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Scottish Independence Insta-Symposium: ‘Negotiated Independence’–Scottish Independence and a New Path to Statehood?

by Stephen Tierney

[Stephen Tierney is a Professor of Constitutional Theory, University of Edinburgh and Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law.]

In the Edinburgh Agreement of 2012 the United Kingdom Government committed itself to respect the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum. This suggests that, in the event of a Yes vote, the transition to independence will be relatively straightforward, as will the pathway to Scotland’s international recognition and membership of the United Nations – see here.

How then would Scotland’s move to statehood be characterised under international law? It is extremely unlikely that the UK will be taken to have dissolved. The international community is generally ill-disposed towards state dissolution. Despite the loss by Pakistan of over half its population in the secession of Bangladesh it continued to be recognised. More recently the Republic of Sudan survived the loss of the significant territory and population of South Sudan. Certainly Scotland constitutes a significant area (almost one third) of the United Kingdom’s land mass, but it contains less than 10 per cent of the population. The territories of England, Wales and Northern Ireland would all still be contained within the United Kingdom and the UK would retain its principal governmental institutions. These factors suggest a strong presumption in favour of the UK’s continuation.

There are also political considerations. The significance of the UK as a member of the EU, NATO and the Security Council of the United Nations would all be important factors in encouraging others to view it as the continuing State. By analogy, the fact that Russia could continue as a permanent member of the Security Council, thereby avoiding the need to revisit how membership of that body is constituted, was without doubt a significant factor in the international community treating Russia as the USSR’s continuation.

Therefore, Scotland would I think clearly be taken to have seceded from the UK (taking secession to be ‘the effort of a group or section of a State to withdraw itself from the political and constitutional authority of that State, with a view to achieving statehood for a new territorial unit on the international plane’. Supreme Court of Canada, Reference re Secession of Quebec, [1998] 2 S.C.R. 217, para 83.). But all the same, the label secession doesn’t seem to fit very well. We tend to think of secession as a unilateral act, denounced as illegal by the remainder state. It is notable that in light of the Edinburgh Agreement, Crawford and Boyle seem to characterize the process almost as a sui generis situation, what they term ‘negotiated independence’. Certainly the consensual negotiation process which would likely follow a Yes vote would surely have a significant bearing in how Scotland would be treated by the international community.

Let me turn then to issues of recognition and succession. Recognition is itself a complex and contested area of international law. There is no institution authorised to determine definitively the legitimacy of claims to recognition as a new State. Indeed, the generally held view is that recognition is a uniquely political act, operating largely if not entirely at the discretion of States. Certainly Scotland would seem to fit the minimalist Montevideo Convention criteria for statehood as well as the criteria for recognition advanced by the  European Communities Guidelines on the Recognition of New States issued in 1991: for example, respect for the rule of law, democracy and minority rights. Notably the Supreme Court of Canada in the Secession Reference referred to the domestic legality of the secessionist act as another possible condition for recognition. If so, then again the UK’s acceptance of Scotland’s independence in the event of a Yes vote and the likelihood of negotiations between the two governments to this end would surely greatly assist an independent Scotland in the search for early international recognition.

How then would Scotland succeed to the rights and responsibilities that currently apply to the United Kingdom? Unlike the situation with state recognition, state succession has been the subject of considerable attention by the International Law Commission of the United Nations – see here and here. Despite this work the area is still subject to considerable confusion and disagreement. It seems certain that an independent Scotland would assume responsibility for the international relations of the territory of Scotland under international law but that does not mean that it would succeed automatically to all of the UK’s rights and responsibilities, to treaties, and in particular to membership of international organisations. For the avoidance of doubt it would probably make sense for an independent Scotland to accede to major multilateral treaties. At the same time, and assuming the continuation model, the UK State would continue to function as before, be recognised as identical to the State as it existed prior to the secession, would continue to enjoy the same rights and owe the same obligations, and retain UK membership of international organisations.

Scottish succession to membership of international organisations is an intense political issue. Regardless of the disagreement surrounding the meaning of Article 34 of the 1978 Convention, we need to treat this as a separate issue from succession to treaty obligations. The same Convention (Art. 4) is clear that succession to constituent instruments of an international organization is: ‘without prejudice to the rules concerning acquisition of membership and without prejudice to any other relevant rules of the organization.’ In other words, international organisations control their own membership and any special rules they set for membership supersede principles of general international law.

I will discuss only the United Nations here. It seems highly likely that the UN will treat the UK as the continuing State and that an independent Scotland would, as a new State, be required to apply for membership. For precedents see India/Pakistan; Malaysia/Singapore; Pakistan/Bangladesh; Serbia/Montenegro; Sudan/South Sudan. Other new States such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Eritrea have also had to apply for membership as did the former republics of the SRFY, including the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Although Scotland would be required to apply for membership under Article 4 of the Charter, there do not seem to be any significant obstacles. The conditions for admission are that the candidate territory be a State; be peace-loving; accept the obligations of the Charter; be able to carry out its Charter obligations and be willing to do so. Without going into details it seems clear Scotland would satisfy each of these criteria. Of course, if the United Kingdom were to object to Scottish independence, then Scotland could find it difficult to obtain the required level of support within the General Assembly for admission, and as a continuing permanent member of the UN Security Council the UK could also attempt to use its veto to prevent a recommendation that Scotland be admitted. Each of these scenarios seems highly unlikely. Since we might reasonably anticipate negotiations between the UK and Scottish Governments leading to agreed terms for Scottish independence, and since an independent Scotland would most probably be considered an important ally by the UK, it is realistic to assume UK support for Scotland’s UN membership application.

Another big issue is Scotland’s membership of the EU discussed here and here.

http://opiniojuris.org/2014/09/16/scottish-independence-insta-symposium-negotiated-independence-scottish-independence-new-path-statehood/

Scottish Independence Insta-Symposium: The Legal Terrain Following a Yes Vote for Scottish Independence

by David Scheffer

[David Scheffer is the Mayer Brown/Robert A. Helman Professor of Law and Director of the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University School of Law.]

If the Scottish people vote in the majority on September 18th to become an independent nation, then a host of legal issues will descend immediately upon Holyrood, where the Scottish Parliament sits in Edinburgh, and Westminster, the legislative center of the United Kingdom Government in London.  Some of these issues can be overcome if there is a willingness to negotiate in good faith.  Otherwise, obstructionist and stubborn negotiating tactics can result in a bitter fight to the end, which will be 24 March 2016 if Holyrood’s schedule stands for Scotland to break away as a newly-minted sovereign state.

The Edinburgh Agreement of 15 October 2012, signed by First Minister Alex Salmond for the Scottish Government and Prime Minister David Cameron for the United Kingdom, provides the legal platform for the September 18th referendum.  Whatever is decided on that day has the legitimacy required under British law to move forward either with the United Kingdom as a unified country (if there is a majority no vote) or with the emergence of an independent Scotland following separation negotiations between Holyrood and Westminster and the necessary parliamentary acts (if there is a majority yes vote).

Section 30 of the Edinburgh Agreement is critical as to the aftermath, stating that the two governments “look forward to a referendum that is legal and fair producing a decisive and respected outcome.  The two governments are committed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom.”  That has long been understood to mean that negotiations between Holyrood and Westminster would commence in the event of a “yes” vote for independence.

Yet for months Westminster and the three main UK political parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal) have waged their “no” campaign with scare tactics premised, it seems, on there being no meaningful negotiations at all.   Their message is that if there is a “yes” vote, then the protectionist shields will rise at Hadrian’s Wall and the remainder of the United Kingdom (rUK) will simply go its own way as the “continuator state,” leaving Scotland to survive or sink on its own.  Nothing could be further from reality, and Westminster knows that.

It will be in the interests of Westminster and the citizens of rUK to work out how to continue prosperous commercial and social relations with the Scottish people and sustain bonds with Scotland as a close ally.  Alienating Scotland with arrogant posturing now—a raw campaign tactic—as well as later during the inevitable negotiations is an irrational game plan for Westminster.  In fact, the tightening polls in Scotland seem to confirm that the bluff is backfiring.

The first legal issue upon which so much else depends centers on the law of state succession—what will be the legal outcome regarding statehood if Scotland and rUK split?  Westminster and many international lawyers insist that the rUK will be the continuator state, thus continuing the status quo in almost all treaty and international organization relations, while Scotland would be cast off as a new state to initiate its own treaty relations, currency, and membership in international organizations—the “clean slate” approach.  Such a punitive view of Scottish self-determination would force Holyrood onto the most arduous pathway towards statehood and presupposes either unnecessarily complex negotiations with no end in sight or no credible negotiations at all.  Westminster’s tactic is built upon a pyramid of presumptions arising from the initial premise of the continuator theory and yet little of which relates to the sui generis character of the Scottish situation, as I have examined elsewhere.

The unique history of the Scottish and English union of 1707 and the fact that since the 1970s we have seen unfold in Scotland a distinctly modern form of self-determination colors this entire exercise.  Nowhere else are the facts even similar regarding this remarkably peaceful and progressively building process of devolution leading to the renewed independence of a once sovereign nation, including the consent of the UK Government to hold such a referendum.  Legal theories on state succession based upon irrelevant practices of decolonization and stale notions of what constitutes customary international law simply do not work here.

Indeed, the modern formulation of state succession framed in the 1978 Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of Treaties for a situation of this character points towards negotiated co-equal successor state status for both Scotland and the rUK during post-referendum negotiations.  If Holyrood and Westminster cooperate in good faith during the negotiations as co-equal successor states, they can create a pathway of mutually agreed and beneficial continuation of various treaty obligations for both states, Scottish membership in the European Union, continued UK membership as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and a smooth transition for Scotland to join NATO and other international organizations.

Regarding the European Union, if one theoretically were to design the most judicious and EU-compliant path towards internal enlargement, the Scottish experience would set the gold standard.  Scotland is already part of the European Union because it is part of the United Kingdom.  The Scottish people are EU citizens with important rights under EU law.  Given those realities, transitioning to Scotland and the rUK following a “yes” vote on the referendum should be negotiable with Brussels in order to sustain the membership of both nations in the EU.  Surely that would be to the advantage of the European Union.  Caustic and unsubstantiated statements by EU officials and Westminster politicians in the past that relegate Scotland to new applicant status shorn of any existing rights under EU law have been narrow-minded expressions of insecurity.  I recently argued in Brussels, “[Scotland] is truly a sui generis phenomenon within the European Union and efforts to create false symmetries with other sub-state aspirations on the European continent are misleading.”

Of course, much is complicated by Prime Minister Cameron’s intention, expressed on 23 January 2013, to renegotiate parts of the UK’s relations with the European Union and hold a referendum by 2017 to determine continued membership of the UK in the Union. The anti-EU fervor arising from both Conservative and Labour party ranks and manifested in the United Kingdom Independence Party stands in contrast to the Scottish Government’s strong allegiance to the European Union and for sustained EU membership for an independent Scotland.  For rUK negotiators to threaten their Scottish counterparts with outcast status in the European Union while London plots its own withdrawal would be supremely ironic and not easily overlooked.

Each side has a different take on how to proceed with EU membership for Scotland.  The Scottish Government favors amending the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) under Article 48 to create procedures for continued Scottish membership.  This “continuity of effect” assumes transitioning Scotland’s current status as part of the United Kingdom into a newly sovereign status in a fully integrated way within the European Union’s legal, economic, institutional, political and social frameworks.  But this approach requires Westminster to seek such amendments as a willing partner following a yes vote on the referendum.

Westminster and some European Commission officials insist that Scotland would have to apply for membership in the European Union under Article 49 of the TEU just like other new applicants that have never been part of the European Union, like Croatia recently.  There doubtless would result a significant gap in EU membership for Scotland, which might be forced to delay the process until it achieves sovereign statehood status. A legal nightmare may well ensue. If Westminster intends to punish Holyrood following a yes vote, rather than negotiate in good faith, this would do it.

A negotiated formula, however, that essentially melds together procedures of Articles 48 and 49 of the TEU with the support of Westminster in discussions with EU leaders in Brussels and EU member states could provide a reasonable framework for keeping Scotland in the European Union with the least degree of disruption.  This formula would open the way for Holyrood to negotiate what normally would be required under Article 49 for membership, but to do so during the period prior to Scottish statehood with an Article 48 amendment process.  Westminster can facilitate this by joining with Holyrood in such negotiations and thus be the EU member state at the table.  That would reflect the true spirit of Section 30 of the Edinburgh Agreement already agreed to by the two parties.  Westminster’s role is critical, for under the procedures of either Article 48 or Article 49 of the TEU, the unanimous consent of all 28 EU member states would be required to facilitate Scotland’s membership in the European Union.

Perhaps the most divisive issue in recent months has been over the Scottish Government proposal that a currency union be formed between Scotland and rUK to sustain use of the pound sterling by an independent Scotland. There are considerable complexities to any currency option for an independent Scotland, but Westminster has slammed the door on a currency union prior to any negotiations and taunted First Minister Salmond to state his Plan B.

For Salmond to have put forward any Plan B before the referendum would cave into Westminster’s cynical tactic prior to any serious negotiations on currency that could work to the benefit of both nations.  Such bullying by unionists may have chalked up a  few debate points, but it has stirred anti-UK sentiment in Scotland while ignoring the fact that during post-referendum negotiations the Scots have some trump cards of their own.

One of those cards is that if Westminster insists that UK will be the continuator state of the United Kingdom and refuse a currency deal, Scotland can beg off sharing the UK debt and let Westminster shoulder the entire estimated burden of £1.6 trillion by 2016/17. That would comply with the logic of rUK being a continuator state.  Holyrood has offered to accept partial liability on the UK debt but obviously only after negotiations that settle all issues, including division of assets. The markets likely would respect Scotland’s willingness to pay, but also calculate the punitive character of a refusal by Westminster to negotiate currency issues with the result that Scotland’s economy would be unshackled of UK liabilities.  In an effort to reassure the markets, the UK Treasury agreed earlier this year to cover all UK gilts in the event of Scottish independence, but did so assuming that Holyrood still would shoulder a portion of the UK debt.  Not so fast, as Holyrood will have its own demands in such negotiations.

Whatever the outcome on September 18th, the people of Scotland will have acted democratically and peacefully to determine the fate of their nation.  That itself will be a significant achievement under the rule of law.

http://opiniojuris.org/2014/09/15/scottish-independence-insta-symposium-legal-terrain-following-yes-vote-scottish-independence/

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, September 15, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

Your weekly selection of international law and international relations headlines from around the world:

Africa

Middle East and Northern Africa

Asia

  • At least 14 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in US air strikes in Afghanistan, officials have said, sparking condemnation from President Hamid Karzai who has often criticised the conduct of the NATO forces. 
  • China’s President Xi Jinping urged Central Asian states to step up the fight against religious extremism and cyber terrorism, state media said, as Beijing reaches for help across its borders in addressing security concerns in its restive Xinjiang region.
  • As Scotland heads to the polls this week to vote on whether to become independent, one country with restive regions of its own is watching the debate unfold with nervousness and some mystification – China.

Europe

Americas

Oceania

UN

  • Disruptions in cross-border trade and marketing in the three West African countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea –have sent food prices soaring, threatening food security in the region, according to an alert issued last week by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. 
  • A flurry of meetings is scheduled for the coming weeks as WTO members – having now returned to Geneva following their annual August break – try to pick up the pieces after missing a key implementation deadline this past July.
http://opiniojuris.org/2014/09/15/weekly-news-wrap-monday-september-15-2014/
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Weekend Roundup: September 6 – 12, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week on Opinio Juris, summer vacation is officially over. We hope that all of our readers in the Northern Hemisphere enjoyed a great break – hopefully not quite like the Russian soldiers in Ukraine that Jens commented on. For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere: it’s almost summer!

Kevin followed up on an earlier post arguing that despite the recent release of a White Paper we do not yet know the CIA’s public-authority justification for violating 18 USC 1119, and explained why an argument based on Title 50 does not work in his view. He then posted a two-part response (1, 2) to Bobby Chesney’s reply on this last post over at Lawfare, and analysed their different readings of the AUMF.

The AUMF was also central to commentary on President Obama’s address regarding air strikes against ISIS. In anticipation of President Obama’s speech, Peter had put forward three reasons why President Obama should not seek congressional approval for airstrikes on ISIL. Jens was first out of the blocks after the address, to argue that Obama was walking a thin line, and later on that the AUMF does not cover ISIS. Peter and Deborah agreed with Jens on the applicability of the AUMF and Peter added that Obama could have played a different card. Deborah then followed up with an analysis of the theory that ISIS is Al Qaeda rather than considering it an “associated force”.

In other ISIL- related posts, Peter commented on Ted Cruz’ initiative to strip ISIL fighters from their US citizenship, and Kevin responded to a post by Mike Lewis over at Just Security on the application of the “unwilling or unable” test in the context of article 51 UN Charter.

Finally, Jessica wrapped up the news and I listed events and announcements. We’re running an insta-symposium on the Scottish independence referendum next week, and are still welcoming submissions. If you saw last week’s announcement by Matrix Chambers, you may want to take note that the deadline has been extended.

Have a nice weekend!

http://opiniojuris.org/2014/09/13/weekend-roundup-september-6-12-2014/
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Weekly News Wrap: Monday, September 8, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

Your weekly selection of international law and international relations headlines from around the world:

Africa

Middle East and Northern Africa

Asia

Europe

Americas

Oceania

UN

http://opiniojuris.org/2014/09/08/weekly-news-wrap-monday-september-8-2014/
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Weekend Roundup: August 30-September 5, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week on Opinio Juris, we welcomed Jens Ohlin to our masthead.

Kevin asked whether it’s time to reconsider the al-Senussi admissibility decision, linked to a Rolling Stone article about Chevron and the Lago Agrio case, and criticized attempts to assess the proportionality of an attack based on combatant:civilian kill ratios.

There was more on the Gaza Conflict in a guest post by Liron Libman, who examined if the Palestinian Authority’s leadership can be held responsible for the Al Aqsah Martyrs’ Brigade’s actions during the conflict.

In other posts, Kristen discussed the UN Security Council’s response to the demands of the captors of 45 Fijian peacekeepers at the Israel-Syrian border, Chris analysed Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric of an independent Novorossiya, and Roger reported on his research on treaties that supersede statutes under the last-in-time rule.

Finally, Jessica listed events and announcements, and wrapped up the international law headlines. In other announcements, Kevin posted a job vacancy at Matrix Chambers.

Have a nice weekend!

http://opiniojuris.org/2014/09/06/weekend-roundup-august-30-september-5-2014/
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Weekly News Wrap: Monday, September 1, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

Your weekly selection of international law and international relations headlines from around the world:

Africa

Asia

Europe

Middle East and Northern Africa

Americas

Oceania

UN

http://opiniojuris.org/2014/09/01/weekly-news-wrap-monday-september-1-2014/
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Weekend Roundup: August 23-29, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week on Opinio Juris, Julian asked whether the US President can enter into a legally binding climate change agreement without Congress, and educated news agencies about the difference between Taiwan’s airspace and its Air Defense Identification Zone.

The main focus this week was on the Middle East. Kevin commented on an Al Jazeera America piece on Israel’s attack on Shujaiya, while Peter discussed the likelihood and the practical usefulness of stripping ISIS fighters of their US citizenship, and Deborah addressed the difference between paying ransom for hostages and negotiating over prisoner exchanges.

Finally, Jessica wrapped up the news and I listed the events and announcements.

Have a nice weekend!

http://opiniojuris.org/2014/08/30/weekend-roundup-august-23-29-2014/
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Weekly News Wrap: Monday, August 25, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

Your weekly selection of international law and international relations headlines from around the world:

Africa

Asia

Europe

Middle East and Northern Africa

Americas

Oceania

UN

http://opiniojuris.org/2014/08/25/weekly-news-wrap-monday-august-25-2014/
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Weekend Roundup: August 16-22, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week  on Opinio Juris, we had the final instalments of our Emerging Voices symposium, with a post by Tamar Meshel on awakening the “Sleeping Beauty of the Peace Palace” and one by Mélanie Vianney-Liaud on the controversy surrounding the definition of the Cambodian genocide at the ECCC.

More definitional issues arose in Kevin’s post discussing Britain’s expanded definition on terrorism, which now includes watching the video of James Foley’s beheading.

In other posts, Chris blogged about the quilt maps of sovereignty in the Baarles, Deborah argued why shifting alliances in the Middle East matter, Julian renewed his argument that Argentina has no case against the US in its latest ICJ claim, and Duncan commemorated the 150th anniversary of the first Geneva Convention with the question whether there is new IHL to be made and what is should be.

Finally, Jessica wrapped up the news and listed events and announcements.

Many thanks to our guest posters and have a nice weekend!

http://opiniojuris.org/2014/08/23/weekend-roundup-august-16-22-2014/
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Weekly News Wrap: Monday, August 18, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

Your weekly selection of international law and international relations headlines from around the world:

Africa

Asia

Europe

Middle East and Northern Africa

Americas

UN

http://opiniojuris.org/2014/08/18/weekly-news-wrap-monday-august-18-2014/
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Weekend Roundup: August 9-15, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week on Opinio Juris, we started with follow-up on last week, with Julian raising more issues with the emerging Article II humanitarian intervention power and Kevin sharing his final thoughts on the Bar Human Rights Committee’s letter to the OTP in relation to the situation in Gaza.

More on the Gaza situation in a post by Kristin Hausler and Robert McCorquodale, who asked whether attacks on schools, teachers and students ever be legitimate under international law.

This week, we welcomed Lucas Barreiros, Stacey Henderson and Marcos Kotlik to our Emerging Voices symposium, who, respectively, compared the European and Inter-American Human Rights Courts, discussed R2P and measures-less-than-force in the context of protecting children in armed conflict and proposed enhanced participation of civil society organizations in Committee on Enforced Disappearances.

Another guest post, by Priya Urs, asked whether states are injured by whaling in the Antarctic.

Of our permanent bloggers, Kevin argued that the attack on MH17 should be framed as murder not as a war crime, Chris asked whether the US should change its approach to zero-day exploits and Kristen wrote about ensuring robust peacekeeping missions.

Finally, Jessica wrapped up the news and I listed events and announcements.

Many thanks to our guest contributors and have a nice weekend!

http://opiniojuris.org/2014/08/16/weekend-roundup-august-9-15-2014/
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