The Government believes Northern Ireland, Wales and England can become the ‘continuator’ state of the United Kingdom whilst Scotland will be its successor state in the eventuality of a ‘yes’ vote in just over one month’s time.
A report by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution examining the constitutional implications of the Scottish referendum explains that this is the Government’s considered legal opinion. It’s based on an analysis by Professor James Crawford, Whewell Professor of International Law at the University of Cambridge, and Professor Alan Boyle, Professor of Public International Law at the University of Edinburgh, on the status of Scotland and the rest of the UK in international law.
The Sentinel recently reported how the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) believes NI may have to be excluded from a constitutional convention if the Scots vote for independence because the power-sharing settlement here depends on the support of Dublin.
However, a yes vote will have huge implications for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and NI. If the Scottish say ‘Yes’ it will spell the end of the Union, which was established between Scotland and England in 1707.
That Act of Union (1707) created Great Britain, and Great Britain is the legal entity with which Ireland (1800) and later NI is united. But the Government’s legal experts don’t think this is a problem.
The Select Committee report states: “The UK Government’s position follows this legal opinion: that the rest of the UK would become the continuator state and that Scotland would become a new, successor state.”
It goes on to report the Advocate General for Scotland, Lord Wallace of Tankerness’s four reasons for this.
The report states: ”First, the majority of international precedents - from Russia being the continuator state on the break-up of the Soviet Union to Sudan continuing after South Sudan became a new state - point to the rest of the UK being the continuator state.
“The most directly relevant precedent is that Great Britain and NI continued as the UK after the secession of the Irish Free State in 1922,” the report states.
”Secondly, the rest of the UK would retain the greater share of the population (92 per cent) and territory (68 per cent) of the existing UK. These factors are given weight in public international law. Thirdly, the likelihood is that the majority of other states would recognise the rest of the UK as the continuator state and recognise Scotland as a new state.
“Fourthly, where the alternative of two new states being created has applied - for example, when Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia - that has usually been by mutual agreement.
“The UK Government would not agree to the UK becoming a new state, so this alternative could not apply. It is relevant that the referendum is taking place only in Scotland: it is not a UK-wide referendum on whether the UK should split into two new states,” it adds.