Punching above our weight


By Hamish Scott
The phrase ‘punching above our weight’ is popular with Unionists. They apply it in at least three ways: that, variously, Scotland, England, and the United Kingdom as a whole, each punch above their weight because of the Union.
This article looks at how the UK and Scotland ‘punch above their weight’ in the world, and how that would, or could, be affected by Scottish independence. 

By Hamish Scott
The phrase ‘punching above our weight’ is popular with Unionists. They apply it in at least three ways: that, variously, Scotland, England, and the United Kingdom as a whole, each punch above their weight because of the Union.
This article looks at how the UK and Scotland ‘punch above their weight’ in the world, and how that would, or could, be affected by Scottish independence. 

The following are three examples of the use of the phrase by Scottish Unionists in regard to Scotland.

In the House of Commons on 6 Feb 2014, the Liberal Democrat MP and former Secretary of State of Scotland Michael Moore stated:

Because of our proud record of reaching out to the world, Scots are delighted that we have half of the Department for International Development’s work force and policy makers in…East Kilbride…There we are-Scotland-punching above our weight internationally, not only through that policy work, but because we are part of a country that is now reaching the United Nations target on international development. We also have greater security, as part of NATO, by being at the top table in the UN Security Council and through so much else.

Better Together, the official ‘No’ campaign organisation, states on its website:

Not only are we at the top table, but being part of the UK it means we have real clout and influence too. We are a key part of the G7, G8, and G20 and the World Trade Organisation which helps Scottish trade flow as smoothly and freely as possible. We are key players in the International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Bank. Everybody knows that it is the big countries in Europe that call the shots. As part of the UK, Scotland has a more powerful voice in Europe. We are safer and more secure as part of the UK too. Scots are represented by over 270 consulates and embassies overseas – the world’s largest diplomatic network. There for us if we get in to (sic) trouble when abroad. The UK is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat MP and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, stated on17 January 2014:

Being on track to meet the target of 0.7% of GNI on international aid…is one of our proudest achievements. It was also a reminder of how being in the United Kingdom family… And the influential membership that gives us of…The EU. The UN. The G7. The G8. The G20.The IMF. The World Bank. Really gives us – as Scots – an ability to punch above our weight internationally. To fight for Scottish interests across the world. To promote Scottish values across the world. And to export Scottish products across the world. It’s one of the most powerful reasons why we’re better as part of the United Kingdom…we have more influence in the world as part of the UK.

These three examples make clear that ‘punching above our weight’ is about security and influence through international organisations.
There is one exception. Both Michael Moore and Danny Alexander cite the UK reaching the United Nations target of richer nations contributing a minimum of 0.7% of their Gross National Income to official development assistance (ODA) as an instance of Scotland ‘punching above its weight’.

Yet an independent Scotland and EWNI (England, Wales, Northern Ireland) could just as easily reach this target individually with the same collective result. Moreover, although the UK only achieved this target in 2013 (reaching 0.72%), it was exceeded in the same year by Norway (1.07%), Sweden (1.02%), Luxembourg (1%) and Denmark (0.85%), small independent countries who, along with the Netherlands, have also exceeded the 0.7% target for decades (the Netherlands only missed the target in 2013 and by only 0.03%).

Furthermore, Humza Yousaf, the Scottish government’s Minister for External Affairs and International Development, has said that the target would be enshrined in law in an independent Scotland, ensuring that reaching the target would be sustained every year.

The three examples quoted above of what ‘punching above our weight’ means to Unionists, cite the UK’s membership of the G7/G8, G20, NATO, United Nations and permanent membership of its Security Council, European Union (EU), World Trade Organisation (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Membership of NATO, the UN, EU, WTO, IMF, World Bank and OECD is open to countries of all sizes. UK membership of the G7/G8 , G20 and permanent membership of the UN Security Council is reliant on the population size of the UK and related factors.

The UK’s size, and its largely consequent political, economic and military strength, undoubtedly gives it greater clout internationally than countries the size of Scotland, the type of bluster illustrated by the reaching of the ODA target notwithstanding.

However, in global terms, the UK is not a large country by population (or, less importantly, by size). At 64 million, it is the 22rd largest in the world, but dwarfed by China (1.36 billion) and India (1.24 billion), and considerably smaller than, for example, the United States (318 million), Indonesia (247 million), Brazil (201 million), Russia (143 million), Japan (127 million) and Mexico (120 million). Within Europe, Germany has a higher population of 81 million.

The rise in political, economic and military strength of these countries (including nuclear weapons in the case of China and India) has led to the creation of the G20 to in large part replace the G7/G8 and the proposed extension of permanent membership of the UN Security Council to Germany, Brazil, India and Japan. These developments dilute the UK’s influence; a trend that will continue for the foreseeable future.

Whatever the level of the UK’s influence, with minor exceptions, Scotland has no representation, no separate and distinct input, and no veto in regard to UK international conduct and policy, and this has various consequences.

One consequence is that there is not a single initiative or foreign policy goal that is identifiably Scottish; that could only have been achieved with Scotland’s participation. (Interestingly, Danny Alexander claims that the UK ‘promote[s] Scottish values across the world’ but doesn’t tell us what these values are, whether they are different from the UK’s ‘shared values’ that are normally the claim of Unionists, or how the UK promotes them).

Another consequence is that UK conduct and policy often lacks support in Scotland. One of the drivers, after all, of independence is the divergence between Scotland and London on socio-economic, foreign and defence policy.

A further consequence is that UK conduct and policy is often detrimental to Scotland’s interests. For example, in order to retain its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, the UK must retain its nuclear weapons at Faslane and Coulport as well as maintain high defence expenditure at the cost of other spending. Another example is that in international negotiations, particularly with the EU, Scotland’s interests are often ignored or negotiated away.

Scotland’s role, therefore, is merely to reinforce UK influence through its human and physical resources, often adversely to Scotland’s own interests. As part of the UK, Scotland only ‘punches above its weight’ vicariously.

For EWNI, Scottish independence need not significantly effect its international membership and influence. However, EWNI would have to retain and relocate its nuclear weapons, and maintain high defence spending, to retain permanent membership of the UN Security Council. There would also be a loss of prestige associated with the secession of a part of the country, especially with the significant loss of one third of its territory.

An independent Scotland would be eligible for membership of all the organisations listed by Unionists in the three examples given above of Scotland ‘punching above its weight’ in the UK, with the exception of the G7/G8, G20 and permanent membership of the UN Security Council.

Continued membership of the EU would give Scotland economic security through its single market, and whereas the G7/G8 and the G20 represent the largest economies, it does not represent the wealthiest ones – only four members of the G20 were in the top 20 wealthiest countries in 2013 according to GDP (PPP).

Membership of NATO would give Scotland military security through its mutual defence obligations in which an attack on one member is an attack on all members and obligates a collective response (failure to do so in practice would make NATO a paper tiger). That security does not require, and is not provided by, the UK’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council.

Furthermore, an independent Scotland, disinclined to military intervention or aggression in pursuit or defence of status and influence will not have the enemies the UK creates, making Scotland a safer place – not creating enemies is a good defence policy. It is notable in that regard that, with the exception of the last few months of its Civil War, ever since Ireland became independent in 1922 it has never been at war, while the UK in the same period has virtually never been at peace.

Independence gives Scotland important influence that it does not have as part of the UK, some of the most important being control of its own national political, economic and defence policy, tailored to its own needs, and the protection it gives from the influence of unwanted, inappropriate or damaging UK policy – such as a possible UK exit of the EU or the presence of the UK’s nuclear weapons making Scotland more of a military target.

An independent Scotland would also have important influence through its own place at the international ‘top tables’: in Europe and the European Union in particular.

It would be a member state of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and would hold the chairmanship for one calendar year, as each member state does in turn.

In the Council of Europe, Scotland’s Foreign Minister would be a member of the Committee of Ministers and hold a six-monthly presidency, as other members do in turn, and Scotland would send its own parliamentary delegation to its Parliamentary Assembly.

An independent Scotland, as with all other EU member states, would have its own representative in the European Council, commissioner in the European Commission and government minister in the Council of the European Union.

Scotland would also take its turn in the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for six months. It should also be noted that, as from 1 November 2014, voting in the Council of the European Union requires either unanimity or a majority of countries of either 55% or 72%, depending on the nature of the vote.

In the European Parliament, Scotland’s 6 MEPs would rise to a similar level to Ireland’s 12 MEPs.  A Scotland joining the euro would also have its own member of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank.

An independent Scotland would not restrict the ambitious, for Scottish membership of those organisations it could, or would, join offers opportunities to all its members. For example, the Secretary-General of NATO is Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark (population 5.6 million) and is to be succeeded by Jens Stoltenberg of Norway (population 5 million), the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe is Thorbjørn Jagland of Norway, the President of the European Commission is José Manuel Barroso of Portugal (population 10 million), and the President of the European Council is Herman van Rompuy of Belgium (population 11 million).

An independent Scotland can therefore truly punch above its weight, particularly in the European Union, and do so with its own voice, articulating and promoting the values and aspirations of the people of Scotland, in a positive and consensual manner.

Hamish Scott, originally from Edinburgh, now lives in East Lothian.  His novella ‘Changing Light’, written under the pseudonym James Irvine, was published in April. The print edition is available from Amazon and the ebook edition from various online retailers.