A Complex Task

by Daniel Rivas Perez

So the Scottish Government’s plans for an 18-month gap between referendum and secession is not realistic, and its White Paper obfuscates and misrepresents the legal and practical problems that a newly independent Scotland would face:

The apportionment of the UK’s assets and liabilities would constitute a large part of the separation negotiations that would have to follow any Yes vote in the referendum. Whilst the details would be a matter primarily of political negotiation, those negotiations would take place within a broad framework of international law. International law provides a number of presumptions that are likely to shape such negotiations. Among these presumptions are the following:

  • The UK’s fixed property in Scotland (e.g. Government buildings) would become the property of the new Scottish State; conversely Scotland would have no claim on the UK’s fixed property in the rest of the UK or overseas

  • The UK’s movable property in Scotland would become the property of the new Scottish State where it is specifically for local use

  • Other assets and liabilities would fall to be apportioned equitably. This may be calculated by such means as share of population or, possibly with regard to the national debt, for example, by share of GDP. Historical contribution appears to be of no relevance: thus UK fixed property in Scotland would become the property of the new Scottish State even if its construction had been paid for UK taxpayers as a whole, and no compensation would be due to the rUK

Working out how these principles and presumptions would apply in the context of unpicking a 307-year-old Union is inevitably going to be a complex task.

My own unionism is mostly emotional. I was born in Scotland but have lived in England for most of my life, and my need for a British identity couldn’t be met by an independent Scotland, a rump UK, or some awkward straddling (dual citizenship?) between the two. It saddens me to think of English people in Scotland as foreigners, and vice versa. I’m also ideologically opposed to the idea of splintering and secession from healthy, democratic states1. Although these are, in the end, fairly mild emotional responses, they’re enough to put me implacably on the No side of the independence debate. This is all helped along by a healthy loathing for the SNP, on tribal, anti-nationalist and anti-mendacity grounds.

I don’t think that independence is impossible, or that once the settling-down period were finished it would be particularly bad for Scotland2 or the rest of the UK. In fact, I’m usually of the opinion it would make no practical difference whatsoever.

That settling-down period, though, increasingly seems like it’ll be far more of a pain in the arse than it’s worth.

  1. I have much more distaste for Catalonian nationalism, which at this point is little more than snobbery and a cover for dumping the poorer regions of Spain. But I also have far less of a stake in Spain than in the UK. 
  2. Not that I live in Scotland.