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An independent Scotland would gain debt and lose public assets

I NOTE with interest the comments of William Naphy, who suggests a "clean slate" independent Scotland could seize UK assets such as warships and dispense with the National Debt and David Black, who argues that claims for UK assets are not matters of political opinion but of fact and law which should be assessed by the competent authorities (Letters, February 12).

The Act of Union with England 1707 passed by the Scottish Parliament agreed that Scotland should assume a proportional share of the public debt. In compensation, a large sum, perhaps equivalent to £725 million today, was paid to Scotland by England. Part of this was used to pay off Scotland's public debt. Scotland's share of the UK National Debt today would probably be about £1.2 billion. As a new state, an independent Scotland could repudiate the 1707 commitment. However, to do so would scupper the plan to use sterling as currency and would probably lead to Scotland's international credit rating starting at junk level. In practical terms, therefore, a post-referendum negotiation would have to take place to agree Scotland's national debt.

The 1707 Act is silent on the question of assets. However, it does refer to ceding the "Public Right" to the new joint parliament. If this is to be interpreted as including ownership of public assets, then Scotland would have no legal claim to any UK asset if it left the UK. That could include UK public property north of the Border as well as south. Though some have claimed that Scottish independence would automatically dissolve the United Kingdom, the UK Government has made it clear it does not see it that way. Nor is it likely that other countries and international bodies would see it that way. The UK would continue, with its agreed property rights, minus Scotland.

So the Scottish Government's legal situation post-referendum would probably involve inheriting the commitment to a proportion of the National Debt but having zero legal claim on the assets of the continuing UK. That is not a very fair situation, but such matters are progressed with national interest in mind, not fairness.

The UK Government says this is how it would approach talks. Because a Scottish Government post-referendum claim to UK assets would be legally legless, it does not mean that there is not a moral claim. However, to press a moral claim would require an appeal to good faith.

I much enjoyed the image Professor Naphy's idea summoned of a squad of Edinburgh constabulary sailing up the Gare Loch to arrest the Royal Navy. Perhaps Para Handy and the Vital Spark might be available to assist them, for a small fee.

For David Black, it looks like these issues are indeed all about political opinion and there are no "competent authorities" to sort them out other than our governments. Perhaps he should stop picking out the pictures and artefacts he would like until they have finished.

Russell Vallance,

4 West Douglas Drive,

Helensburgh.

I AGREE with Iain Macwhirter that the anti-independence campaign has failed to offer any positive vision and that this could backfire on it ("This negative Unionist campaign isn't working", The Herald, February 14).

Claims this week that Scotland was "extinguished" by the Act of Union and the implied endorsement of this position by the No campaign simply makes it appear anti-Scottish and will not endear it to Scottish voters, most of whom regard Scotland as a distinct country regardless of their views on independence.

Iain Macwhirter points out that many young people get their news through the internet. This may be so but it should also be pointed out that some of the anti-independence rhetoric on the internet is hysterical. Claims that an independent Scotland would practise ethnic cleansing of the English or that it would be a one-party state will not win people over to the cause.

As a supporter of independence I have no particular desire to advise the No campaign as to how to conduct itself but if it does not start behaving in a sensible manner many people will become fed up with it.

Iain Paterson,

2F Killermont View,

Glasgow.

IAIN Macwhirter says the SNP will need to get out more and spend more time with the douce ladies of Bearsden and Milngavie. I look forward to hearing how the SNP's stalwarts get on with taking up that challenge showing, of course, sufficient missionary zeal.

Alistair Darling is correct in stating that "the only poll that matters" is the one taking place in the autumn of 2014 ("Darling to warn UK split will leave Scots with less power", The Herald, February 14). That will not stop various other polls being commissioned, pollsters making lots of money, and interested parties making prognostications on the referendum outcome.

Ian W Thomson,

38 Kirkintilloch Road,

Lenzie.

THE contribution of Professor Joseph Stiglitz to the independence date will no doubt be welcomed by the Yes campaign, but he – and they – miss the point ("Warning to Scots over UK income divide", The Herald, February 14).

Professor Stiglitz is correct that inequality can only be tackled through control of fiscal and welfare levers. However, it appears he may not have considered that these are already in the hands of the Scottish electorate through their influence at Westminster. Moreover, it is through UK governments that the vast majority of steps to tackle inequality in Scotland have been achieved.

We will never know whether an independent Scotland would have come so far alone but it seems doubtful: for example, it seems unlikely that the Edwardian Presbyterian ruling class would have sanctioned old age pensions for "beer and baccy", or that the Tory Scotland of the 1950s would have nationalised their Dr Findlays through the NHS.

Similarly, would socially conservative Scotland have promoted women's equality by legalising abortion as early as 1967? Would equal pay for women have been a priority in a Scotland dominated by male manual trade unions in the 1970s? When would a Scotland that steadfastly turned a blind eye to racism (because "it did not exist") have legislated for racial equality?

Most recently, in the Blair and Brown years, the UK Government confiscated excess profits from the privatised utilities and used the money to attack youth unemployment; it also introduced the National Minimum Wage along with Working Families Tax Credits and lifted more than 600,000 children out of poverty. These achievements are examples of what a progressive government at Westminster can achieve for equality in Scotland and the whole of the UK.

In contrast, the SNP Scottish Government has shown little commitment to promote equality through the powers which it already possesses. Indeed, the effect of its flagship policies are to entrench inequality: "free" elderly care which protects unearned inherited wealth; and "free" university education funded by cutting further education places for working-class students.

The message of history is that Scotland is sometimes ahead of its neighbours and at others a bit behind, but we are indeed Better Together.

Peter A Russell,

87 Munro Road,

Jordanhill,

Glasgow.

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