016. The First Minister Salmond attracted Nobel laureates to the drafting of the plan and cited international experience. The document suggests a discussion by governments of London and Edinburgh, along with parties and social groups, of the terms of independence. It would involve division of assets and liabilities, new global connections, including the EU, and preservation of monarchy in Scotland.

The Minister told BBC Scotland that after World War II, 30 countries went through the procedure with the referendum and gained independence, with the average term of achieving the goal being 15 months. Salmond added that while the initiators of the counter campaign were stomping their feet and saying that this could not be done, he wanted to tell them that it could be done. He promised that by the end of 2013 "White Paper on Independence" would be written, which would serve as a prototype of the Constitution of Scotland. 

Apart from the legal aspects of the issue, economic aspects are also being discussed. The opinions vary here as well. Scotland supports free higher education, free medicine, and free care for the elderly in respective institutions. In addition, the government will have to take on the functions of the center - to maintain the army, border security, pension and social security. Would an independent Scotland be able to pay all these costs? London doubts it, while Edinburgh is convinced of the opposite.

The population of Scotland is approximately 8.5 percent of the population of the United Kingdom, and the country pays 9.6 percent of all taxes collected in the country. Scotland's share in the expenditure part of the budget is 9.3 percent. The Scottish Government counts on its right to claim 80 percent of the revenues from oil fields in the North Sea, which would be located in the Scottish maritime economic zone.

Lyuba Lulko


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