Major international sporting events aren’t just showcases for excellence and endeavour. They are also showcases for the cities and countries that host them. The opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics left the world in awe of China’s capacity for the spectacular. Four years on, London put smiles on a billion faces with a Games that IOC President Jacques Rogge aptly described up as “happy and glorious”.
For the 2014 Commonwealth Games, which open tonight in Glasgow, the stakes are raised. With only eight weeks left until its independence referendum, Scotland has the opportunity to send a message to the world and to its own population.
A successful Games, and particularly a rush of medals, may well deliver an emotional boost to the independence campaign. But what of the colder, harder realities? What are the legal implications of a Scottish breakaway?
With so much at stake for Scotland and for the UK as a whole, it’s perhaps surprising that so many crucial constitutional questions remain unanswered. We’re accustomed to political opponents spinning the facts to suit their respective arguments, but in this case it’s not entirely clear what the facts are.
What would an independent Scotland’s currency be?
How soon, if at all, would it become an EU member state?
Would the new country be eligible for UN membership, and what would the implications be for the UK’s membership of the Security Council?
A yes vote on September 18th would trigger negotiations for a severance settlement with the UK Government with Independence Day to come in 2016.
Anyone drinking a toast on that day may struggle to make lawful payment for their drink unless Scotland’s currency issue is resolved. The SNP has argued that the pound belongs to Scotland as much as it does to England, and many pro-independence campaigners insist that a currency union between an independent Scotland and what remains of the UK can be negotiated. But the leaders and financial spokespeople of all three major Westminster parties have categorically ruled this out. And this week Scottish Affairs Committee Chairman Ian Davidson bluntly dismissed talk of currency union as a “dead parrot”.
Pro-independence campaigners are adamant that Scotland is effectively already part of the EU, meets all the requirements for membership and will be granted member status within their proposed 18 month transition timetable. Senior EU figures have questioned the realism of this timetable and some have questioned whether membership would be granted at all.
Former EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has stated on record that it would be “difficult, if not impossible” for a newly independent Scotland to join the EU. But the pot was given another stir last weekend when an unnamed EU official was quoted as saying that Barroso’s successor Jean-Claude Juncker would not want Scotland to be kept out and that furthermore, Scotland would be regarded as a different case to other new applicants.
While Mr Juncker has no reason to do David Cameron any favours the report remains unsubstantiated, and any decision on Scottish membership would not be his to make. Added to that, the EU Project has at times appeared so close to exhaustion that any new members from 2016 onward may find themselves arriving at a party just as the drinks run out.
Any Scottish ambitions for full membership of the United Nations would be complicated by the UK’s permanent seat on the Security Council. This seat could be jeopardised by the perception of diminished UK status. While this clearly wouldn’t be in the UK’s best interests, it may not be in Scotland’s either. And the irony of a “United Nations” membership debate between nations choosing to disunite would be painful.
Some of the most persuasive voices in this debate have been those that remain relentlessly objective. As the representative body of over 10,500 solicitors the Law Society of Scotland has a vested interest in the country’s probity and prosperity, and Society President Bruce Beveridge proved to be a voice of unbiased reason. While others on both sides blustered, Mr Beveridge asked pertinent questions and offered cool judgement. When his term of office ended in May his successor Alistair Morris carried on in the same vein. By raising key questions on economics and education Mr Morris has brought welcome pragmatism and attention to detail to a debate that has often lacked both. It’s an example that others would do well to follow.
Scotland’s political and economic future is in the balance, and while sporting events in Glasgow may provide us with entertainment and even inspiration, they can’t obscure the fact that too many questions remain unanswered for comfort.