The Scottish Parliament is a devolved body and is answerable to the UK Parliament, a Parliament that has reserved powers over the constitution, defence, treason, the funding of political parties and international relations.
Of these reserved powers, it is Defence and International Relations that have been the focus of attention as many of the SNP’s opponents seek to suggest that foreign policy in an independent Scotland is somewhere between unworkable and unpalatable.
It’s not often that political parties communicate through actions rather than words but, if one looks around, it’s quite possible that the SNP’s view of what an independent Scotland’s foreign policy would be has already been put into practice.
There is the low hanging fruit of how an independent Scotland would look of course – Scotland inside the EU, quite possibly no nuclear weapons and we’d have the Queen as Head of State but let’s look at some examples of an existing Scottish foreign policy that many may not have noticed:
The Scottish Government is already promoting the development of a sub-sea electricity transmission super grid with Norway, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, assisted by several visits to Norway by the First Minister. (Incidentally, no UK Prime Minister has visited Norway in 25 years)
The SNP is considering the economic and military changes that the melting ice caps bring and is seeking to work alongside the countries that have seen this challenge as a top priority for a while now – Iceland, Faroe Islands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Canada etc. This is not an area that the UK has dedicated much attention, if any.
Scotland could and should join the Nordic Council if it does become independent. The SNP regularly talk up membership, Alex Salmond mentioned it in his recent Hugo Young lecture, and Lesley Riddoch has an excellent piece exploring Scotland potentially joining.
Alex Salmond’s visits to China and Abu Dhabi bore the hallmarks of state visits and would be much the same as visits from a Scottish Prime Minister.
One issue that many claim remains outstanding is how Scotland would defend itself if independent. For me, there is an easy solution to this and we only need to look to other similarly-sized, anti-nuclear countries for it. Norway is leading calls for Nato to be nuclear-free while still enjoy the security of full membership. The SNP simply needs to change its policy on Nato, if it hasn’t already, and a clear picture of how an independent Scotland could look in an international context is locked into place. I maintain that the SNP changing tack on Nato is a no-brainer.
The image that most people have in mind when it comes to Scotland defending itself is an attack on our airpsace and how we would unilaterally action a defence. And yet, the current ‘Quick Reaction Alert‘ system (involving scrambling fighter jets to intercept unidentified aircraft) is already split into North Britain (from Leuchars) and South Britain (from Lincolnshire). Contact is then made from HQ to Nato allies, typically via Denmark. Would the system work any differently under an independent Scotland, particularly if the north-south divide already exists?
The SNP will be launching its Preparation Prospectus soon but don’t be too surprised if its contents look familiar. We are surrounded by similar-sized prosperous countries who have the means and the alliances to defend themselves. Scotland isn’t just well placed to join those same alliances and create the same means, it is doing so already.