By Martin Kelly
A newly independent Scotland could start afresh without the burden of having to pay off some of the UK’s massive debt mountain, according to a leading academic.
According to the Scottish Sun on Sunday, Doctor Matt Qvortrup has said international precedent backs his view that a Yes vote could result in Scotland freeing itself from a £125bn UK debt liability.
According to Doctor Qvortrup, Scots could be presented with an opportunity to ‘vote Yes and send the bill to David Cameron’.
Speaking to the newspaper, the academic said: “Of course I am neutral and just an observer, but the world deserves to know the facts. Personally speaking, I think this could be a game changer.”
He said: “If Alex Salmond doesn’t want to share the debt and is happy to reapply to Europe, the default position in international law is that Scotland would not have to pick up the debt.
“That has to be known to the people before the vote next year so that David Cameron will know we are starting negotiations from the position that UK (remainder of UK) is the successor state. That has consequences. The one that pays the debt is the successor state.
“If you want to be the EU successor state and be in the UN Security Council, you can. You take all the spoils – but you also take the baggage.”
Doctor Qvortrup’s views are backed he says by historical examples of single entities becoming two separate states. In a new report which studied examples since 1830, Doctor Qvortrup looked at the aftermath of Belgium leaving the Netherlands, the break-up of the former Soviet Union and the break-up of Yugoslavia.
His research revealed that countries which split equally took on their respective share of any debts built up over the period of their union. However, where one country assumed the role of ‘successor state’ and with it the old memberships of organisations like the EU and UN, then that country shouldered all of the debt.
Doctor Qvortrup added: “In Yugoslavia, Serbia Montenegro wanted to be the successor country but they were deemed not to be – which meant they were not landed with the debt. The position Scottish Secretary Michael Moore and Prime Minister David Cameron have is that as long as they are the successor state it’s all good.
“But the understanding about them having to pay the debt could be a good argument for the Yes campaign.
“All other things being equal, Scotland does not have to pay its share of the UK’s debt.”
The UK government has already claimed that the remainder of the former UK would be the successor state and that Scotland would be treated as a brand new state. Westminster has also suggested that a newly independent Scotland could be prevented from using the pound.
The SNP has already pointed out that should Westminster adopt a stance that led to some UK assets, already partly owned by Scotland, being denied a newly independent Scotland then the logical extension of the argument would apply to current UK debt.
The row over whether the rest of the UK would automatically inherit the old EU membership has been at the centre of the independence debate.
In January a leading American professor of international law said that Scotland and the remainder of the UK would be treated as “co-equal successor states” in the event of independence.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Professor David Scheffer suggested that both would be treated equally by the European Union in the event of a Yes vote in the independence referendum and that a “pathway” would be constructed to ensure continued membership of both with minimal upheaval.
Professor Scheffer is a former Special Advisor to Madeleine Albright at the United Nations and the first US Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes Issues during Bill Clinton’s second term in office. He now lectures at North Western University School of Law.
Speaking to the BBC he said: “My argument quite frankly is that we have two co-equal successor states.
“The smart move is to say, ‘look, if it happens – namely if the referendum actually, you know, achieves a ‘Yes’ vote for independence – there will be a path developed for the continued participation of the Scottish people and thus of the new nation of Scotland or the restored nation of Scotland in the European Union”
Claims by the Westminster government that the remainder of the UK would automatically inherit the old EU membership should Scots vote Yes in 2014, were called into question in February by the Latvian Foreign Minister.
Asked whether independence for Scotland would mean a formal application from either Scotland or the remainder of the UK, Edgars Rinkevics said: “That’s exactly one of the most interesting parts, I refer to the legal services currently. I understand the commission and also colleagues from the EU legal services are also currently considering that so I do not want to make any comment vis-à-vis that part of the question, I think we need solid legal opinion.”