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Independent Scotland would 'inherit share of UK national debt'

An independent Scotland would not inherit the UK's existing international treaties but would inherit a share of the UK national debt, according to the Scottish Secretary.

Michael Moore has set out the UK Government's understanding of new legal analysis on the implications of Scottish independence by two eminent international lawyers.

James Crawford, Whewell Professor of International Law at the University of Cambridge, and Alan Boyle, Professor of Public International Law at the University of Edinburgh, believe the most likely outcome of Scottish independence would be the continuation of the UK as the existing state under international law and the creation of a new state of Scotland.

However, they have not ruled out the creation of two completely new states or the resurrection of the Scottish state that existed prior to 1707, although both outcomes are deemed unlikely.

The Scottish Government's claim that Scotland would remain a member of existing international organisations such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and, crucially, the European Union "can be dismissed as, at best, inconclusive", according to the expert analysis.

It states: "Assuming that Scotland would be recognised as a new state, albeit a successor state to the UK, it is difficult to see how Scotland could evade the accession process for new states in the EU treaties."

It adds: "Since the rUK (remainder of the UK) would be the same state as the UK, its EU membership would continue."

While the experts' paper does not directly address the division of assets and liabilities, a 62-page report by the UK Government accompanying the analysis states that the division of liabilities and assets would have to be negotiated.

It states: "There would be an expectation that an independent Scottish state would take on an equitable share of the UK's national debt.

"How an 'equitable share' would be calculated is open to question and would have to be negotiated."

Earlier today, Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon dismissed the UK Government's analysis as "incredibly arrogant".

She said: "Somehow they keep all the rights of the UK and Scotland gets nothing?

"If they believe this and if they think that they keep all the rights of the UK, does that mean that they keep all the liabilities as well, including the UK national debt, because that is the logical conclusion of the argument they're making."

Mr Moore addressed this point at Edinburgh's Signet Library this morning during an event to launch the new analysis paper.

"We would need to have an equitable distribution of the liabilities," he said.

"I know this was an issue raised elsewhere this morning, and we will be returning to that theme in subsequent papers as it is an essential factor in this debate that merits very careful attention.

"But the principle that we would negotiate that and have an equitable distribution is pretty well established in the paper today."

The UK Government's analysis also states that after independence, representatives of the UK Government would enter negotiations on the terms of independence "as representatives of the continuing state of the UK".

However, Mr Moore said this would not apply to Scottish MPs in the UK Government, such as himself, his junior minister David Mundell, or Advocate General for Scotland Lord Jim Wallace, who were also in attendance today.

Mr Moore said: "I have made very clear personally that were Scotland to vote for independence then, as Scots, we would be looking for the best deal for Scotland.

"Personally, I think the best deal for Scotland is that we stay in the UK, and therefore I will be arguing very strongly for that in the next 18 months."

He added: "Scotland and the rest of the UK would have to work out their respective interests, prior to then working through what implications that has for international bodies like the EU.

"That is something that we are committed to doing constructively, but that's not the same as the impression sometimes created by those on the other side of the argument that this would be a piece of cake, that it would be very easy to do.

"It would be a process that would require two sets of constructive but hard-headed negotiators, and then a parallel set with 27 in one case (the EU) and many others in other international organisations."

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme today, Mr Crawford said his analysis should not be interpreted to mean Scotland's accession to international organisations would be difficult.

"EU membership will come as a matter of negotiation and UN membership will be straight-forward," he said.

"But in the case of the EU there are things to negotiate such as the British opt-out and financial contributions, as those aren't automatic."

He added: "There are things to negotiate and I'm not suggesting that this process is going to necessarily be very difficult."

Ms Sturgeon described these remarks as "helpful" to the independence debate.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: "Contrast this open, evidence-based approach with the Scottish Government's attitude of misleading the public and Parliament over EU legal advice that doesn't exist and using taxpayers' money to fight a bogus case in court to keep it secret.

"It is astonishing that Nicola Sturgeon's response today was to brand the advice of two independent world experts as arrogant and displaying a 'near colonial attitude'.

"It is a desperate response and such extreme language will do the separatists' cause few favours."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "We know that the majority of people in Scotland want to continue our home rule journey, but a vote for independence would put that journey to a halt.

"Scottish Liberal Democrats will continue to make the case for a stronger Scotland within the United Kingdom.

"This legal advice makes clear that an independent Scotland would leave the United Kingdom partnership of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and become a new state. The nationalists must address the implications of choosing to leave that partnership and start from scratch."

Michael Clancy, director of law reform at the Law Society of Scotland said: "The opinion of Professor James Crawford and Professor Alan Boyle will hold considerable weight, but there are also different views, and we would encourage those views to be expressed in a way which will allow people in Scotland to weigh up both sides of the argument."

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