The Scottish Independence Referendum in an International Context

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There are no universally applicable procedural standards under international law for independence referenda. However, in contemporary comparative practice, a minimum requirement has emerged for clarity of both the winning majority and the referendum question. This article demonstrates that Scotland could become an independent state with the lowest popular support in recent international practice, yet this outcome would not compromise the legitimacy of the vote. Even the referendum question is an exemplar of textual clarity. However, the possibility of a referendum on the United Kingdom’s (UK) exit from the European Union (EU) complicates the matter. The author argues that, with independence, Scotland would, prima facie , also exit the EU, unless negotiated otherwise. However, with a potential referendum on the UK’s EU membership on the horizon, Scots do not know whether a vote to remain within the UK is also a vote to remain within the EU. Given the complexity and significance of the EU legal order, Scots have a right to know whether, at least in the near future, the alternative to independence is the UK within or outside the EU. If the two referenda fall too close to each other, the clarity of the Scottish independence referendum could be unduly compromised.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-288
JournalCanadian Yearbook of International Law
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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