By Martin Kelly

A newly independent Scotland could start afresh without the burden of having to pay off some of the UK’s massive debt mountain, according to a leading academic.

According to the Scottish Sun on Sunday, Doctor Matt Qvortrup has said international precedent backs his view that a Yes vote could result in Scotland freeing itself from a £125bn UK debt liability.

According to Doctor Qvortrup, Scots could be presented with an opportunity to ‘vote Yes and send the bill to David Cameron’.

Speaking to the newspaper, the academic said: “Of course I am neutral and just an observer, but the world deserves to know the facts. Personally speaking, I think this could be a game changer.”

He said: “If Alex Salmond doesn’t want to share the debt and is happy to reapply to Europe, the default position in international law is that Scotland would not have to pick up the debt.

“That has to be known to the people before the vote next year so that David Cameron will know we are starting negotiations from the position that UK (remainder of UK) is the successor state. That has consequences. The one that pays the debt is the successor state.

“If you want to be the EU successor state and be in the UN Security Council, you can. You take all the spoils – but you also take the baggage.”

Doctor Qvortrup’s views are backed he says by historical examples of single entities becoming two separate states. In a new report which studied examples since 1830, Doctor Qvortrup looked at the aftermath of Belgium leaving the Netherlands, the break-up of the former Soviet Union and the break-up of Yugoslavia.

His research revealed that countries which split equally took on their respective share of any debts built up over the period of their union. However, where one country assumed the role of ‘successor state’ and with it the old memberships of organisations like the EU and UN, then that country shouldered all of the debt.

Doctor Qvortrup added: “In Yugoslavia, Serbia Montenegro wanted to be the successor country but they were deemed not to be – which meant they were not landed with the debt. The position Scottish Secretary Michael Moore and Prime Minister David Cameron have is that as long as they are the successor state it’s all good.

“But the understanding about them having to pay the debt could be a good argument for the Yes campaign.

“All other things being equal, Scotland does not have to pay its share of the UK’s debt.”

The UK government has already claimed that the remainder of the former UK would be the successor state and that Scotland would be treated as a brand new state. Westminster has also suggested that a newly independent Scotland could be prevented from using the pound.

The SNP has already pointed out that should Westminster adopt a stance that led to some UK assets, already partly owned by Scotland, being denied a newly independent Scotland then the logical extension of the argument would apply to current UK debt.

The row over whether the rest of the UK would automatically inherit the old EU membership has been at the centre of the independence debate.

In January a leading American professor of international law said that Scotland and the remainder of the UK would be treated as “co-equal successor states” in the event of independence.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Professor David Scheffer suggested that both would be treated equally by the European Union in the event of a Yes vote in the independence referendum and that a “pathway” would be constructed to ensure continued membership of both with minimal upheaval.

Professor Scheffer is a former Special Advisor to Madeleine Albright at the United Nations and the first US Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes Issues during Bill Clinton’s second term in office. He now lectures at North Western University School of Law.

Speaking to the BBC he said: “My argument quite frankly is that we have two co-equal successor states.

“The smart move is to say, ‘look, if it happens – namely if the referendum actually, you know, achieves a ‘Yes’ vote for independence – there will be a path developed for the continued participation of the Scottish people and thus of the new nation of Scotland or the restored nation of Scotland in the European Union”

Claims by the Westminster government that the remainder of the UK would automatically inherit the old EU membership should Scots vote Yes in 2014, were called into question in February by the Latvian Foreign Minister.

Asked whether independence for Scotland would mean a formal application from either Scotland or the remainder of the UK, Edgars Rinkevics said: “That’s exactly one of the most interesting parts, I refer to the legal services currently. I understand the commission and also colleagues from the EU legal services are also currently considering that so I do not want to make any comment vis-à-vis that part of the question, I think we need solid legal opinion.”


2013-05-12 17:21

It would be interesting to know what the Scottish people would prefer. Debt-free, and give up on things like a shared currency, etc., or accept our fair share of the debt, and keep our fair share of assets.

Maybe an opinion poll on this is needed.

And, where can we find Doctor Qvortrup’s original research paper on this?

2013-05-12 19:11

It’s not either or. You can still share a currency region even if we take no debt.
Howvever we would not be entitled to 8.4% of assets such as reserves / defence equipment etc. It probably breaks even either way.

Ian Edinburgh
2013-05-12 17:24

Common sense at long last.
Play the radio folks six minutes
of reason.
2013-05-12 18:16

This quite frankly is a preposterous position that Westminster has placed itself in.

They have been so puerile with their total approach to Scotland’s seeking independence and with many good reasons for doing so, that they’ve missed the other side of the book.

I’m sure that heads will be getting banged together very shortly indeed.

No-where for Trident.

100% of the UK debt mountain.

Reliance on imported water and power supplies.

A chronic political system that now needs dumped and re-drawn from scratch.

Huge concerns over immigrants piling into their over-heated hubs.

A financial melt-down looking and credit status dropping like a stone.

A very volatile population being told that austerity is essential and it will hurt.

A media that is totally corrupt.

Boris Johnson waiting in the wings – ye Gods!

2013-05-12 18:44

Nothing on the BBC about Qvortrup’s comments.
Usually they are pulling “constitutional experts” from everywhere to get a negative slant on independence.
2013-05-12 19:11

LMHO the debt is Odious
In international law, odious debt, also known as illegitimate debt, is a legal theory that holds that the national debt incurred by a regime for purposes that do not serve the best interests of the nation, should not be enforceable. Such debts are, thus, considered by this doctrine to be personal debts of the regime that incurred them and not debts of the state. In some respects, the concept is analogous to the invalidity of contracts signed under coercion.…/…
Therefore there is a strong legal case for the debt to be voided with a YES vote,.. no matter what Westminster says
2013-05-12 19:52

There is also the matter of LEGALITY of our debt
In November 2008, Ecuador became the first country to undertake an examination of the legitimacy and structure of its foreign debt. An independent debt audit commissioned by the government of Ecuador documented hundreds of allegations of irregularity, illegality, and illegitimacy in contracts of debt to predatory international lenders. The loans, according to the report, violated Ecuador’s domestic laws, US Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, and general principles of international law. Ecuador’s use of legitimacy as a legal argument for defaulting set a major precedent; indeed, the formation of a debt auditing commission sets a precedent.…/…
An independant Scotland can examine the legality of its debt , no matter what Westminster says
2013-05-12 21:08

Nice idea, but I don’t see us getting away debt free.

But even if I’m wrong, irrespective of the legal rights and wrongs, I think walking away from our share of the debt would leave a lot of bitterness and resentment behind, and I’d prefer that didn’t happen. I know, the sum is dwarfed by the absence of the oil fund we might have had, but I see independence as our line in the sand, not a finish line but a start line, and I’d be happier accepting the debt, and bargaining that much harder for our rightful share of UK assets.
The option to walk away with a clean slate is quite a forceful bargaining tool too, but it isn’t worth creating an unjust settlement or endless dispute which blights our separation for many decades to come.

We should look to the future. It’s a big bind to be sure, but we can cope with the debt.

I also think BRL hits the nail on the head regarding the Westminster / rUK attitudes.

2013-05-12 22:38

You really would think Cameron & Co would learn. They made a huge fuss about not allowing a second question and after all the bluster, huffing and puffing, what happened? SNP said, OK then, fine with us. They don’t seem to see they are being set up. And it’s the same with all the other nonsense they keep spouting. I’ll bet come November when the White Paper is published they are in for a big shock. Sound of rugs being pulled will be deafening!
Highland Eagle
2013-05-13 01:01

Well Westminster MUST stop their daily scare stories of ‘you will get nothing if you vote YES!!!’

Time the SNP began to play hardball with these Etonian muppets!!

2013-05-13 08:18

An Independant Direct Democracy Scotland ,my prefered choice
Would be able to put the desicion to the people of Scotland ,just like the Direct Democracy of Iceland did.
Iceland refused to pay the debt, there is no legal or moral reason for taxpayers to pay this debt, and instead the Icelandics arrested the bankers that where responsible for the debt and even arrested thier Prime Minister for trying to sell the Icelandic population as debtor slaves.
This too would be possible in an Independant Scotland
btw one of my jobs was making datafeed interfaces for asset management and risk assesment for the global financial industry.
Leader of the Pack
2013-05-13 09:04

This is a NON argument. The make up of the UK union is clear in its legality and legitimacy It is purely the ACT OF UNION 1707 NOTHING ELSE. The union of Parliaments will end ending the UK union. Both constituent Parliaments will be successor Parliaments and the spoils and debt shared appropriately. THATS THE LAW when the LEGALITY is CRYSTAL CLEAR and IN STATUTE FORM. There are no INTERNATIONAL LEGAL PRECEDENCES because the ACT OF UNION IS THE LEGAL STATUTE which binds the UK in its present form.
End of story.
2013-05-13 09:45

Remember folks it’s not the SNP, Scottish Government nor the Scottish people who are being awkward here and therefore shouldn’t be criticised. Thus far the Scottish Government have offered a rational approach to Independence offering wasteminster the least painful option, an option beneficial to all parties yet they seem to want to make it more difficult than it has to be.

I say Independence at any cost and if that cost falls to the rUK, because of the decisions made by their elected government, then so be it!

2013-05-13 20:26

@Leader of the Pack
This is not a NON arguement!
It is the very point of the arguement.
Even taking your arguement into account.
An Independant Scotland would have the right to examine the legality of the debt.
For example a Direct Democracy Scotland could vote to decide if they wanted to pay debts illegally created by private bankers.
Direct democracy is an ancient Scottish principle,we need to restore.
BUT Neither of these options will be possible staying in the UK
End of story
Lobby Dosser
2013-05-13 22:05

It would be really good if we managed to get Independence, freedom from debt and got to stuff the Westminster establishment really well, all at the same time. I suppose the pros and cons would have to be fully weighed though (sigh).
2013-05-22 18:51

Walking away from that much debt for which we are partly responsible is a bit crazy but then again starting off independence with our own currency might create some hardship in the short term so I’m all for the ultimatum that has been put through for a Debt Free Scotland

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