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Division of assets will rightly be decided between Scotland and Westminster

Regarding Scotland's debts and assets in the event of independence, Iain AD Mann asks why we believe international law should not apply to Scotland (Letters, February 16).

The relevant international law is the Vienna Convention of 1983 on the allocation of assets, archives and debts to successor states. The UK has not ratified this treaty but there is no reason why it could not do so should it be relevant in the event of Scottish independence.

Taking Iain Mann's interpretation that independence would mean the extinction of the UK and the creation of two successor states, Scotland and the rest of UK (rUK), how would the convention run? It would provide for the proportional allocation of debts and assets to the two successor states, with population size the most convenient calculator. So Scotland's share of the national debt would be about £1.2 billion. Scotland could claim 8% of the UK's assets, but not those located in rUK on the date of succession. Scotland's claim would be limited to assets in Scotland and an 8% share of overseas property, ie embassies and consulates where owned by the UK rather than rented. This was the system used when Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia divided.

Taking the UK Government's interpretation that independence would mean Scotland became a successor state but rUK would be the continuation state of the UK, how would the convention run? It wouldn't. All rights would remain with the continuation state, subject to national law and past agreements or treaties between the successor state and the continuation state. This is what happened when the USSR divided – the Russian Federation was recognised as the continuation state and all the others became successor states. Most uncomfortably for Scotland, there is a past agreement – the Treaty of Union with England 1707. Scotland specifically committed to a proportional share of future public debt but did not specify a share of joint assets. Hence, the unfair situation that arises with this interpretation that Scotland would be liable for the £1.2bn debt, but that rUK would get all the UK's assets north and south of the Border.

The critical question is whether Iain Mann or the UK Government has the stronger case. There is a list of criteria used in international law to judge whether a continuation state exists. The Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) was ruled not to be the continuation state of the former Yugoslavia. The Russian Federation was ruled to be the continuation state of the USSR even though it had only 47% of the population. Looking at what might be the case post independence, rUK with 92% of the population and most of the UK's institutions would have an immensely strong case – so strong it could be regarded as overwhelming for all practical purposes.

So international law can and will be applied to Scotland in the event. Unfortunately it doesn't help much.

Division of assets would come down to a discussion between the Scottish and UK governments.

Nationalists should recognise this aspect of international law has not just been made up by Westminster to irritate the SNP – it is something they have to plan their strategy around.

Russell Vallance,

4 West Douglas Drive,

Helensburgh.

Referring to the letters from R Vallance and PA Russell (Letters, February 15). Mr Vallance's historical recital is interesting but when he says that post-referendum, Scotland's international credit rating would probably start at junk level and further, that Scotland's claim to a share of UK assets as would be legally legless, he reveals his intention to rubbish Scotland. He should cheer up and stop dredging the ditches of history for scare stories.

Mr Russell also uses history to rubbish Scotland. He doubts an independent Scotland would have introduced old-age pensions, legal abortion, equal pay for women or racial equality. He holds high the work of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in the last Labour Government. Is that the same Government that brought the county to its knees, and for which we are now paying the price?

Mr Russell pooh-poohs free elderly care, and free university education, telling us we are better together. In his historical mode he omitted to mention a relatively recent historical event when the Labour party through Mr Blair and Mr Brown gifted five Scottish oil installations to the English people, by the simple expedient of moving a critical border.

Better together. Nah. Better controlled by the people who live in Scotland.

Charles CS Whyte,

5 Mavisbank Gardens,

Perth.

Contextual targeting label: 
Finance

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