Scottish independence: Law Society of Scotland wants advice published

Saltire The people of Scotland will decide on their country's future next year

A legal body said the Scottish and UK governments should publish their advice on an independent Scotland's membership of the EU.

The Law Society of Scotland believes it is vital the electorate understands the implications of a Yes and No vote.

It has published a discussion paper analysing the potential impact of independence on a number of key areas of the law, both devolved and reserved.

Scots decide on their country's future on 18 September 2014.

They will be asked the single yes/no question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

The Law Society, which represents solicitors across Scotland, said it recognised that governments do not normally publish the legal advice they receive but its paper argued that there was a need for legal certainty ahead of the historic vote.

The Scottish government said it expected to negotiate membership of the EU and other bodies such as Nato on similar terms to those of the UK.

Start Quote

There are many questions to be answered before September 2014, answers which would allow all of us to make a more informed decision about our future; how our parliament should be structured, the currency we would use”

End Quote Bruce Beveridge President Law Society Scotland

Its opponents said an independent Scotland would have to apply afresh and may have to join on different terms.

President of the society, Bruce Beveridge, argued that more information should be provided from both governments.

He said: "There are many questions to be answered before September 2014, answers which would allow all of us to make a more informed decision about our future; from how our parliament should be structured, the currency we would use, what level of tax we would pay, to cross-border treaties and our relationship with other countries in Europe and around the globe."

On EU membership, the paper stressed the "need for legal certainty" when people vote in the referendum.

It called on the SNP administration to set out what would happen if negotiations about EU membership could not be concluded in the 16-month window period between a Yes vote in the referendum and "Independence Day", the date on which Scotland would become an independent nation.

The paper added: "Would Independence Day be moved back to allow for a conclusion to negotiations or would Independence Day be a fixed date requiring Scotland to leave the EU and rejoin when the negotiations were concluded?"

The society urged the UK government to say whether it would support an application by an independent Scotland to join the EU.

When and what?

  • Scottish independence referendum - The electorate in Scotland will go to the polls on Thursday, 18 September, 2014
  • The question - Voters will be asked the yes/no questions: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

Mr Beveridge said: "Membership of the European Union continues to be a vexed question. We think people should have more information about an independent Scotland's future membership of the EU and, while acknowledging the right of government not to disclose legal advice received, we think both the Scottish and UK governments should publish the law officer legal advice they have been given to help provide clarity for voters."

The society would "not take a view either for or against independence" but said the debate in the run-up to the vote should be "reasoned, informed, informative and respectful".

On currency, the society paper said the Scottish government should set out the contingency plans if the UK government did not agree to the SNP's preferred option for an independent Scotland to keep the pound in a formal currency union with the rest of the UK.

It also argued that Labour, the Tories and Liberal Democrats should set out their proposals for further devolution in the event of a No vote.

The society said it wanted to know what further powers each of the parties proposed transferring to Holyrood, what the time-scale for this would be and if Labour, the Conservatives and Lib Dems were prepared to agree a joint programme on this.

Detailed papers

A Scotland Office spokesman said: "We have already published the legal opinion of eminent experts making clear that an independent Scotland would have to apply for membership of the EU and other international organisations, and subsequent Scotland Analysis papers have made clear the complications it would face on issues such as currency.

"A number of the questions relate to areas which would be subject to negotiation should the people of Scotland vote to leave the UK for good. There is no doubt independence would mean a huge number of complex and irreversible changes to life in Scotland."

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "This paper makes clear that whichever interpretation is taken of the EU treaties, Scotland already conforms to the EU's requirements and qualifies for EU membership as well as membership of other international institutions in its own right.

She added: "As the Law Society will be aware we have already published a series of detailed papers and statements on key questions which show both how and why an independent Scotland would keep the pound; set out our proposals for a written constitution; and demonstrate the economic and financial strength of Scotland.

"We have also made clear that our White Paper will be entirely consistent with our legal advice on the issue of European membership."

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