HC 643 The foreign policy implications of and for a separate Scotland

Written evidence from Dr James Ker-Lindsay, Senior Research Fellow, Politics of South East Europe European Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science

Dr James Ker-Lindsay is Eurobank EFG Senior Research Fellow on the Politics of South East Europe at the European Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science. He has worked extensively on secessionist conflicts, in particular Cyprus and Kosovo. He is the author of, The Foreign Policy of Counter Secession: Preventing the Recognition of Contested States (Oxford University Press, 2012), which examines the ways in which states can prevent territories that have unilaterally seceded from gaining recognition from other states and obtaining membership of international organisations.


· In the event that Scotland declares independence from the United Kingdom with the consent of the British government, there is little reason to believe that Scotland will face any serious impediments in its attempts to join the UN and other major international organisations. In fact, it could become a member of the UN within a matter of days following a declaration of independence. Following on from this, one would expect it to become fully integrated into the international community remarkably quickly – most probably within a matter of a few months.

· However, on the question of EU membership the picture is less clear. There are certainly crucial legal questions that need to be examined. What can be said with more confidence is that claims that its membership would be blocked by Spain and the other countries that have refused to recognise Kosovo seem completely unfounded. Again, assuming that the process leading to independence is mutually agreed between Scotland the rest of the United Kingdom, there is very little reason to believe that Scotland would face any opposition to its statehood from its European partners.

Membership of the United Nations

1. Any consideration of Scotland’s place in the world must start with the assumption that independence will only occur following a negotiated process with the British Government resulting in a mutually agreed decision to separate and followed by a formal declaration of independence. Assuming that Scotland’s independence is not contested by the British Government, there is no reason to suggest that Scotland would face any serious hurdles in terms of joining key international organisations.

2. The first task for an independent Scotland will be to join the United Nations. Although the United Nations cannot confer recognition on a state itself, membership is generally considered to be evidence that a state’s position within the international system is effectively accepted and not seriously contested. (Having said this, there are a number of UN members that are not universally recognised by the other members. Israel is perhaps the most notable example. Others include Cyprus and China.)

4. In Scotland’s case, the question of UN membership could possibly be complicated by the United Kingdom’s position as a permanent member of the Security Council. However, one would assume that a separate Scotland would be willing to relinquish any and all claims to this seat as part of a negotiated separation from the rest of the United Kingdom.

4. As the recent independence of South Sudan highlighted, where a separation is mutually agreed the process of membership of the United Nations can be remarkably swift. In the case of South Sudan, the process of submitting an application, having it approved by the Security Council and then securing a positive vote from the General Assembly took less than a week. Scotland’s membership could be equally swift. With British consent for Scotland’s independence, there is little reason to believe that the recommendation for UN membership would be withheld by the Security Council or that a vote in the General Assembly would go against Scotland. Like South Sudan, Scotland could become a member of the United Nations within days of a formal, mutually agreed, declaration of independence.

5. Formal membership of the United Nations would immediately open the way for Scotland to join a number of other UN bodies and organisations. In some cases, these bodies are vital in terms of ensuring that Scotland obtains the key trappings of independent statehood. For example, membership of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) would allow Scotland to obtain its own telephone dialling code. Membership of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) would allow Scotland to cooperate with other postal sectors. The process would undoubtedly be swift given that one would expect a lot of the groundwork to have been laid during the process of negotiation prior to the declaration of independence.

6. Scotland would also need to secure membership of other key UN bodies. Perhaps the most crucial are the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Following UN membership, one would expect that Scotland would gain membership of both bodies rapidly and with relatively little trouble. Membership of the bodies is based on a weighted voting mechanism, which gives considerable strength to key economic actors, such as the United States and Germany. Therefore, even if Scotland were to face opposition from certain EU member states, which is unlikely (as will be discussed below), they would not have the ability to block Scottish membership in the event that it secures the support of most other members. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that some members of the two organisations appear to be willing to take a softer line of membership of the IMF and the World Bank than on full UN membership. For example, Kosovo has joined both organisations, with the support of some states that have not yet recognised it, such as Greece, even though it is not a full member of the UN. In view of this, it would seem highly unlikely that Scotland would face any serious opposition.

7. Finally, Scotland would also be able to join the wider UN institutions and agencies, such as UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), World Health Organisation (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), International Civil Aviation (Organisation), the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), etc. Although membership of many of these bodies may require a separate vote by their membership, it would seem to be more than likely that such votes will be mere formalities once Scotland has obtained general UN membership.

8. All things considered, it would not be unreasonable to expect that Scotland would be a full, and fully functioning, member of the UN system within just a few months of declaring independence and have obtained all the wider trappings and symbols of full statehood arising from membership of key UN bodies.

Membership of other international and regional organisations

9. Membership of the United Nations would also ensure Scotland’s participation in a number of other economic, political, cultural and sporting organisations. Rather than be caught up in political disputes over sovereignty and recognition (as has been seen in the case of Kosovo), a number of international organisations now use UN membership as key criteria for admittance. For example, a Scottish National Olympic Committee could expect to be admitted rapidly into the International Olympic Committee. In the case of football, the significance of which should not be underestimated as a potent symbol of statehood on the international stage, the situation is not entirely clear. However, given Scotland’s current membership of UEFA and FIFA, and its likely membership of the UN following a declaration of independence, it seems likely that it would continue to be a member of both organisations without the need for a new membership application. Meanwhile, membership of the ITU would open the way for Scotland to join the European Broadcasting Union, which would open the way for Scotland to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest. Membership of these organisations, and participation in their events, is vital inasmuch as they confer wider legitimacy as a member of the international community. (Having said this, membership is not evidence of statehood. In some cases, such as the IOC and FIFA, a number of territories that are not fully independent are members – albeit with the express consent of their parent state.)

10. In addition to the United Nations and various sporting and cultural organisations, one would expect that Scotland would quickly be admitted as an independent member of most of the major international political and economic institutions that the United Kingdom has already joined. On this note, there are a couple of organisations that would be especially important, either symbolically or practically, for Scotland to join. The first is the Commonwealth. One would expect that Scotland would wish to become a member, especially if it retains the Queen as head of state, and that its application would encounter no serious objections, either from the United Kingdom or from other members, such as Canada. The second is the World Trade Organisation (WTO). WTO membership could potentially run into difficulties given that it relies on a consensus vote by all current members and may be held up over specific trade issues. As a result, this is an area that the Committee may wish to explore in further detail. However, at a political level, there is no reason to suppose that Scotland would face any concerted opposition if it is a UN member.

11. In terms of regional organisations, there is also little reason to believe that Scotland would face any major, let alone insurmountable, problems. To this extent, there would seem to be little reason why Scotland could not join the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, to name just two prominent examples. As for NATO, this is a rather more complex issue as it is not clear whether Scotland would wish to remain, or become, a member should it separate from the rest of the United Kingdom. However, should it wish to remain/join, there would be little reason why it could not do so.

12. All things considered, and again stressing the importance of Britain’s consent in this process, and the significance of early UN membership, it seems likely that Scotland would be able to join many, if not most, of the key international organisations within a matter of a few months following a declaration of independence.

Membership of the European Union

13. However, membership of all international bodies cannot be assured. Questions have been raised about whether Scotland would be able to join the European Union. While there are certainly complex legal questions that need to be answered on this matter, it is important to stress that there is absolutely no evidence to support the assertion that Scotland would be prevented from joining the European Union by the five countries – Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain – that have not recognised Kosovo (The Independent, 22 January 2012; Financial Times, 26 February 2012). Indeed, a claim made in early 2012 by an unnamed British government minister that Spain would seek to block an independent Scotland from joining the EU was strongly denied by the Spanish foreign minister. In the case of Kosovo, the key problem relates to the unilateral declaration of independence by Pristina. It is not so much the act of separation that has been a source of concern as the way in which it was done without the consent of the Serbian Government.

14. Again, the strongest evidence to support this view is the reaction of these five countries to the independence of South Sudan. Within hours of the declaration of independence, the European Union issued a joint statement congratulating the new state on its independence. There was not a murmur of dissent from any of the five countries to this act of collective recognition. It is also worth noting that all five countries have recognised Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Slovakia, Moldova and the Czech Republic, to name just a few of the new states that have emerged since 1990s. To repeat, their problem with Kosovo’s independence relates to its unilateral nature. With British consent, there seems little evidence to support the argument that any of them would block Scotland’s membership of the European Union if Scotland were to declare independence.

Concluding Remarks

15. Although it is possible that some states may wish to oppose Scotland’s independence, even if accepted by the United Kingdom, unless one of these states is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it is extremely unlikely that there would be a high enough degree of opposition to prevent Scotland from obtaining membership of the UN and various other international organisations. Again, the element of consent is crucial. Without the consent of the British Government, it seems likely that Scotland would face a difficult path towards full membership of the international community. However, as has been shown, with the necessary consent of the British Government, an independent Scotland can expect to be a full and equal member of the international community within a very short period of time.

26 September 2012

Prepared 17th October 2012