The SNP’s Scotland is not a “good global citizen”

“Well, what do you expect me to do? An honorary stooge like me against the Taylors and Paines and machines and lies?”

–     Jefferson Smith (Mr Smith Goes to Washington)

Being a “good global citizen”

If there’s one referendum catchphrase more loaded than any other it’s ‘good global citizen.’ In addition to sounding quite corny, its meaning is usually invoked by Yes-advocates to contrast the ethical foreign policy of a would-be independent Scotland against those of successive UK Governments.

It not so subtly brings to mind the unpopular Iraq War. A cursory search of Scottish Parliament debates and speeches confirms that of the 45 results, all are concerned with an internationalist outlook for a ‘responsible’ Scotland. In the case for independence, it assures ‘Yes’ supporters and promises the public that UK realpolitik would be replaced with Scottish moralpolitik.

As a political concept, the phrase is dubious, for it assumes that objective norms and standards to judge behaviour are fixed and universally agreed upon. It conveniently overlooks the epochal nature of history and the changing hands of ethical standards from age to age. “All periods of history are periods of transition,” said author Lord Robert Blake, “but some are more transitional than others”.

Scotland working toward a better world is a noble idea in the long tradition of idealism, of which Winston Churchill once remarked that “the human race cannot make progress without”.

But peddling the promise that an independent Scotland will definitively have no moot foreign policies trivialises the serious debates on international morality, the limits, and purpose of the nation-state and the meaning of war going back at least 2500 years to the time of Thucydides. It would also be a first in history.

So politicking for independence aside, is there anything in the SNP Government’s seven-year-old policy catalogue that suggests independence would make Scotland a ‘good global citizen’?

To begin with, the phrase is defined in the Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence, Scotland’s Future. It receives five mentions throughout the document, all of which are explained as proactive responsibilities of a ‘good global citizen’. They include:

– A commitment to international development;

– Supporting and promoting nuclear disarmament;

– Contributing to the protection and promotion of human rights, the rule of law, democratic values, and international peace and security;

– Supporting vulnerable people fleeing persecution.

The saccharine sentiments don’t end there. “Social union” with the rest of the UK (rUK) was mentioned eight times. “Friends” 10 times. “Human rights” 84 times. “Partners” and “partnership” 125 times.

Like all campaign promises, there is little by way of explanation as to how these goals will be realised. The document, comprehensive as it is, side-steps issues of how an independent Scotland would influence flagrant abusers of these principles, or what position the Scottish Government would take if the ‘national interest’ – such as trade and commerce creation – came into competition with promoting and protecting human rights.

In fact, judged by its own criteria, the SNP Government’s international relations record is a less than promising indication that it has reconciled these difficulties.

The Scottish Government’s 2007 and 2011 Economic Strategies have pledged to promote “Scottish exports to capitalise on the significant opportunities in growth markets” to deliver a “50% increase in [Scottish] exports by 2017”.

Scotland’s International Trade and Investment Strategy 2011-2015, published by Scottish Development International – the trade and investment arm of the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands & Islands Enterprise – contends that to achieve this, “Scotland must continue to aggressively target inward investment opportunities” and expand Scottish businesses into new markets.

To this end, specific Action Plans for the USACanadaIndia, and Pakistan were created to target and develop links and business opportunities in expanding markets across the world.

The 2008 and the revised 2012 Scottish Government International Framework set out the “context and rationale” for their operation. They include making the case for Scotland’s appeal as a “highly attractive place” for inward investment in Scottish sectors like tourism and renewables. The 2012 Framework states that:

The Purpose of the Scottish Government is to create a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish through increasing sustainable economic growth. The Scottish Government’s international activities make crucial contributions to this Purpose. By supporting Scottish businesses to export and trade internationally; by attracting foreign direct investment; through the work we do to ensure that European legislation takes account of Scottish interests; and by placing Scotland as a great place to live, learn, visit, work, do business and invest, the international work of the Scottish Government and its associated bodies makes a direct and growing contribution to The Government Economic Strategy.

Of the framework’s 55 points outlining the goals, practices, and commitments of the government, only at point 50 does the 2012 International Framework make mention of human rights:

As a good global citizen, Scotland has a strong and enduring commitment to securing democracy, the rule of law and fundamental human rights across the world. We would expect all states to comply with international and human rights law, and condemn human rights abuses wherever they occur. Scotland will use its international engagement as an opportunity to help increase respect for, and understanding of, human rights worldwide.

We will have ongoing dialogue with states at ministerial and official level, raising human rights where appropriate in a diplomatic and culturally sensitive fashion. We will share our experiences, values and expertise in areas such as justice, education, and climate change with a view to seeing the human rights of people across the world fully realised.

The point is unspecific as to how human rights will be raised and “where appropriate” is a decidedly arbitrary caveat for ministers. What is telling is the suggestion that there are polite and impolite ways of suggesting that human rights abuses are unacceptable. Whether in a protest or over a cup of tea, in the East or in the West, human rights abuses are human rights abuses.

Despite the aforementioned respect for human rights as a condition of being ‘a good global citizen’, it is curious that they are not explicitly linked to trade. Point 51 is likewise used to clarify trade objectives rather than elaborating on the specifics of human rights as the bedrock of good global citizenry:

The effort that we have invested in relationships with other priority countries, including China and India, means that we will be well placed to benefit from the continuing growth of these giant economies. Similar rates of growth will necessitate building on our connections with Gulf States, Brazil (and other emerging South American economies) to give Scottish businesses the best possible opportunities.

 The neglect of a strategy is compounded with point 52, which comprehensively lists Scotland’s international agenda with a noticeable absence of a human rights component:

In making the case for Scotland, we will:

– Increase awareness of Scotland’s strengths in education, life sciences, energy, food and drink and a range of other sectors to capitalise on collective opportunities.

– Encourage focus around the broad Scotland message we want to deliver to the world and how we  present ourselves as a nation to build economic prosperity.

– Harness key events hosted in Scotland or overseas to promote Scotland to international audiences in order to build on Scotland’s international reputation and profile.

– Engage with those with an affinity for Scotland to help develop networks so that business partnerships can be identified.

– Facilitate learning and support cultural links to build business and diplomatic connections.

– Enhance and build Scotland’s reputation as a Creative Nation.

– Deepen our engagement with our priority countries and regions of Canada, the United States of America, China, India, Pakistan and South Asia.

Human Rights versus Trade

The universalism and principled citizenry of Scotland’s Future are not qualified in the Scottish Government’s bid to drive Scottish economic growth. The emerging markets specifically earmarked for Scottish interests also happen to be some of the worst human rights offenders in the world according to 2014 Human Rights Risk Atlas, with the exception of the EU and Canada.

Maplecroft’s Human Rights Risk Atlas “analyses the frequency, severity and complicity risk in 31 categories of human rights across 197 countries. This allows Maplecroft to monitor specific human rights violations in key growth economies since 2008”.

Assessed categories range from freedom of speech to torture. South Asia, Pakistan, India, the Gulf States – listed in the Scottish Government’s 2014-15 Budget as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – are all flagged as being as being at either ‘high’ or ‘extreme risk’ of having rights violations. Even the USA is listed as a ‘medium’ risk.

The Greek historian Thucydides tells us in his History of the Peloponnesian War of the principled Melians refusing to bow before the militarily superior Athenians. The account is regarded as a founding tenet of the realist school of international relations – might is right.

Has the SNP Government taken to heart the Athenian diktat that “the path of expediency is safe, whereas justice and honour involve danger in practice”?

The answer would seem to indicate yes. Lizabeth Campbell, Maplecroft’s Head of Societal Risk and Human Rights, states that:

Since 2008, global economic growth and investment has shifted to new markets prompting a demand for low-cost workers, water and land as well as other natural resources. In many of these markets, human rights violations continue to get worse.

Worker’s rights are seriously compromised, rural and indigenous communities face grave violations related to land grabs and forced displacement, particularly where their land ownership is not formally documented.

Increasingly, repressive or corrupt governments clamp down on human rights, particularly freedom of expression, to maintain their grip on power and economic control. Companies cannot rely on robust governance and remedy structures in these markets … which means the onus is on them directly to implement appropriate levels of due diligence and mitigating action.

These countries are far removed from the ideal candidates with whom a ‘good global citizen’ should be trading, especially if Scotland has no levers to enforce human rights compliance at its disposal.

Indeed, China – the Scottish Government’s priority country for engagement – is a gross offender at 15th overall.

China: ‘Speak softly, but where is the big stick?’

In 2008, the Scottish Government released its Plan for Engagement with China that built on the previous Scottish Executive’s 2006 strategy for stronger cultural and economic links with China. The program makes one mention of human rights, saying:

Scottish Ministers will take the opportunity to raise with appropriate senior Chinese figures concerns about Human Rights in China. We will encourage Scottish organisations to engage in programmes in China which are designed to have positive impact on human rights.

This was followed in 2012 by the Working with China: Five Year Strategy for Engagement between Scotland and the People’s Republic of China which expands the commitment, stating:

Respect for Human Rights and the Rule of Law – supporting China’s process of modernisation and internal reform and the need to balance the demands of economic development with social justice. Scotland is justly proud of its reputation for ethical business practices, and knows that human rights and the rule of law are key to long-term economic success and social stability. We will continue to share our experiences and values in our dealings with China. For example through Scottish Ministers championing of climate justice, a key issue for human rights in the 21st Century that is rising up the UN agenda.

The absence of a qualification as to how the Scottish Government itself would leverage support for human rights abroad is curious given the political significance at home.

It begs the question that why, on a quest to become a ‘good global citizen’ has the Government not attempted to link trade to human rights in the same way that it links being a ‘good global citizen’ to war, peace and the respect for the law. Why have the same fundamental efforts not been applied abroad as they are at home?

In 2013, First Minister Alex Salmond confirmed that if Scotland votes for independence the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) would be enshrined in a Scottish constitution.

The Scottish Government produced a subsequent White Paper detailing its proposals for the process by which Scotland creates a constitution, including recommendations for what provisions it considers, should be included. Scotland’s Future: from the Referendum to Independence and a Written Constitution suggests that a constitutional convention is convened to consult and produce the constitution (the remit and membership to be decided by the Scottish Parliament) after the 2016 Scottish elections.

It includes proposals to expand the scope of the ECHR to include constitutional protections on environmental rights, pensions, natural resources, local government, and equality rights and social justice.

While the Scottish Government frequently refers to human rights in the definitive, they are a contested concept and are subject to criticism and challenge. There is no universally accepted list, contrary to institutional attempts at formalising respect for them like the ECHR and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In this field, the Declaration of Arbroath, or the Magna Carta, or human physical requirements, are as legitimate an argument as any other.

There is, however, a broad body of work that links trade and human rights together. Montesquieu claimed that “commerce is the cure for the most destructive prejudices” and “peace is the natural effect of trade”.

In recent years the United Nations has attempted to make the link between globalisation and human rights, saying:

There is an unavoidable link between the international trading regime and the enjoyment of human rights. Economic growth through free trade can increase the resources available for the realisation of human rights. However, economic growth does not automatically lead to greater promotion and protection of human rights.

To adapt Clausewitz, it would seem ‘trade is politics continued by other means’.

Since 2007, First Minister Alex Salmond has undertaken four trade missions to China. In 2009 Mr Salmond travelled to build on existing student links and boost sectors such as whisky exports and golf tourism. When the then Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution, Mike Russell MSP, was asked in the Scottish Parliament whether Mr Salmond had addressed the issue of human rights with his Chinese hosts, he responded that:

Ahead of his visit, the First Minister met Amnesty International and the Scottish Human Rights Commission and raised the issue of human rights in his meeting with the vice minister of foreign affairs.

More revealingly, he quoted John Watson of Amnesty International, in support of the visit:

Amnesty believes that engagement can provide the opportunity to push for change.

No specifics were provided by Mr Russell.

Flash forward to 2010 when the First Minister again led a trade mission to China to pursue Sino-Scottish business opportunities in sectors including renewable energy, tourism, education, and textiles. There was, however, no mention of human rights being formally raised by the Scottish Government.

In 2011, Mr Salmond again visited China and gave a speech to the Beijing’s Central Party School, which educates communist officials. His lecture to a class of students centred on the work of 18th Century Scottish economist Adam Smith. He attempted to make the spurious link between climate change, economic growth and human rights with no mention as to why:

Climate change is the issue above all issues which illustrates humankind’s interconnectedness across national boundaries. Climate is no respecter of border posts, cyclones don’t turn back at passport control. In response we need a greater shared ownership of both the problem and the solution.

Climate justice is what is required – linking human rights and development, putting people at the heart of our economic system, and allowing all to share the burdens and benefits of climate change and its resolution, and to do so in an equitable and fair way.

In a news interview with BBC Scotland, he qualified his remarks, by adding that:

Smith’s ideas on economic and social progress go together, they went hand in hand…and that is a great debate…a very useful debate to raise the whole ambit of human rights.

Crucially, he added that he raises the issue of human rights in the context of the work of Adam Smith, and in a way that is “thoughtful and considered” and “not offensive to our Chinese hosts.

The First Minister, speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, insisted that he had regularly raised the issue of human rights through the ideas of Adam Smith and suggested this was “improving the situation”. When challenged to account for his position, he revealed his thinking:

Isn’t it more sensible to proceed in the way that I have been doing: not claiming that Scotland has the extraordinary political clout to instruct the Chinese how to conduct their affairs but taking the words of the Chinese leadership and their interest in the words of the Scottish Enlightenment, and raising that in a way that is both friendly but also has the objective of actually improving the situation, as opposed to jumping up and down from a distance and having no effect whatsoever?

Culturally sensitive could be construed as ‘not stepping on any toes’. Already, even before independence, the realities of power have left the Government exonerating at odds with their own principles. The issue is not unique to this government, yet it is more acutely evident because so much of its conduct is the basis for its case for breaking away from the UK. It cannot do everything in its power to garner trade to make a case for an independent Scotland, and demonstrate ‘good global citizenry’.

This bias toward trade was suggested again in 2012 when the Scottish Government allegedly snubbed the Dalai Lama on his visit to Scotland at the end of an eight-day tour of Britain. Mr Salmond did not meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader, but it did emerge in the days prior that he had met the Chinese ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming and Li Ruiyou, the Consul-General. The record of the meeting made no mention of Mr Salmond addressing China’s human rights record, although the First Minister’s spokesman said the SNP leader had made representations on that issue in the past.

By contrast, Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg met privately with the Dalai Lama at St Paul’s Cathedral, despite China’s Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao Song warning of the “serious consequences” of doing so.

A British government spokesperson said:

The Dalai Lama travels all over the world. He has visited the UK on several occasions and met with previous prime ministers.

It is for the prime minister and deputy prime minister to choose who they see. The Dalai Lama is an important religious figure and advocate for peace and the prime minister regularly meets with such figures.

Last year the Daily Telegraph quoted a Beijing foreign ministry spokesperson who said that the meeting had “undermined” UK-China relations and that Britain must “work with us to bring the relationship back on to a healthy track at an early date”.

When Mr Cameron visited China in December 2013, the China Daily noted that he had only just managed to mend severely strained ties after angering the Chinese leadership by meeting the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

The Prime Minister took a significant gamble, particularly when Chinese investment in the UK in 2012 was at $8bn and UK exports to China grew by 13.4% in 2011. Contrast this with the First Minister’s most recent visit in 2013 and the issue is compounded:

It is crucial that Scotland strengthens its position as an attractive place for Chinese investors and an exporter of high quality goods for that market. Our warm relationship is built on mutual respect of each other’s ancient societies, with deep links already established in areas such as culture and education as well as developing business links and diplomatic relations.

My fourth visit to China in five years reflects the importance of the trade and investment relationship between Scotland and this country, as well as the enduring friendship between our cultures that has seen collaborations and exchanges in a range of fields over recent years.

Even Mr Salmond’s address to Tsinghua University, titled Scotland And China: Wealth And Wellbeing Of Nations, offered a prescriptive definition of human rights and made no call for China to improve its record:

In recent years, a mechanism has been established which allows countries to consider and compare how they promote collective wellbeing and individual rights. It’s called the Universal Periodic Review, and it’s run by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.

It means that all UN member states are assessed by fellow members of the UN – it’s a system which recognises that we’re all on the same journey towards developing human rights; all of us can learn from each other.

Scotland is part of this journey. We have some way to go – as the health inequalities I mentioned a few moments ago illustrate. But we are acting now take part in the international dialogue on human rights, and to promote the rights of our citizens and the wellbeing of our society.

Next month in Scotland we will launch our first Action Plan for Human Rights – setting out how Scotland will meet internationally agreed standards. The action plan will make clear that each of us has a responsibility to build a community in which every individual can flourish. It attracts international attention already and its principles, I would submit, can be traced right back, in Scottish terms, to the Enlightenment of Adam Smith.

It epitomises this Government’s ambition for Scotland; to build a fairer society at home and to make a positive contribution to the wider world.

Mr Salmond made mention of the launch of Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights developed by the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC). The Scottish Government, the NHS, Amnesty International and organisations including trade unions and local authorities were involved in creating the action plan. The Scottish Government makes the following commitments:

– The Scottish Government will ensure that human rights considerations are at the heart of Scotland’s International Framework including its international development cooperation, bilateral engagement, and engagement with intergovernmental organisations.

– The Scottish Government will coordinate action which further develops Scotland’s capacity and influence in ensuring that human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled in the context of Scotland’s engagement at the international level. This will include sharing bilateral sharing of experience on good practice examples on rights realisation.

– In its international engagement Scotland must respect, protect and fulfil human rights. This includes engagement under the Scottish Government’s International Framework, as well as in any participation in inter-governmental forums both by Government, by national human rights institutions and by civil society. When Scotland hosts major international events – such as the Commonwealth Games in 2014 – it should ensure it complies with best practice on human rights in planning and delivering mega-events.

Crucially, however, although the SHRC was established by an Act of Parliament it is, in fact, independent of government. There are no binding commitments for the Scottish Government to hold others to account, only itself, and nothing that restricts trade with partners who do not respect basic freedoms.

Of the 2013 China trip, Mark Bevan, programme director for Amnesty International in Scotland, best surmised the situation following the 2013 China trip:

Whilst we welcome a boost to the Scottish economy, we do have to question whether there is a limit to the values we are willing to trade away. Are unlawful detentions, flagrant misuse of the death penalty, and consistent restriction on freedom of expression worth the price?

To explain America’s seemingly benign, but militarily robust, presence in the world at the beginning of the 20th Century, President Theodore Roosevelt coined the maxim“Speak softly, and carry a big stick”. The Scottish Government is doing the former but has none of the latter in reserve to affect change in those who have the latter.

The cost of doing business

The cost of these activities and of promoting Scotland to the world is not cheap. The External Affairs budget is included with the Culture portfolio to create a unified strategy to promote “Scotland, its interests and identity at home and abroad in pursuit of sustainable economic growth”.

The 2014-15 Scottish Budget alone allocates £15.2m to ‘Europe and External Affairs’ but is part of the much larger £231m budget for ‘Culture and External Affairs to:

…[support] the promotion of Scotland, its interests and identity at home and abroad in pursuit of sustainable economic growth. It contributes to the positioning of Scotland on the world stage as a good global citizen, particularly through our international development work. It is also used to maximise Scotland’s influence within the EU and deepen mutually beneficial links with the other target countries including Canada, USA, India, China, Pakistan and key Gulf States. The budget also supports the attraction of fresh talent to live, study and work in Scotland.

All activities and efforts are:

… underpinned by the Government’s Economic Strategy of delivering sustainable economic growth as it continues to deepen its relationships with key countries in the pursuit of furthering sustainable economic growth in Scotland and increasing Scotland’s visibility on the world stage.

Since 2010 between £24bn and £25bn has been allocated annually to Scotland out of around £730bn in UK expenditure. In the same period, between £1bn and £2bn has been allocated annually to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).  

The responsibilities of the FCO are:

– Safeguarding the UK’s national security by countering terrorism and weapons proliferation, and working to reduce conflict.

– Building the UK’s prosperity by increasing exports and investment, opening markets, ensuring access to resources, and promoting sustainable global growth supporting British nationals around the world through modern and efficient consular services.

Given the considerable funding to the UK Foreign Office, it is unclear how the comparatively minuscule Scottish Government allocation to external affairs could achieve the objectives the Scottish Government laid out. The UK Government also specifically made human rights an area of focus. It’s key priorities are:

– The defence of freedom of religion or belief worldwide;

– Agreement on the world’s first treaty to control the arms trade;

– The UK’s election and return to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC); and the launch of the UK Action Plan on Business and Human Rights.

The Human Rights and Democracy Report 2013 explains the efforts of the UK Government, reporting on its key priorities. Of particular interest, the Human Rights and Democracy Programme is the Foreign Office’s dedicated fund to support human rights, to assist the development and “the capacity of governments and civil society to promote and protect human rights”.

It supported over 80 projects in 2013-14 with a budget of “£62.65 million for programmes in support of Our Values: including our Bilateral; Regional; and Human Rights Programmes”.

Curiously, China and Pakistan are listed by the FCOs as Countries of Concern. The criteria for inclusion on the list mirrors the Maplecroft warning rankings:

– The gravity of the human rights situation in the country, including both the severity of particular abuses and the range of human rights affected;

– Whether a deterioration or improvement in the human rights situation in the country would have a wider impact in the region;

– Whether the human rights situation in the country has an impact on wider UK interests;

– Whether we are able to influence the human rights situation there.

It is difficult to conclude anything other than the bid for independence has left the Scottish Government morally unspecific about who it deals with, despite statements to the contrary. The constitutional, moral radicalism promised by the Scottish Government has not been demonstrated to date; indeed, the case for independence has ironically been undermined by the need for the Government to secure investment from whoever it can to demonstrate the viability of independence.

This fact, when combined with the considerable budgetary differences with the FCO, make a case for participation in, rather than the rejection of the UK, if Scotland is to have the means to influence respect for human rights around the world.

Will the realist Scottish Government please stand up?

Following on from last week’s exploration of the Scottish Government’s failure to make Scotland a “good global citizen”, it would seem that the lesson that they have yet to acknowledge is that no amount of bonhomie to the world can change a country’s need to follow its national interest.

In his essayThe Twilight of International Morality, the international relations academic Hans Morgenthau argued that ethics and values were secondary concerns to the inescapable truth that power, its accumulation and the reduction in the power of other nations, is the priority of statesmen.

International relations are not immoral, said Morgenthau, but history tells us that moral standards are epochal, changing across time. The Republic of Venice in the fifteenth century practised assassination internationally frowned upon today. The use of gas was accepted in the First World War but seldom used by the Second. There was outrage at civilian attacks in the First World War, but twenty years later it was common practice. As the methods of warfare changed, so too did moral mores.

This predilection, also known as ‘realism’, is widely regarded as the dominant school of international relations. Realism’s enduring legacy is the prescriptive accuracy of how it understands that power is what defines the relations between states. States cannot be judged as good or bad. They can only be measured by how effectively they maximise their interests. Attempts to act morally are not exclusive, and either hides power plays or are a power play themselves. The appearance of being good can often establish prestige which in turn generates leverage.

Despite so much of the argument for independence resting Scotland being a “good global citizen” (according to the White Paper on independence), the Government´s record on foreign policy is ultimately more realpolitik than moralpolitik.

Indeed, the question that follows is why do SNP MSPs and MPs, and indeed nationalist supporters, abide by the Government’s hypocrisy? Part of the answer is that it has never acted like a “good global citizen” in matters of foreign policy. It´s difficult to notice a change if it’s never happened. Even the widely derided 2007 release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds was not without chicanery. First Minister Alex Salmond’s fear of the international reaction to the decision was revealed when The Daily Telegraph reported that he had sent a round robin letter to world leaders, including the retired Nelson Mandela, trying to court support for the decision.

The instance was not isolated. Despite spearheading transformative legislation on same-sex marriage in 2014, the Scottish Government turned a Nelsonian blind eye to the 2014 Commonwealth Games. No formal denunciation was made of the 42 of 53 Commonwealth countries in which it is illegal to be gay, usually with absurd penalties like imprisonment. In a speech discussing the legacy of the games, Minister for External Affairs and International Development, Humza Yousaf stated that:

In many parts of the Commonwealth, human rights are being infringed. As a Government, we are clear that we condemn human rights abuses wherever they occur, and that we expect states to abide by international human rights standards. However, we do not seek to lecture and it would not be appropriate or constructive for us to do so.

The last line is a particularly lazy caveat, not least when we have seen the emphasis placed on Scotland’s own good behaviour. Scotland´s National Action Plan for Human Rights produced, by the Scottish Human Rights Commission (which was established by the Scottish Parliament and began its work in 2008), states quite clearly that:

Scotland hosts major international events – such as the Commonwealth Games in 2014 – it should ensure it complies with best practice on human rights in planning and delivering mega-events.

The hypocrisy is compounded when Mr Yousaf also added that Scotland has little right to lecture other countries when decriminalisation of homosexuality “only occurred in 1980”. There is no evidence to suggest that such a conspicuous absence was calculated, but the millions of revenue generated for Glasgow and Scotland including the long-term ‘legacy‘ benefits cannot be ignored as a factor that influenced the Scottish Government’s decision to remain silent on the issue.

What use are a country’s principles if it will not stand up for them when they are flagrantly being trodden on across the world?

Who’s aiding who?

If one issue defines how ‘good’ a country is more than any other, it’s international aid. But is the Scottish Government’s commitment to it as altruistic as it seems?

The Scottish Government’s International Development Policy articulates that “as a good global citizen, [Scotland is] committed to [playing] its role in addressing the challenges faced by our world.” The policy builds on the commitment in the 2012 International Framework to “contribute to the people most affected by poverty and hardship in the world and Scotland’s role as a good global citizen”.

Presently, £9 million of the International Development Fund is focused on seven priority countries for development including Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, Pakistan, and India. Block funding is given to the Sub-Saharan Africa Development Programme, the South Asia Development Programme and the Malawi Development Programme (the Scottish Government has a partnership agreement with the Government of Malawi and around half of the funding goes there).

Funding is also channelled to Uganda and South Africa in partnership with Sports Relief and has provided emergency humanitarian funding in response to the crises in Syria and the Philippines. The Scottish Government´s policy states that “Scotland has a distinctive contribution to make” to the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Grants are available to third sector organisations, but there are specific limitations including only  funding Scottish organisations to tackle these issues:

Whilst the Scottish Government recognises that working through organisations in Scotland may limit the range of work which can be funded, this model is essential to ensure that the Scottish Government is focusing its efforts and working to the stated policy aim of enhancing Scotland’s contribution to international development.

The limitation is logical insofar as the Scottish Government represents Scottish interests, but is needlessly wasteful considering that it does not raise its own taxes and receives a block grant from Westminster, all for the purpose of demonstrating “Scotland’s commitment to play its role in addressing the challenges faced by the developing world, recognising Scotland’s identity as a responsible nation”.

As discussed last week, the Foreign Office and the International Aid and Development Department are in control of sizeable budgets that commit to operations and activities toward the same goals.

Already the people of Scotland contribute nearly £1billion to UK overseas development spending which stands at a budget of £10.7 billion (including the Scottish Government’s £9m funding part of the overall 9.6 percent contribution to the UK tax).

The Scottish Government explicitly acknowledges the quandary in its International Development Policy, saying:

[We] will complement the work of others and not duplicate effort or undermine existing initiatives or government policy. Although international development is a reserved issue under the Scotland Act (1998), the Scottish Government is operating in accordance with the Act by “assisting the Crown in relation to foreign affairs” and will continue to ensure that the policy is developed within those given powers.

All of this makes the Scottish dimension needlessly parochial and the Scottish Government undertaking international engagement questionable, if not a wasteful use of taxpayers’ money. Each of the countries that the Scottish Government funds already receive support from the UK Government, the Foreign Office, and the Department for International Development.

Additionally, the White Paper on independence states that the UN Human Development Index would be the “central criterion” in assessing funding decisions. Countries presently receiving support from the UK Government include the lowest 100 of the HDI index. Scotland is supporting but a handful, none of which are in the lowest 10 HDI countries.

So even if Scotland were independent, it is not presently funding priority countries. The Malawi Development Programme receives more than half of the funding available through the Co-Operation Agreement between Scotland and Malawi (established by the McConnell Labour administration and continued by the SNP), citing the “unique and historical relationship” between the two countries.

Nevertheless, Malawi is a non-sequitur when considering Scotland’s long, complicated, and multifaceted contribution and engagement with countries through the British Empire. The selection is ultimately arbitrary and supporting other nations based on Scotland’s history should be cautioned against given the pantheon of guilty associations the country shares with England.

While it can be of course be argued that there is no such thing as too much help toward development, the independence argument has the situation into a politicised hypocrisy- the Scottish Government has pledged that an independent Scotland´s aid budget would “enshrine it as a binding, statutory commitment”.

Not only that, the White Paper contends that “International Development is just one of the areas where future Scottish and Westminster governments can choose to work together to complement each other’s activity”.

The argument is absurd when we are already the same country. The Scottish Government is politicising activities already performed by Westminster. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has already promised to ring fence and spend 0.7% of total government spending on aid (7p out of every £10). Indeed, the former Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore MP, has at the time of writing tabled the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill to enshrine this into law.

Scotland already makes a significant contribution through taxation and, indeed, its representation of MPs at Westminster. The White Paper states that international aid is:

…currently decided at Westminster and Scotland contributes to this spending through taxation. In an independent Scotland it will be decided by governments elected by the people of Scotland.

It is a bizarre oversight not to acknowledge what the UK Government is doing for international aid with a budget that, by a matter of fact, pools the collective wealth of the four home nations.

The question then is how Scotland could do better. It partakes in and influences UK decision-making through the return of MPs and occasionally senior Scottish officials (it was only five years ago the UK had a Scottish prime minister and chancellor, who succeeded a prime minister educated at Fettes and another Scottish chancellor).

This is an inconvenient truth and one which will be discussed next week.

Perhaps the point is somewhat symbolically made with one of two DfID offices being based in East Kilbride, with a staff of 500.

The Scottish Government is consulted on foreign policy, don’t let them pretend they’re not

In the Scottish referendum debate, much has been made that Scots should govern themselves. Proponents of a ‘Yes’ vote appeal to the zeitgeist that says Westminster cannot, does not, and will never understand Scottish issues. This is wrapped in a bow of perceived incongruities with England; the war in Iraq, Euroscepticism, and seemingly right-wing voting tendencies to Scottish left-wing trends.

Much can be contested on an issue-by-issue basis as to which part of the UK does or doesn’t disagree with the other more. However, two points are worth acknowledging.

Firstly, it has never been proven that there are vast ideological divisions between Scotland and England. Indeed, a 2013 ScotCen comparison showed that there is little difference on issues including the labour market and inequality levels, two issues normally cited by ‘yes’ advocates as the key contention.

Secondly, while the referendum debate has done much to focus on the consequences of a ‘yes’ vote, remarkably little attention has been given in the popular press – including those papers in favour of a ‘no’ vote – to the effectiveness of present constitutional arrangements.

In the public imagination, there is a strict division between the Scottish Parliament and Westminster with a 500-mile void largely filled with assumption. Devolution has done more to make Westminster seem like a distant puppet master, largely because little is known of how the two parliaments communicate.

59 Scottish MPs sit at Westminster, representing the interests of their constituents, but as so much is devolved, they and positions like the Secretary of State for Scotland are seen to have waned in their relevance.

What is important to Scotland is not only the terms of devolution, outlined in the Scotland Act (1998) but the Memorandum of Understanding and four supplementary agreements between the UK and Scottish Governments.

Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) are non-binding agreements between the devolved administrations and the UK Government. The MoU is a statement of principles that provide for the establishment of a Joint Ministerial Committee of representatives from the four UK administrations. It focuses on fostering communication, cooperation, and the exchange of information between the UK Government and the devolved administrations, including conflict resolution for any overlap in jurisdiction.

For example, the Scotland Act states unequivocally that international relations are reserved to Westminster:

Foreign affairs etc.



International relations, including relations with territories outside the United Kingdom, the [European Union](and their institutions) and other international organisations, regulation of international trade, and international development assistance and co-operation are reserved matters.


Sub-paragraph (1) does not reserve—


observing and implementing international obligations, obligations under the Human Rights Convention and obligations under [EU] law,


assisting Ministers of the Crown in relation to any matter to which that sub-paragraph applies.

However, the MoU states that:

All four administrations are committed to the principle of good communication with each other, and especially where one administration’s work may have some bearing upon the responsibilities of another administration.

Agreements are made for a Joint Ministerial Committee to serve as a means to resolve conflicts. Additionally:

Individual UK Government Departments and their counterparts in the devolved administrations have also agreed and published bilateral concordats.

The concordant on international relations is particularly illuminating:

D1.5 The parties to this Concordat recognise that the conduct of international relations is likely to have implications for the devolved responsibilities of Scottish Ministers and that the exercise of these responsibilities is likely to have implications for international relations. This Concordat therefore reflects a mutual determination to ensure that there is close co-operation in these areas between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Ministers with the objective of promoting the overseas interests of the United Kingdom and all its constituent parts.

Even if MOUs and the supporting concordant are not legally binding, they are agreed in good faith. Perhaps the most famous ever produced by the Scottish and UK Governments is the 2012 Edinburgh Agreement on the nature of the Scottish Referendum.

Since 1999, there have been at least seven versions of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) produced. The MoU, together with bilateral concordats, set out how the administrations of the four governments should work together in practice. They are not legal documents; they are working tools for the civil service of the four governments. The various versions have reflected the changes in devolution which have occurred over the past 16 years.

The key issue is that dialogue is an ongoing reality for the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. It is wrong to pretend there is a void, and while MoUs may not be the most exciting part of the constitutional debate, they reflect the reality that cooperation exists.

Every week in the Scottish Parliament the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, asks the First Minister if he has any plans to meet with the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Scotland. Nearly every week he says no. For many, this is all the evidence they see that the two parliaments don’t communicate when the reality is not so black and white.

Since 1999, there have been at least seven versions of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) produced. The Scottish Parliament, on 7 October 1999, was asked to endorse the first Memorandum of Understanding, which the Scottish Executive had laid before the Parliament. As the First Minister, Donald Dewar, indicated, this endorsement was a courtesy and not a requirement for the use of the MoU:

We are asking for the Parliament’s endorsement of the document. However, I stress again that the document should be seen as a set of administrative ground rules.

The concordats are essentially working documents, which will contribute to the smooth running of relationships under devolution. Some unkind souls have called them road maps for bureaucrats. Perhaps that is unkind, but it is not wholly unfair as it is important for bureaucrats to have road maps to know how the system works.

In 2002, the then Scottish Executive presented evidence, to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution into Devolution: inter-institutional relations in the United Kingdom, which set out the documents underpinning the working relationship between the Scottish Executive (Government) and the UK Government:

The Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament are of course statutory bodies, and their legal powers and competence are those conferred upon them by the Scotland Act 1998 and the Orders made under that Act. However, it was accepted on all sides at the time of devolution that the legal framework set out in the Scotland Act would be likely to work more effectively, and more smoothly, if it was underpinned by a clear and public understanding as between the devolved administrations and the UK Government about how they envisaged the relationship would work in practice. That understanding is reflected in a series of published documents, the most important of which are:

—  the Memorandum of Understanding and Supplementary Agreements between the UK Government and the Devolved Administrations (Cm 5240);

—  the bilateral concordats between Scottish Executive Departments and their Whitehall counterparts;

—  the Devolution Guidance Notes (DGNs) issued by the Cabinet Office after consultation with the devolved administrations; and

—  the Statement and guidance on Devolution in Practice which was issued by the Prime Minister and the Leaders of the devolved administrations in 2001.

None of these documents has the force of law, and nothing in them can add to or detract from the formal legal position as set out in the Scotland Act. Nevertheless, they play a crucial part in “oiling the wheels” of the devolution settlement, because they represent a clear, agreed and public basis for relations between the devolved administrations and the UK Government. The principles of consultation, communication and confidentiality which are reflected in all of these documents are central to the good working relationships which have been established and maintained between all four administrations.

Since 1999, there have been no further debates to the one in 1999 on the MoUs, and the Scottish Government has taken different approaches on alerting the Scottish Parliament about the issuing of the updated MoUs. For example, in 2010, following the first updating of the MoU since 2001, and in 2011, the Scottish Government used responses to parliamentary questions to alert the Scottish Parliament to the newly revised Memorandum of Understandings. However, the revised version in 2012 was only mentioned in passing in response to a parliamentary question, and the Scottish Parliament does not appear to have been alerted to the issue of the most recent MoU in October 2013.

When Scotland is compared to the intergovernmental relations in countries like Canada or Australia or, indeed, the United States which all have clear provisions in place in their constitutions for consulting their provincial or state governments on policy overlap (including international affairs and treaty signing), MoUs represent the most quintessential of the unwritten British constitution: adaptability, practicality, and change that occurs quickly and, as we have seen, quietly.

The nuclear meltdown 

Circumvallation has not been the intent of this series in reaction to claims made by the Scottish Government’s independence White Paper that Scotland would be a “good global citizen”. To the contrary, a foreign policy equipped for the realities of the world is as important as the material defences that guard these islands.

While human rights and international development have been dual pillars of how the SNP Government would like Scotland to behave in the world, it is nuclear weapons that have been a bedrock issue for the party, encompassing both the practical concern of cost and the moral issue of senseless mass destruction.

The SNP is only 11 years older than the first nuclear weapons test in 1945. By the 1960s, the party was starting to become defined ideologically with a social democratic tradition, with a  membership that included an influx of social democrats from the Labour Party, the trade unions and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In 1961, the SNP conference expressed the party’s opposition to the siting of the US Polaris submarine base at the Holy Loch. This policy was followed in 1963 by a motion opposed to nuclear weapons which has remained in place ever since.

Nuclear weapons are the sacred cow of the Scottish National Party then and, to their credit, the SNP has been consistent on the issue for nearly 50 years (albeit with no UK Government experience in that time to test the metal of their resolve). What is an interesting parallel, however, is that their left-wing neighbour, the Labour Party, launched Britain’s unilateral nuclear programme under the Attlee Government in 1946. 40 years later they were also the party which advocated, under the leadership of the much inept but highly principled Michael Foot, unilateral nuclear disarmament in the ‘longest suicide note in history’ or, more formally, the 1983 Labour manifesto.

The Labour Party worked backwards from government to opposition, letting the disappointment of electoral failure eschew the accrued wisdom of the 1945 Atlee Government. The opposite is true, and so it was in 2012 with the SNP. The party is faced with a reckoning between the idealism of possibility that sustained it for more than half a century on the fringes of power and the responsibility of governance and making a clinical case for independence.

The 2012 SNP Conference narrowly passed a resolution put forward by the SNP Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and for Defence, Angus Robertson MP, to reverse the party’s 30-year rejection of NATO. The motion was narrowly voted through by 426 to 332 votes. Two MSPs resigned because of the result.

Political commentators and opposition parties were quick to argue that the divisive motion suggested a sharp split between a maturating government and a membership base that has remained uncompromisingly idealistic regarding international affairs. The reality is somewhere in between. The SNP Government wants to win the referendum, to state the obvious but has rightly acknowledged that the referendum electorate is not the same one that voted the SNP into power in 2007. The prospect of independence is bigger than that. It needs to make nuclear unilateralism a polished, respectable issue and not a left-wing pipe dream. The conference vote represents this but at the blunt compromise of retaining a ban on nuclear weapons while relying on the charity of NATO to defend Scotland with the nuclear weapons of others.

The last major survey of SNP Party members, reprinted in The Scottish National Party: Transition to Power revealed that 53 percent of SNP members actually regarded membership as of NATO as being in Scotland’s interests. Few felt strongly about it. Concurrently, when asked to rank major threats to Scotland on a scale of 1 to 3, 75 percent of respondents did not even rank nuclear weapons to be a threat to Scotland. When asked to rank policy issues that should be devolved from Westminster to Holyrood, 61.4 percent of respondents didn’t write defence or foreign affairs.

Most interestingly, the survey concludes that “the party’s elite and mass membership may have slightly different perspectives on international affairs, but there is no evidence of a major clash of views”. The status quo would then seem to suggest that SNP members find elements of the present situation amicable and that any independence proposals made must guard against needlessly stirring trouble over defence.

Indeed, of the conference motion, First Minister Alex Salmond summed up “in the league table of stooshieness, the last couple of weeks is pretty minor compared to Megrahi”. The NATO hurdle with SNP members should be the last time nuclear weapons is held up as a dramatic issue only remedied by independence. This is particularly true when a 2013 Scottish Social Attitudes survey found that 46 percent of those polled in Scotland were opposed to the UK having nuclear weapons, with 37% in favour but with 16 percent declaring they were neither for nor against. A tight issue, but not one of the moral uproar that the SNP suggest.

So as opposed to other issues where there is a clear act of hypocrisy, here the hypocrisy is an unnecessary one. Scotland is a good global citizen in grounding her defence priorities in what is best for her. As a democracy this should be, albeit not always, rooted in the will of the people. SNP delegates have voted for NATO and social attitudes show the electorate break even on nuclear weapons. Not being a good global citizen means engaging in the double standard of advocating for unilateralism while participating in an organisation that has nuclear weapons. It is the weaponised equivalent of banning slave labour and mass importing from countries that practice it

Even if the SNP continue to preach unilateralism, it is clear this will be gradualist approach. Efforts to desalinate the issue from being a sign of toxic left-wing dreams and to turn it into a soft power have been considerable. All government ministers have made a concerted effort to increase Scotland’s visibility on the world stage. Figures available from the Scottish Government show ministers have undertaken 412 overseas visits since May 2007, compared with 332 for other administrations since 1997.

The article might be in danger of post hoc ergo propter hoc, but factoring in a period of continued international interest in the run-up to the referendum, and another two years in power, it would be reasonable to conclude that the Government is attempting to make the case that it doesn’t need the blunder and bluster of the UK’s military might (they have the convenient circumstances of talking softly and letting NATO do the leg work with the big nuclear stick).

In September 2013, Humza Yousaf, the Minister for External Affairs and International Development, made an unpublicised visit to the United Nations in Geneva where he said that:

Scotland has always been an outward-looking nation. There is great international interest in Scotland’s story and we are determined to harness that as it intensifies ahead of next year’s referendum, Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup, bringing benefits to Scottish consumers, businesses, workers and citizens.

On a tour of India, the Glasgow MS said:

Independence is an opportunity for Scotland to show leadership, to bring closer the world we want to see.

From day one, we would have world-leading expertise to offer in education, health improvement and research. As a good global citizen we would also aspire to develop global recognition in advocacy, peacebuilding and peacekeeping, as well as human and natural resource security.

He is not the only minister to have done so, but his scripted, Puritan case that Scotland’s foreign policy is and would be the stuff of bonhomie is something he clearly believes. But if the SNP truly want Scotland to be a “good global citizen”, they should fess up to how they’re handling the realities of good will in the nuclear age.

Dr Jekyll becomes Mr Hyde, in the end

So is the international weltanschauung of the SNP a long, hypocritical jeremiad?

On the one hand, we have a government that wants to take Scotland to independence on the grounds it would be “good”. Precisely what is bad in the relativistic, epochal history of international relations is anyone’s guess. A principled argument for participation in what is still the Western-dominated world is a moral raison d’être best confined to think-tanks and universities.

On the other, there is no evidence they could do what only Napoleon, Hitler, the British Empire, the USA, and now China have done in the last 500 years: make the world order change for their purposes. For all the money being spent engaging with the world, how would an independent Scotland honestly react to and influence cultures and practices that are morally repugnant to the principles that underpin the SNP’s sense of “good”?

When First Minister Alex Salmond spoke in April at Glasgow Caledonian University’s new campus in New York, he said:

I’ve said that in terms of domestic policy, Scotland could be a progressive beacon, setting a positive example as a country which combines fairness and prosperity. Those progressive aspirations also hold true internationally. To adopt an expression much used by President Clinton, we will use the power of our example, not the example of our power.

As part of that, I want to look today at the contribution an independent Scotland will make to the world. I’ll outline our intention to be a good global citizen, working in partnership with countries across the planet. I’m going to argue that our international policy – like our domestic policy – should be governed by another enlightened Scottish idea – the one Adam Smith pursued in the “Theory of Moral Sentiments” – of enlightened self-interest. By helping others, we will help ourselves.

Independence doesn’t guarantee that we will become that Scotland we seek. But it gives us the powers we need, in order to do so. It places decisions about Scotland’s contribution to the world in the hands of the people who live and work in Scotland. It gives us the power to act for the common weal. And that in itself is a song well worthy of the singing.

Power and example. Aptly, the argument between exceptionalism and intervention is at the heart of the political character of the United States (a place Mr Salmond is never shy to remind others is of distinct Scots descent).

America began as a deliberate countenance to the balance of power politics of Europe. It was not to be involved in what George Washington called “foreign engagements”. This, however, did not stop the expansionist “manifest destiny” drive to tame the frontiers of the North American continent, even if through wars, out of a special sense of destiny thanks to the unique qualities of the American character.

The point is this: American exceptionalism, right from the get go with the country’s independence, was a tale of an ideational want to be an example to others, versus the want to give liberty to others, versus the realpolitik of protecting the Republic’s interests. America was blessed with an abundance of natural resources and land that placed it in relative isolation in the world. Even with foreign engagements with Mexico, Britain, Panama, the Philippines, right up to the to the end of the Second World War, America retained a special sense of self that is now in conflict with its inability to remove itself from the world.

Does this sound familiar? It should. While America was struggling to be a “City Upon A Hill” in a world that made engagement a prerequisite to survival, Britain, a literal island, was practising Benjamin Disraeli’s “splendid isolation”. As The Earl of Derby said when he was foreign minister:

…it is the duty of the Government of this country, placed as it is with regard to geographical position, to keep itself upon terms of goodwill with all surrounding nations, but not to entangle itself with any single or monopolising alliance with any one of them; above all to endeavour not to interfere needlessly and vexatiously with the internal affairs of any foreign country.

Whereas the debate in American foreign engagement has always been a question of how to bring liberty and life, those great pillars of American moral and public life, to bear on the rest of the world, in the UK the same debate was one of pragmatism and self-interest.

The foreign policy for the Britain toward Europe for much of the 19th century was to maintain the balance of power from afar and resist the temptation to wander in (something that finally concluded with the horrors of the First World War). No country should become powerful enough to conquer another. The UK would only intervene, as it did, for example, in the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars, to correct an error in the system.

Whereas Disraeli, forever the realist, advocated a calculated choice to best serve the interests of the British Empire, Scotland as an independent unit – by way of the SNP’s proposals – would pin all of her potential actions to what would be determined as moral or good (precisely who decides that definition internationally is an issue that has beleaguered scholars, politicians, and academics since the dawn of the nation-state).

Disraeli’s position taps more into the perennial challenge of international relations: the desire to be good versus the need to act in one’s own interests. The digital age makes this calculation all the more essential: no country seeks to be ‘bad’ in an age when there is a moral framework decided by the largest influence, in this case, Western civilisation; they seek to serve their interests (and if they’re causing mischief irrationally then they are run by bad leaders).

Scotland, like America, possesses an abundance of natural resources that would allow for a degree of autonomy free from international engagement. But to be ‘good’ in the way that the White Paper suggests, it will require a proactive engagement which will eventually have to be protected by arms. The journey of America, from idealistic, principled origins to world policeman is a warning that principles alone will eventually evolve into an engagement steeped in controversy: one man’s hero is another man’s villain. Scotland would suffer the same fate.

So for Mr Salmond to apply Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ to international relations is to ignore the realities of power politics, the role of soft and hard power, and of calculated self-interest that is zero-sum in a world of dwindling resources. Leaving Scotland to her own devices, and still hoping that she can shape the international agenda as the UK does now but somehow have better intentions is to operate in ignorance.

The SNP may very well want Scotland to engage in a constructive and multilateral way with the world, but unless the party’s hubris extends to believing they will govern for a hundred years, there is no guarantee that their successors will. Indeed, they could be the most cold hearted, calculating bastards to ever serve in a government. Voting for independence on the basis that Scotland will be good forever is the fallacy. People should not conflate what the SNP promise to do, with what Scotland might need to do, and what some future government might want to do in the future.

The reality, even at this stage, is that Scotland will need significant levels of international investment to break even with present standards of funding from the UK pot, and courting the world’s rich and powerful already involves throwing a few principles to the wind.

The necessities of the present international framework have already begun to compromise First Minister Alex Salmond. In a 2014 interview with GQ magazine, conducted before the Russian annexation of Crimea, Mr Salmond commended President Vladimir Putin for “restoring a substantial part of Russian pride”, which he said, “must be a good thing”. His remarks mirror those of Ukip leader Nigel Farage who said he admired Mr Putin’s skills as an “operator” and his “brilliant” handling of the civil war in Syria.

Curtseying, even to grade-A bastards, is part and parcel of international politics. It is often not a pleasant sight, albeit a necessary evil.


Closer to home, Salmond’s remarks are a telling sign of how Scottish-Anglo relations would be after independence. Divergent national interests on everything from energy to defence would create divergent solutions. Scottish nationalism going international would not create an ethical foreign policy, nor would it foster friendship and close ties with England and the rest of the UK.  Scotland would project itself onto the world stage by being different to the UK and doing what it had to do to fuel its own success.

The Scottish Government has always worked hard to place itself in juxtaposition with England. Does England have nuclear weapons? We don’t want them. Will England set Megrahi free? We will. England starts ‘illegal wars’? We won’t. Recent ScotCen research would suggest that there is, in fact, little difference in attitudes to social issues and Europe.

In the study of foreign affairs, this petulance actually belongs to a distinguished field called Constructivism, particularly the argument made by international relations theorist Alexander Wendt.

Wendt contends that a state’s interaction with another country is what informs its character and outlook. Nations, like humans, said Wendt, construct identities in juxtaposition to what they find agreeable or intolerant on an action-reaction basis. In the curious case of nationhood and statehood in the British Isles, the creation of the Scottish Parliament has created a triangulation between how each tier understands its place in the world: the Scottish people judge the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament judges the British Government, and the British Government is the only tier that practices a foreign policy. All think the other is wrong.

The issue of Iraq is an enduring case and point. The number of times in the last ten years that the SNP have cited the recalcitrant phrase “illegal wars” as an impetus to break away from the UK must be enormous, as is the perceived recklessness of the UK Government in calling for an EU referendum which is said to endanger Scottish economic interests.

The Yes Scotland campaign continues to place particular emphasis on assuring voters that this Scotland and the rest of the UK would be the “closest of friends” after independence. It will, in short, be alright on the night and until then it’s a case of putting up with phoney protests and bluster. But what contingencies are in place if the people we’re voting to walk away from aren’t in an accommodating mood?

307 years of underpinning values and shared sovereignty might necessitate and foster cooperation through the House of Commons, after a ‘Yes’ vote Scotland will be relegated to a foreign power status with the removal of her MPs. If a ‘Yes’ vote prevails, from September 19 onwards both the Scottish and the remaining UK Government (of either party) would be calculating very different national interests as they prepare for a future apart.

The irony of the Scottish Government is that it is rightly proud of Scotland’s historical heritage and its complicated web of engagement with the British Isles. But for all its character, the SNP are missing the obvious fact – prior to 1707, Scotland and England were seldom far away from worrying about what the other was doing. Even after the Union of the Crowns in 1603, this worry never left (indeed, many cite it as one of the reasons for the Act of Union in 1707 in the first place).

To date, there has been no announcement by the UK Government to suggest that they would be prepared to cooperate. After a ‘Yes’ vote, the deconstruction of the United Kingdom might well occur smoothly in 2016, but all evidence to date suggests that an alignment of national interests would not prevail between an independent Scotland and the remainder of the UK.  

There has already been a cross-party Westminster rejection of a monetary union with an independent Scotland. Trident submarines and the stationing of nuclear submarines is a polarising issue. Renewables subsidies – of which a significant portion are granted by Westminster – could cease.

Not only this but with so much dependent on UK plans, there is a very real concern of anti-Scottish backlash, understandable but highly dangerous when so much of the Scottish Government’s plans rest on cooperation and capitulation from Westminster to Scotland’s needs.

The ripples of a political disintegration would hugely impact on the social ties that the Scottish Government wants to base any future relationship on. Marriage to divorce is seldom a joyous occasion, and for every Czech Republic and Slovakia, there’s a Pakistan and India. Proximity, a common language, and shared heritage do not always abate or preclude political calculation among nation-states.

In Europe, we see this in practice. For centuries, the balance of power and competing economic and military goals created periods of unsettled peace that usually ended in war. It has yet to be proven that European nations can exist in harmony without a framework like the European Union, but over time they have come to that. Without such a structure, in the words of international relations theorist Hans Morgenthau: “the social world, deaf to the appeal to reason pure and simple, yields only to that intricate combination of moral and material pressures which the art of the statesman creates and maintains”.

Highlighting diverging interests to England are often criticised by the Yes Campaign as ‘scare-mongering’ – notwithstanding that a Scottish foreign policy antithetical to Westminster is one of the leading arguments for independence in the first place.

Perhaps the SNP’s approach to Scottish foreign policy can be summed up best by Oscar Wilde:

To disagree with three-fourths of England on all points is one of the first elements of vanity, which is a deep source of consolation in all moments of spiritual doubt.


Obfuscating is a necessity and not a crime in international politics and friendship is a luxury, not a constant. This is not to condone it but to accept that there is no mechanism and no known fait accompli that precludes duplicity and guarantees truth. Plenipotentiary powers to a Scottish Government are unlikely to buck the trend of 2,000 years of statecraft.

Coming to terms with this will be the end result for the SNP Scottish Government, and supporters seeing this will either cost them the Scottish Referendum or the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections. Hypocrisy is a charge second only to lying, and we all must hope that the Scottish electorate is informed and decent enough not to abide it.

Dealing with powerful nations in a practical manner rather than an ideational way is good business, but presently it is a pell-mell of good wishes and dangerous speculation. As sure as I would not sell my house and move onto the street in the hope that local gangs respond agreeably to my good will, neither should Scotland rest the independence decision on how other countries might act.

When an individual is so convinced of their view and unable to see any fault in their argument psychologists call it a state of cognitive dissonance.

One of two things is occurring with the SNP Government and how they campaign for independence with the Scottish electorate. Either they are living in a state of ignorance as to how their human rights record and language on international affairs is hypocritical, or they are deluded as to the realities of international politics, and what they may be leading Scotland into after 2016 if there is a ‘Yes’ vote. Both are and should be terrifying conclusions for the people of Scotland.

Scotland may well be able to set an example to rest of the world but as sure as it may be the beacon of light to millions it is presently dramatically over presumptuous as to how it could influence others not to act, particularly if they are doing so in the case of their national interest.

We must not allow an independent Scotland’s enduring legacy be akin to that of those nations at the beginning of the 20th Century who believed that goodwill and cooperation alone was enough to bring an end to the war.

Anthropomorphising Scotland as “good global citizen”, as the White Paper does, is a fatuous non-sequitur that flies in the face of everything that history tells us about the necessities of geopolitics. No commitment to human rights, international aid, or other good practices can circumnavigate that reality. States cannot be judged by the same standards as individuals, the responsibilities of leaders are too great for that. Moral maxims and faith in higher values, as the Scottish Government regularly appeal to, cannot ignore this.

The Scottish Government has made its case for independence. What this series has sought to demonstrate is that the White Paper is simply a hypocritical apex from which the plethora of inconsistencies that it has made in the last seven years can be seen. Idealism is a respectable creed, and this series has sought to balance the Government’s claims and propositions.

Indeed, Sir Henry Wotton concludes best:

“An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.”

Facebook Comments