By Bob Duncan
Claims made by Unionist politicians that an independent Scotland would need to renegotiate 14,000 separate international treaties are untrue, the UK government has admitted.
Following a question by SNP MP Mike Weir, a UK government official has confirmed that no audit had been carried out on the UK’s current treaty obligations because it was too expensive, the official conceded that many of the treaties have now expired.
Foreign Office official David Lidington said: “Some of the treaties are either no longer in force, or they are no longer in force for the UK because they were concluded by the United Kingdom on behalf of a former colonial territory.”
Earlier this month, Westminster announced that Scotland would need to renegotiate 14000 treaties as part of the transition to independence. The report was used by academics and politicians in an attempt to cast doubt on the 16 month timetable published by the Scottish government in the document ‘Scotland’s Future: from the Referendum to Independence and a Written Constitution.’
The 14000 figure was cited by Scottish Lib Willie Rennie in the Scottish parliament and on BBC Scotland as proof that the timetable proposed by the SNP was over-optimistic. Another to use the figure to undermine the independence timetable was Junior Scottish Office Minister and Conservative MP, David Mundell.
Lord Faulkner a Labour peer made the same claim as did the head of the Better Together campaign, Labour MP Alistair Darling.
All four argued that Scotland would need to renegotiate each of the 14,000 treaties and that this would be massively expensive and time consuming. This, they claimed, made the Scottish government’s timetable for negotiation naively short.
Recently former UK minister Mark Malloch-Brown, who was minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Gordon Brown’s government, said that most negotiations to join international organisations such as the United Nations “can be done pretty quickly”, adding, “it can get into pretty much all of these organisations with relative ease – months, rather than years.
On the subject of the alleged 14,000 treaties, he said, “I think, to be honest, people are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill for political reasons.”
The SNP has described the No campaign as now “engulfed in chaos” and accused pro-Union campaigners of relying on “false assertions”.
The FCO’s admission undermining the Westminster Government’s position comes hot on the heels of revelations that the Treasury has been left scrambling to alter a much-delayed publication which had been set to base its case against an independent Scotland on the UK’s triple-A credit rating which has now been lost.
The UK lost its triple A rating last Saturday after credit agency Moody’s said they were concerned that the UK economy was sluggish.
Commenting, SNP MP Mike Weir said:
“The Westminster Government has been caught out – this is farcical scaremongering.
“Westminster’s own paper on independence claimed Scotland would need to renegotiate these 14,000 treaties despite vast numbers of them being irrelevant – many were concluded by the UK on behalf of a former colonial territory, or indeed refer to countries that no longer exist.
“Now they have had to come clean and admit that their claims are baseless. People in Scotland will no doubt be glad to learn that Westminster is no longer trying to claim that an independent Scotland needs to sign new treaties on the Costa Rica Packet or to draw up Canada’s borders.
“Things are going from bad to worse for the anti-independence campaign this week, as claim after claim is revealed to be based on false assertion.
“The dangers of basing a campaign on nothing but scaremongering are clearly coming home to roost for the anti-independence camp.”
The claim that 14000 treaties needed negotiating led to a twitter account springing up that listed some of the more arcane treaties that had long since expired.
The list included:
• Agreement between the British and French Governments, respecting Mixed Marriages in the United Kingdom between British and French Citizens http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/treaties/treaties-landing/records/07600/07602
• Convention between the United Kingdom and the United States of America respecting the Boundary between the Dominion of Canada and Alaska http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/treaties/treaties-landing/records/05700/05767
• Exchange of Notes between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Khmer Republic http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/treaties/treaties-landing/records/12200/12245
• Telegraphic Convention between the Cape of Good Hope, Natal and the Orange Free State http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/treaties/treaties-landing/records/04100/04128
• Act of the European Commission (Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and Turkey) for defining the Southern Boundary of Eastern Roumelia http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/treaties/treaties-landing/records/04100/04108
• Convention between Great Britain and France, for the Establishment of 2 Daily Mails, between Great Britain and France http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/treaties/treaties-landing/records/07500/07533
• Treaty between Great Britain and Siam, respecting Quedah http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/treaties/treaties-landing/records/09900/09914
• Declaration between Great Britain and France, relative to the Division of Trophies and Booty http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/treaties/treaties-landing/records/07500/07549
• Agreement between Great Britain and Russia, respecting the Tracing of the Line of the Alaschkerd http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/treaties/treaties-landing/records/09700/09702
• Treaty with Kings and Chiefs of Okrika (extending British Protection) http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/treaties/treaties-landing/records/05600/05687
• Declaration between Great Britain and Austria-Hungary, for the admission duty free of Patterns and Samples imported by Commercial Travellers http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/treaties/treaties-landing/records/06400/06470
• Agreement between Great Britain and Madagascar, for regulating the Traffic in Spirituous Liquors http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/treaties/treaties-landing/records/08900/08980
• Convention between Great Britain and the Netherlands Submitting to Arbitration the Claims Arising out of the Arrest of the Captain of the “Costa Rica Packet” of Sydney http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/treaties/treaties-landing/records/08400/08439
• Convention between Great Britain and Roumania respecting False Indications of Origin on Goods http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/treaties/treaties-landing/records/09600/09629
• Declaration between Great Britain and Germany, respecting the claims of Mr Hoenigsberg against the Royal Niger Company http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/treaties/treaties-landing/records/08200/08215