Who do you want to represent Scotland internationally – unelected peers or democratic representatives?
Who has the right to represent Scotland’s interests abroad? Is it elected representatives such as Angus Robertson – or unelected Conservative donors such as ‘lord’ Malcolm Offord? Many will ask – what possible right does Malcolm Offord have to represent Scotland internationally? And yet he does.
The UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has said that all meetings between Scottish Government ministers and overseas governments must be organised through the UK Government and attended by its own officials. The latest move represents a step up from reports that UK officials had been asked to hold follow-up meetings with any foreign dignitaries who meet with Scottish ministers.
According to polling analysed by Professor John Curtice on “What Scotland Thinks” – more Scots say they want Holyrood to have power and responsibility over foreign policy than say Westminster (where many more members are now unelected than are elected).
A new attempt to undermine devolution
This is new. It is an attempt to delegitimize and undermine Scottish Government efforts to promote Scotland abroad. In the past, Scotland’s elected representatives have worked along with the UK’s network of embassies and consulates to promote Scottish businesses, tourism, education and so on. Before the Parliament came along, Scottish business and trade organisations did the same – because the UK has never promoted Scotland effectively internationally. This is a clear role of the devolved Parliament – which has not been questioned before.
But the UK Government is stepping in to constrain and curtail elected representatives’ work. Recently, Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee heard how at an event in Paris, the Scotland Office intervened at the last moment to disrupt the Scottish Government’s event to promote Scotland’s food and drink sector, causing embarrassment to both the Government and businesses.
Scotland has its own identity and needs its own representation internationally
Scotland has its own identity and needs separate representation on the world stage – it isn’t helpful to subsume it in UK-wide promotions. That should be done by the people Scotland elects at the ballot box. External Affairs Minister Angus Robertson, who has been undermined in his efforts to do this, is an elected MSP.
In contrast, Malcolm Offord was rejected at the ballot box when he stood for election to Holyrood in 2021. Offord believes that Scotland is too poor and its people are too incapable to survive and thrive as an independent country – hardly a positive message to send internationally.
But whatever Offord says and does when he is abroad is up to him and his Conservative cronies – he can never, ever be voted out at the ballot box. He is not democratically accountable in Scotland.
An unelected Conservative crony now represents Scotland on important trade missions
At the end of 2022, Offord represented Scotland and the UK on a trip to the Arctic Circle where he met many leading Icelandic business figures and politicians and may have taken the opportunity to brief against Scotland.
In 2021, Offord travelled to India with Liz Truss to represent Scotland at events again involving politicians, business people and leaders of civic society, where again he is likely to have briefed that Scotland is an insignificant region of the UK that could not survive as an independent country.
Offord’s propagandist past
‘Lord’ Malcolm Offord has a history as an anti-independence propagandist. He is not accountable to any voter.
Offord was the director of Acanchi, a PR firm, that set up what purported to be a “grassroots” No campaign group in 2014, called “Vote No Borders”. They made a glossy propaganda video that was shown extensively on the BBC in the run up to the 2014 referendum as a news item. Acanchi also made scare videos for the cinema using the name “Vote No Borders” – which did not exist as a real group. Grassroots campaigning groups for a “Yes” vote – such as Business for Scotland – did not get their campaigning material shown without comment on BBC News channels.
Offord also donated £147,000 to the Conservative Party and he donated to fund Michael Gove’s personal election expenses. He was then awarded a permanent seat at Westminster by scandal-hit PM Boris Johnson.
Only independence can give Scotland control of its international profile
Under devolution, Scotland should have the right to work with the UK’s embassies and consulates to promote Scottish interests. Scotland has a separate identity and its own brands.
But the UK Government is moving in to aggressively undermine that.
The Scottish electorate has no say over what “peers” like Malcolm Offord choose to do or say when abroad. He can never, ever lose his seat in the UK Parliament as long as he lives. It has been awarded to him permanently – against the direct wishes of the Scottish electorate as expressed at the ballot box.
And yet Offord is regarded by the UK Government as having more right to represent Scotland abroad than democratic representatives.
Only with independence can Scotland ensure democratic accountability for its representatives and the right to promote Scotland’s interests internationally.
Watch a video about Offord’s ‘Vote No Borders” campaign