Commentary by Derek Bateman
What would a Scottish foreign policy look like? Who are our likely friends and allies, who our resentful foes?
We will of course twin with Cuba and probably North Korea where Alex Salmond will become a peace envoy. (Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself and writing the Daily Mail front page…)
That’s not to say the lurid, Alice in Wonderland mentality of the small-minded enemies in the media won’t continue to paint us as a nation of losers not sophisticated enough to deal with other people in the absence of a knowledgeable Foreign Office flunkey. The Unionist Scot’s capacity to demean himself and bend the knee will be with us long after independence.
I assume it as a cornerstone of IndyScotland that we embrace the concept, if not always the reality, of European cooperation. That means membership of the Council of Europe as upholder of the human rights of the continent’s citizens.
I also take it as read that we continue in ever-more enthusiastic membership of the EU itself, always allowing of course that the Barroso-inspired cod horror stories of our rejection and exclusion are finally exposed and consigned to the dustbin. Whether England, Wales and Ulster are there also remains problematic. I suspect in the turmoil after a Brexit vote with the Scottish government appealing for a Brussels’ lifebelt the temptation will be too great for the dismayed member states to ignore, turning on its head the indyref moonshine of EU quarantine and replacing it with bilateral goodwill.
Although I am doubtful about a second referendum predicated solely on a Scottish Yes vote to the EU, I nevertheless do see us being treated effectively as an entrant state by the 27, opening a door to enduring corridors of funds, people and trade. I imagine some re-drawing of rules here in what would be a special case but one that the powers in Brussels would find hard to resist, offering as it does, a practical rebuff to London, a message to the rest of the world and a link that could one day facilitate a UK return after a change of government. It has the added benefit of treating Scotland as if it were already a state. Imagine the fury in Whitehall if relations with Scotland carried on almost as normal – indeed were greatly enhanced – and the flow of funds direct between Edinburgh and Brussels, missing out London. Brussels could embarrass London on the global stage by the willing annexing of Scotland, no doubt compounded by withdrawing financial powers from the City and conferring them on Frankfurt to hit the British where it hurts most. (Don’t rule out Brussels getting tough with London just as the British did with Scotland)
This Scotland In/ UK Out scenario is uncharted terrain but why should it be so? Isn’t it incumbent on Westminster and especially Number 10, to provide us with a legal route map that might result from their policy? Didn’t they demand just that from the Nationalists on the independence question and then revel in the confusion when no institution would do so – excepting their own paid-for advice that told us our country ‘did not exist’. A different standard is being applied to this constitutional question than the British were prepared to allow for Scotland’s. To say, as the government has, that no planning is being done for a Brexit is (apart from untrue), a shocking admission that looks like dereliction of duty, particularly as Cameron’s own ministers will be divided on the issue.
A sustained link with Brussels against London’s wishes would pose many technical difficulties and diplomatic eruptions all of which play into the independence design, obliging voters to choose. Business too would look to its advantage and consider if a duty-free open market of 400 million was worth relocating north of the border. Perhaps this way Scotland, instead of repeating the referendum gambit, takes the New Zealand route and gains independence through the gradual accretion of powers and consequential international acknowledgement.
It does bring urgency to key issues for Scots, though. Currency looms over any make-do EU arrangement and probably requires us to end our centuries-old pull to sterling by starting the drive towards our own coinage and, as the Euro strengthens (the Pound has recently lost value versus the euro) finally embracing the logic of the European single currency. I know this is a complex and every-changing question but, however technical, most people’s sense of it is driven more by emotion rather than logic or deep understanding.
Even those with the profound knowledge are deeply divided on the euro issue and it’s clear there is no definitive answer to please all and guarantee economic stability – that certainly isn’t provided sterling that currently is sinking and after a Brexit will suffer further market buffeting. Meanwhile, as we are fed by fear stories about the euro, it has proved itself resilient and sustainable awaiting deeper fiscal and political union to cement its future. Joseph Stiglitz backs the maintenance of the eurozone with closer banking and fiscal integration, including a eurozone-wide income tax to finance safety-net programmes for poorer members. In Holland, a typical Eurozone country, 2016 growth is set at 2.4 per cent, similar to Britain’s but the deficit is 1.5 per cent against our 4.9 and their borrowing is declining as ours grows.
An Edinburgh foreign agenda would surely strengthen our historic links to near neighbours Scandinavia and Ireland and allow us to develop a mature relationship with the United States, if we can reach a deal on nuclear weapons. I’m not convinced the American military is still sold on a UK deterrent when we can’t maintain the conventional forces they value so much in supporting them in unstable theatres. They value the money and the employment the Trident contracts provide but since they supply the firing codes and hold the authority for their launch, it means British nukes are really just American nukes on our soil. London would seek to negotiate a lease – which could be appealingly cash-rich – or the US could repatriate them. The suspicion here though is that Washington seriously doesn’t want the UK to leave the EU where we perform as their man-on-the-ground and might find Scotland a useful go-between in the Washington-London-Brussels axis.
One area the Scottish Foreign Office – I think they’d go for State Department instead – would feel direct pressure on is ethics. The political culture in Scotland is different from that prevailing in London in that it is salted with liberal grains that spice up debates about morals in our international dealings. Much of any country’s foreign agenda is dictated by needs at home and we have a spikey and vocal mob quick to correct lazy institutional assumptions. Would we tolerate much closer contact with China without visible loosening of civil rights restrictions? If we’re part of the eyes and ears of intelligence and security, do we learn from London and keep quiet about ceremonial public beheadings so long as we get terrorist advance warnings from Riaydh?
That’s the kind of decision that makes even a fledgling nation grow up fast.