Independence will allow Scotland to choose its own priorities, form its own relationships and decide on the policies that are in the best interests of the people of this nation.
That is the fundamental case for independence. The best people to take decisions about Scotland’s future are the people who choose to live and work in Scotland.
This is as true for the conduct of foreign policy as it is for anything else.
Scotland is already and will continue to be a country which observes international law; respects and promotes human rights, democratic values, equality and good governance; Scotland has a unique proposition to offer the world in the field of climate change and energy; innovates through its approach to international development and aid; and has world leading expertise to offer in education, health improvement and research. Independence will allow Scotland to have its own voice in the world to promote these issues.
In January I was delighted to be able to present this positive vision of Scotland’s place in the international community to Westminster’s Foreign Affairs Committee. The Committee is of course comprised of politicians who oppose independence for Scotland (only two represent Scottish constituencies and both are members of parties that oppose independence) and whose primary interest is to protect and promote the interests of the UK so I was not surprised by their approach.
Nevertheless I was also encouraged by the numerous positive contributions made by experts in various aspects of foreign affairs in their evidence to the Committee and I expected that their evidence as well as my own would be given due weight in the Committee’s report.
The Committee has published that report and it includes the following passage:
“our aim was to help inform the foreign policy debate on both sides of the border, to approach with an open mind the issues under consideration, to listen carefully to the Scottish Government’s views, and to work, in the best select committee tradition, on a non-partisan basis.”
There are some constructive aspects to the report.
The Committee accepts that:
“Scotland’s application for UN membership would in all likelihood be swift and unproblematic” (albeit they contend this is dependent on the acceptance of the UK’s assertion of the UK’s status after Scotland secures independence)
The Committee also concludes that:
““We do not doubt that Scotland, as an independent country, could play a valuable role in Europe…”
“There is no reason in principle why Scotland could not set up a fully functioning
and successful diplomatic service if it became an independent country.”
It also suggests that in many areas supporting Scotland’s ambition is in the UK’s best interests:
“There was a general consensus among witnesses that it would be in the RUK’s bilateral and strategic interests to support Scotland’s NATO membership aspirations.”
But these are rare examples of balance in a report that is clearly written from the partisan perspective of a group inherently opposed to the concept of independence and primarily concerned with protecting the interests – what it sees as the status, the prestige and crucially the pro-trident position – of the UK.
However, there is one aspect of the Committee’s conclusions that I can agree with. In paragraph 74 of the Report the Committee states:
“We recommend that ahead of the referendum, the FCO does more, when appropriate, to engage with international partners in order to highlight the UK’s commitment to a consensual and broad-based engagement on the Scottish referendum,”
As the committee states “Thus far, it is not clear that the UK is doing this.”
We have continued to press the UK Government to engage in constructive discussions and sharing of information prior to the referendum so that voters are as informed as possible about what happens next.
The Electoral Commission have also made recommendations to this effect. Yet the UK Government chooses to focus on the negative case for maintaining the status quo while steadfastly refusing to indicate that it will conduct sensible and consensual negotiations in the event of a vote for independence.
As the report and the UK Government are primarily concerned with maintaining the UK’s international reputation and protecting its position as a nuclear state – perhaps the committee’s encouragement that the UK’s international reputation will be harmed if it continues to take this attitude will be a lesson to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.
The Scottish Government will continue to put the positive case for independence and will continue to set out how an independent Scotland will have its own voice in global affairs and act in partnership with its friends and allies (including the UK) as a responsible member of the international community.
In the meantime I will press UK Ministers once again to reconsider their negative approach to this debate and urge them to accept the recommendations of the Electoral Commission and now the Foreign Affairs Committee to participate in a “consensual and broad-based engagement” on this historic debate about Scotland’s future.