precedent suggests an independent Scotland would be free from UK debt


If it were to secede, there is some evidence to suggest that Scotland would not have to pay its share of the UK’s debt. This is the conclusion of a new article in this month’s issue of Public Money and Management.

The piece by Dr Matt Qvortrup, a senior lecturer at Cranfield University and a constitutional lawyer, points to the examples of Texas, Panama and Paraguay all of which did not take on any of the predecessor state’s public debt following their secession.

The international law is not clear. The Arbitration Commission on Yugoslavia declared that successor states must ‘together settle all aspects of secession by agreement’. However, when agreement cannot be reached, it appears that the presumption is that debt remains with the predecessor state.

The Vienna Convention on the Succession of States in respect of State Property, Archives and Data suggests otherwise stating, unless agreed otherwise, ‘the State debt of the predecessor State shall pass to the successor State in an equitable proportion.’ However this convention is not in force and had not been ratified.

Matt Qvortrup said,

“The secession of states is complex and controversial, but norms have generally been observed. Whether the Scottish, and the rest of the UK, will observe these norms if Scotland votes for independence is an open question. One must hope that this divorce – if it comes – is an amicable one.”


Contact: Matthew Patterson

CIPFA Press Office

t 020 7543 5600


Notes to editors


CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, is the professional body for people in public finance. Our 14,000 members work throughout the public services, in national audit agencies, in major accountancy firms, and in other bodies where public money needs to be effectively and efficiently managed. As the world’s only professional accountancy body to specialise in public services, CIPFA’s portfolio of qualifications are the foundation for a career in public finance. They include the benchmark professional qualification for public sector accountants as well as a postgraduate diploma for people already working in leadership positions. They are taught by our in-house CIPFA Education and Training Centre as well as other places of learning around the world. We also champion high performance in public services, translating our experience and insight into clear advice and practical services. They include information and guidance, courses and conferences, property and asset management solutions, consultancy and interim people for a range of public sector clients. Globally, CIPFA shows the way in public finance by standing up for sound public financial management and good governance. We work with donors, partner governments, accountancy bodies and the public sector around the world to advance public finance and support better public services.