Scotland and the thorny road to independence

17. Actualité archives 2007

par Neil Addison -
Sir Professor Rodney Brazier (letter, Jan 16) questions whether the Scottish Parliament has the authority to hold a referendum on independence. Whatever the strict legalities, however, it would be politically and legally dangerous for the UK Government to try to prevent such a referendum from being held.
In 1998 the Supreme Court of Canada considered the position under the Canadian constitution and international law regarding the right of Quebec to secede from Canada. The Court held that under international law Quebec did not have a right to secede unilaterally because Quebeckers (like Scots) were neither a colony nor an oppressed minority.
However, Quebeckers did have the right to hold a referendum and if there was "a clear majority vote on a clear question in favour of secession" then "the other provinces and the federal government would have no basis to deny the right of the government of Quebec to pursue secession".
Therefore, if the SNP was to form a government in Scotland and was refused the right to hold a referendum, it could argue that it was being denied its rights under international law and therefore had the right to secede unilaterally.
However, if the SNP was allowed to hold a referendum with an unambiguous question, Scotland would not have the legal right to declare unilaterally independence.
Finally, if there was a "yes" vote in such a referendum then negotiations for secession would be with the remainder of the UK, ie, Gordon Brown and other Scottish MPs could not be part of a UK Government that negotiated the secession of Scotland.

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