Scotland "new state" outside EU, U.N. if splits: Britain

Mon Feb 11, 2013 10:40am EST
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By Andrew Osborn

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government on Monday intensified its campaign to stop Scotland leaving the United Kingdom, publishing a legal opinion saying it would forfeit its membership of international bodies such as the European Union if it chose independence.

The pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) that runs Scotland's devolved government plans to hold a referendum on emotionally charged subject next year, and has played down the impact of a "Yes" vote on Scotland's international status.

But the 57-page legal opinion - drafted for the British government by two independent experts on international law - said the implications could be far-reaching, likening the situation to the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union when Russia was declared the USSR's legal successor but the 14 other Soviet states had to forge their international relations anew.

The overwhelming weight of international precedent suggested Scotland would be legally deemed a "new state", it said - a scenario that would force it to re-apply to join international bodies such as the EU, the United Nations and NATO.

The government's intervention came as a panel of experts, including two Nobel prize-winning economists, issued a report saying the SNP's plan to keep the British pound in the event of independence was a sound strategy, suggesting it would also be wise to keep the Bank of England as the central bank.

The SNP argues that North Sea oil revenues combined with Scotland's fishing, farming and whisky industries would be enough to keep an independent Scotland solvent. But critics say the oil is running out, that Scotland would lose disproportionately generous British government subsidies, and that it would struggle to raise enough tax to pay its bills.

The British government's unusual decision to publish the legal opinion reflects its concern that Scots may vote for independence, triggering the break-up of a United Kingdom comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

CAMERON LEGACY   Continued...

The First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond (L) shakes hands with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, after signing the referendum agreement in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh, Scotland October 15, 2012. REUTERS/Gordon Terris/Pool