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Press Release

Press Releases

No. 10: Scotland legal opinion

Downing Street press release

On Monday the UK Government will take the unusual step of publishing, in full, the legal opinion it has received on the international law aspects of Scottish independence.

The 57 page legal opinion will say that the overwhelming weight of international precedent suggests that an independent Scotland would become a "new state" and the "remainder of the UK" would be considered a "continuing state".

This means that if Scotland became independent, only the "remainder of the UK" would automatically continue to exercise the same rights, obligations and powers under international law as the UK currently does, and would not have to re-negotiate existing treaties or re-apply for membership of international organisations.

The UK is a party to several thousand international treaties - 14,000 treaties are listed on the FCO's database - and is a member of many international organisations - these include the United Nations, European Union, NATO, Interpol, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation.

The legal opinion was written by Professor James Crawford of Cambridge University and Professor Alan Boyle of Edinburgh University, two leading experts on international law.

The document says that there are four reasons why Scotland would become a "new state" and the remainder of the UK would be a "continuing state":

1. The majority of cases in the twentieth century demonstrate similar principles. Significant examples include UK/Ireland (1922), British India (1947), Singapore/ Malaysia (1965), Bangladesh/Pakistan (1971-2), USSR (1990-1), Ethiopia/Eritrea (1993), Serbia/Montenegro (2006), and Sudan/South Sudan (2011).

2. The role of population and territory has been an important deciding factor in other cases where a "new state" has been created. If Scotland became independent, the "continuing" UK would have the majority of both the population (92%) and territory (68%).

3. The UK's prominent role in the international order means that any alternative to the remainder of the UK continuing to exercise the same rights as the current UK would cause huge disruption in the international order. The UK is one of only five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council; a nuclear weapons state under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT); a key member of NATO; a member of the EU; and party to several thousand bilateral and multilateral treaties.

4. The only way that the UK and Scotland could both become new states would be if the remainder of the UK agreed to become a "new state" as well, however the UK Government has already ruled this out.

Professors Crawford and Boyle reject suggestions that an independence vote would lead to the creation of two new states and say that it is impossible in law for two states to inherit the same legal personality as the old state.

They also reject suggestions that an independent Scotland would revert to its status before the 1707 Act of Union.

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