Scottish independence: Damage to UK's reputation 'inevitable' say MPs

Foreign and Commonwealth Office MPs urged the Foreign Office to highlight the consensual approach to the referendum

An independent Scotland would leave the rest of the UK's international reputation damaged, a committee of MPs has said.

A report by the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee also said the UK's influence in the EU may decline if there is a yes vote in the 2014 referendum.

MPs have urged the Foreign Office to act to limit the potential impact.

The Scottish government said the committee had been "selective" in its quoting of the evidence.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pointed to the fact the report was compiled by politicians who all opposed independence.

The Foreign Affairs Committee has been looking into the potential implications of Scottish independence. Its report concluded there were risks for the remainder of the UK (RUK), particularly on the international stage.

It stated: "It is difficult to measure the impact on the rest of the UK's international standing and influence in the event of Scotland becoming an independent country but we conclude that some degree of reputational damage is inevitable."

The committee urged the Foreign Office to take action ahead of the referendum to highlight to other countries and international organisations, the consensual approach to the referendum, "with a view to minimising the risk of damage to the UK's reputation".

It added: "Witnesses did agree that the way in which the rest of the UK handled 'the business of the break-up' would significantly influence how much reputational damage and loss of prestige the rest of the UK suffered internationally."

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Those advocating the Union pose doubts about the independence project, those advocating independence condemn such comments as baseless scare-mongering.”

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The committee also highlighted the SNP's commitment to removing the Trident nuclear missile system from Scotland and said this could have significant consequences for both an independent Scotland and the RUK.

It said pressure from international partners and post-independence negotiations over Scotland's share of the UK's assets and liabilities could limit the SNP's ambition for a speedy removal of Trident and "could mean that Scotland might not be nuclear-free for another generation".

While UK ministers have said they are committed to maintaining Trident, committee witnesses said the costs may be so prohibitive that a nuclear-free Scotland could precipitate full UK disarmament.

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No-one is doubting that Scotland could be a fully-fledged member of the international community but there is a real and urgent need for more information”

End Quote Richard Ottaway MP Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee

The report said: "Any resulting disarmament by the rest of the UK would be received badly by the UK's key allies and could create problems for Scotland with other Nato and EU members as it forged a path as a new state."

However, Ms Sturgeon disputed the timescale of Trident removal.

She told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "We do not want Trident in Scotland. The removal of Trident from Scotland, it has to be in a safe timescale. We want that to be the speediest possible safe timescale for removal.

"When I gave evidence to the committee I cited reports and evidence that CND has done in the past in terms of the timescale, a two-year timescale in which Trident could safely be removed from Scotland."

In their report, the MPs also called for "more candour" from the Scottish government about what people in Scotland would lose and what it could realistically deliver, in foreign policy terms.

'Constructive aspects'

Committee chairman Richard Ottaway, Conservative MP for Croydon South, said: "At the moment, there are some quite worrying gaps in the Scottish government's foreign policy vision and certain assumptions are being made which don't seem to be based on concrete evidence.

Alex Salmond: 'Basically it makes a fundamental error of judgement'

"No-one is doubting that Scotland could be a fully-fledged member of the international community but there is a real and urgent need for more information about the risks and costs involved.

"A full and candid debate on the international implications of Scottish independence is now needed so that Scottish voters have the full facts before them when they vote in the referendum."

Ms Sturgeon said the report had "some constructive aspects", including a suggestion that UN membership is likely to be "swift and unproblematic", that Scotland "could play a valuable role in Europe", and that it could in principle set up a "successful diplomatic service".

She said: "These are rare examples of balance in a report that is clearly written from the partisan perspective of a group inherently opposed to the concept of independence and primarily concerned with protecting the interests, what it sees as the status, the prestige and crucially the pro-Trident position of the UK."

Ms Sturgeon agreed with the committee's call for the UK government to engage more proactively with the referendum debate.

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