Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron at Number 10 Downing
Street in London. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
The British government has intensified its campaign to
stop Scotland leaving the United Kingdom, publishing a legal
opinion saying it would forfeit its membership of international
bodies such as the European Union if it chose independence.
The pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) that runs
Scotland's devolved government plans to hold a referendum on
emotionally charged subject next year, and has played down
the impact of a "Yes" vote on Scotland's international
But the 57-page legal opinion - drafted for the British
government by two independent experts on international law -
said the implications could be far-reaching, likening the
situation to the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union when
Russia was declared the USSR's legal successor but the 14
other Soviet states had to forge their international
The overwhelming weight of international precedent suggested
Scotland would be legally deemed a "new state", it said - a
scenario that would force it to re-apply to join
international bodies such as the EU, the United Nations and
The government's intervention came as a panel of experts,
including two Nobel prize-winning economists, issued a report
saying the SNP's plan to keep the British pound in the event
of independence was a sound strategy, suggesting it would
also be wise to keep the Bank of England as the central bank.
The SNP argues that North Sea oil revenues combined with
Scotland's fishing, farming and whisky industries would be
enough to keep an independent Scotland solvent. But critics
say the oil is running out, that Scotland would lose
disproportionately generous British government subsidies, and
that it would struggle to raise enough tax to pay its bills.
The British government's unusual decision to publish the
legal opinion reflects its concern that Scots may vote for
independence, triggering the break-up of a United Kingdom
comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso also
believes Scotland would be "a new state". When asked about
it, he has repeatedly said that any new state that breaks
away from an existing EU state would have to re-apply to join
Spain's government is facing a similar challenge with
Catalonia, where at least one poll has shown that more than
half of Catalonian voters would choose independence if given
Prime Minister David Cameron intervened in the British debate
on Sunday, conceding that Scotland had what it takes to be an
independent nation, while arguing it enjoyed "the best of
both worlds" as part of the UK. [ID: nL5N0B92I6]
"Put simply: Britain works. Britain works well. Why break
it?" he wrote in an article published in Scottish newspapers.
Cameron's political future and historic legacy are on the
line. He has pledged to contest the next British election in
2015 and his own Conservative party would never forgive him
if he presided over the break-up of the UK.
London's main parties are campaigning jointly against
independence, knowing that Alex Salmond's SNP is a highly
motivated political machine that will spare no effort to win
a vote on its flagship policy.
Tapping into an emotive cocktail of historical rivalry and a
perception that the British parliament in London does not
nurture Scotland's national interests, the "Yes Scotland"
campaign wants independence to be a reality by 2016.
Scottish secession could create serious problems for the
remainder of the United Kingdom.
Britain's Trident nuclear submarine fleet is based in
Scotland, revenues from Scottish North Sea oil remain
important to its coffers, and analysts say Britain would find
it harder to maintain its voice in international bodies such
as the U.N. Security Council as well as in European Union
The SNP published a document this month suggesting the
transition arrangements could be made relatively swiftly, and
that Independence Day for Scotland could come in March 2016,
a timetable opponents dismissed as unrealistic.
Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP's deputy leader, told BBC radio on
Monday that different legal experts gave different views on
the international status of an independent Scotland.
"These are matters that will be settled not by law but by
negotiation and agreement," she said. "If the UK government
is really saying that they would, in the event of a yes vote,
go out of their way to make life difficult for Scotland, not
only is that very arrogant but it would also put them in a
position of arguing against their own interest."
Opinion polls suggest support for independence has stalled,
with around one third or less of voters backing it and just
under half opposing it. But Cameron and politicians from
other parties remain nervous.
One of the central planks of Cameron's argument is that
Scotland already enjoys a high degree of autonomy through its
own parliament, and he has hinted that it would be able to
repatriate even more powers if it rejected full independence.
"This must not be a leap in the dark, but a decision made in
the light of day," he told Scots.