Establishing its own foreign policy will be one of the most important tasks facing an independent Scotland after a Yes vote. Discussions are already taking place on what that foreign policy would look like.
Now Scotland’s foreign policy footprint will be debated later this month at the Beyond Borders International Festival of Literature and Thought, a socially distanced event at Traquair House, Innerleithen.
Here are four ways Scotland can influence the world:
1: We can break away from Westminster’s determination to isolate itself from Europe and its restrictive immigration approach
That’s the view of Stephen Gethins, author of Nation to Nation: Scotland’s Place in the World, who is taking part in the Beyond Borders event. Mr Gethins is a former MP and a professor of practice at the School of International Relations at St Andrews University.
He said this week: “Over the past few years we have seen an increasing divergence between politics at Holyrood and Westminster on a range of issues such as social justice, and immigration.
Being prepared to play a full part in the EU and wider international community stands in contrast to an increasingly unilateral and isolationist approach that is being pursued at Westminster
“However, nowhere is that divergence more apparent than in our approach to foreign policy and relationships with other nations. It is important that we open up a discussion about Scotland’s fast developing foreign policy footprint as part of that debate.”
“It means embracing a more multilateralist approach and being prepared to play a full part in the EU and wider international community that stands in contrast to an increasingly unilateral and isolationist approach that is being pursued at Westminster'.
2: We can develop a strong international strategy which would show the world how Scotland would behave as an independent country
Anthony Salamone, managing director of European Merchants, a Scottish political analysis firm in Edinburgh, made this argument in a recent article for the strategist, an Australian strategic policy institute website.
He wrote: ‘Developing cogent European and international strategies, based on Scotland’s values and interests, would allow the Scottish government to demonstrate nous in international relations and to showcase how Scotland might conduct itself as an independent state.
‘At the same time, Scotland can make contributions to European and global affairs from its current constitutional position. The Scottish independence debate is evolving and a new referendum feels inevitable. How Scotland relates to the rest of Europe and the wider world will be a central aspect of the conversation to come.’
3: Scotland could develop a successful and distinctive role in international affairs
In a paper produced for the Centre on Constitutional Change, Daniel Kenealy, a lecturer in politics and international relations at Edinburgh University, looked at how the Scottish government has taken measures to work more closely with the various agencies that promote Scotland internationally and at its Innovation and Investment Hubs in Dublin (set up in 2015), London (2017), Berlin (2018), and Paris (2019).
Scotland would begin its life as an independent state with a strong reputation and image, which is only growing more distinctive in the aftermath of Brexit
He says an independent Scotland ‘would have to invest considerable time and energy’ to join the organisations, treaties, and agreements that it is currently part of within the UK. But adds: ‘Few experts in international law or international politics doubt that this could be done, but it would take time and resources.
‘Scotland would begin its life as an independent state with a strong reputation and image, which is only growing more distinctive in the aftermath of Brexit. It would take many years for Scotland to have international impact equivalent to the Nordic states or New Zealand. But, with a willingness to prioritise – alongside some patience and a lot of hard work – an independent Scotland could develop a successful and distinctive role in international affairs.’
4: Scotland could play a strong role in protecting human rights
The Centre on Constitutional Change published a report on Scotland’s approach to human rights and foreign policy just after the Scottish elections in May. It also held a series of workshops on the subject which brought together politicians, practitioners, NGOs, and members of academia.
The report points out that the Scottish parliament recently gave unanimous support to legislation incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law, although that is being challenged at the Supreme Court by the UK government.
Together with a commitment to incorporate four more UN human rights treaties the report states the parliament ‘ sends a signal that Scotland will continue to support and expand human rights protections even as the government in Westminster has signalled an intent to weaken such protections’.
The report says policy in Scotland ‘adds up to a strong, positive vision of an active, progressive Scotland playing an outsized role on the international stage, particularly in the areas of peacemaking, development, and human rights. ‘