The fight to keep Scotland as part of the United Kingdom is a battle of both the heart and the head. That’s why today’s publication from the UK Government is so important as we start to take this debate beyond vision and values into the territory that, for many Scots, will provide them with the information they need to make their decision in Autumn 2014. Today’s document doesn’t deal with all the important issues that will be at the front of people’s minds – what would separation mean for the economy, the welfare state or for our defence, for example – but it goes a long way to starting to properly inform the debate.
Professor James Crawford QC and Professor Alan Boyleargued this morning that the weight of international precedent and international law points to the remainder of the UK continuing as the successor state following an independence referendum and Scotland starting life as a new state. It’s a significant intervention and I believe it tells us three things.
Firstly, their opinion is conclusive. Over 40 pages, it makes clear what many of us already suspected: that the rest of the UK would inherit treaty obligations and would be the continuing state. This would mean that a newly formed Scottish state would go it alone on the global stage, renegotiating terms of entry into every international body. This isn’t scaremongering, or raising fear and anxiety among Scottish people, as the SNP want everyone to believe. This is the reality of separating from a partnership that has, over the centuries that Scotland has been part of it, become a powerful global player.
Secondly, today’s paper raises even more questions that will need to be answered in the future. We’ve already had the arguments about what renegotiation of EU membership would mean for Scotland (inclusion in the Schengen agreement, losing our rebate or being compelled to join the Euro are all possibilities). Today’s opinion goes further. Where would renegotiating our membership of the WTO leave Scotland’s food and drinks industry, a crucial sector of the economy which relies on international trade agreements? Or what would the terms of renegotiation of our membership of NATO be and what would that mean for our security?
Finally, the SNP’s response this morning tells us about how we should expect much of this debate to continue. In interviews this morning, Nicola Sturgeon accused the UK Government of doing nothing but raising fear and anxiety while accepting that Professor Crawford’s credentials cannot be called into question. She rubbished a 30 page, detailed legal opinion but there was no sign that the Scottish Government would publish their own legal advice. And she accused the UK Government of arrogance, while her Government seeks to pre-negotiate the terms of separation, without any mandate from the Scottish people.
Politicians on all sides, including the SNP, say that now is the time to start having the debate that Scots deserve about the future of our country. But the SNP are fast turning into the constitutional equivalent of climate change deniers. Faced with a wealth of evidence and reasoned judgement, they prefer to rely on historic opinions and to ignore international precedent. This is the opportunity for the SNP to stop the catcalls and relentless negativity we’re getting used to and instead respect the wishes of Scots who want a full and frank debate. Let’s see their legal advice, listen to their argument and take it from there.
Margaret Curran MP is Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland