SCOTLAND would be under no legal obligation to pay a share of UK debt after independence and could use it as a negotiating tactic, according to a global expert on referendums.

Professor Matt Qvortrup said a UN convention which dealt with the issue was never formally ratified and Scotland could give “two fingers” to the national debt if it wanted.

“The alimony money Scotland would have to pay – that is where the divorce settlement doesn’t kick in,” he said.

“You don’t have to pay the other person’s mortgage if you leave the house.”

Last week reports suggested Scotland could begin life as an independent country facing a bill of around £180 billion for its pro-rata share of the UK debt.

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But Qvortrup, whose book I Want To Break Free – A Practical Guide To Making A New Country will be published later this year, said there would have to be an explicit agreement over the issue.

“What Scotland could do is start off by saying we are under no legal obligation whatsoever to pay the debt,” he said.

“If you want to play ball and want us to pay our share of that debt, you need to make concessions.

“It is around 115 years ago when Norway became independent of Sweden, and they basically were able to play that card to the Swedes.

“The Swedes said we want fortresses, we want all these things and Norway was able to play the debt card, although in the end they conceded that they would pay some money.”

Qvortrup said there had been a convention on statehood addressing the issue established by the UN in the 1980s.

But he added: “A number of states were supposed to ratify it and they didn’t, therefore it is doesn’t exist. It has become obsolete and is no longer active.

“So whenever you become independent you need to positively negotiate a debt settlement. If you just walk away, you can legally do that.”

It was reported last week professor John Kay, who served on the Scottish Council Of Economic Advisers, states in his new book A Better Nation that a reasonable assumption would be that Scotland would begin independent life carrying, “explicitly or implicitly, a pro-rata share of UK debt, which might be in the region of £180 billion”.

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Finance Secretary Kate Forbes (above) said following a vote for independence, the Scottish and UK Governments would negotiate on issues, including “distribution of Scotland’s fair share of existing UK assets and liabilities”.

Qvortrup said: “On average, most countries the size of Scotland have done relatively well.

“They have not been saddled with debt when they have left countries, they have found a totally sensible settlement, and sometimes they haven’t even paid at all.

“So you are starting from scratch a bit, you are not starting with a massive deficit and being left behind, especially not when you are a rich country, relatively speaking, in the northern hemisphere.”

He warned it is difficult “statistically speaking” to get a Yes vote in a democratic country.

But he added: “Once you get the momentum for a place, the natural thing of that place being independent, then eventually it will happen, it just sometimes takes quite a long time.”

This article originally appeared in our sister publication, The National Scotland.