Let’s assume Nicola Sturgeon gets her way and wins a second independence referendum following Brexit. How might a Scottish foreign policy look?
In the interregnum while Scotland prepared to exit the UK it would have to disentangle itself from the British diplomatic service and plan for an independent foreign policy. There would be several bureaucratic and budgetary battles to be fought but several current EU members have had to build a diplomatic machine from scratch.
For example, 25 years ago Estonia did not exist as a state. It started to build a foreign service with an initial budget of 10 million dollars, just enough for ten diplomatic missions. It has since joined the EU and NATO, become a pioneer of e government and successfully branded itself as a stable, progressive state in a difficult region. Its diplomats make an impressive impact in multilateral bodies and the country can certainly claim to be punching above its weight.
It is unlikely that there would be any sudden radical change in a Scottish foreign policy as the nation would have voted to remain in the EU and NATO. Scotland’s geography would dictate much continuity although the politics would allow for a different accent on certain issues. Scotland should adopt a global approach without any pretensions of being a global power as some Brexiteers seem to perceive the UK outside the EU.
Sooner rather than later Scotland would (re)join the EU and be part of the EU’s foreign policy machinery. It would send officials to join the EU’s diplomatic arm, the external action service, and thus achieve an immediate global coverage of foreign policy. The service has over 150 delegations around the world reporting back to Brussels and national capitals. Edinburgh would be plugged into this increasingly influential machine.
The EU has become an important regional power with a global outreach. Cathy Ashton led the negotiations to clinch the Iran nuclear deal while Federica Mogherini, the current foreign policy chief, has coaxed and cajoled the 28 member states to accept a tough sanctions regime against Russia following its annexation of Crimea.
The EU played a key role in securing the Paris climate change agreement and continues to be the top provider of development and technical assistance. Under the impact of a Trump administration more and more countries are looking to the EU as the pillar of the multilateral system, whether in trade, finance or the environment.
Obviously there are different approaches within the EU and it is likely that Scotland would look to her Nordic neighbours for guidance. The Swedes, Danes, Norwegians and Finns are among the strongest supporters of the UN and the multilateral system in general. They are also committed to high levels of development assistance and the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Scotland, with its long tradition of internationalism, decency and fair play, would thus boost the normative power agenda of the EU.
What to do about defence? As there is no majority in Scotland for maintaining nuclear weapons, Trident would be relocated to England and the defence budget would focus more on providing highly trained, mobile, security forces to assist international efforts on conflict prevention and peacekeeping. The EU currently has over twenty such missions and Scotland would be expected to make a contribution.
A successful foreign policy depends on domestic support. Just remember how Blair ignored domestic opinion over Iraq. A Scottish foreign policy should thus be based on a broad consensus among political parties, business, trades unions and civil society. The key principles should be modesty, honesty, reliability and competence. Think how Norway, with a population less than Scotland, has made a major contribution to conflict resolution in different parts of the world. It has done so by being discreet and playing the role of honest broker. There are many competent Scots with international experience who could be involved in similar ventures. One would also expect to draw on the talents of the substantial Scottish diaspora to support a Scottish foreign policy.
Scotland could also seize the opportunity to establish a new-style foreign service by recruiting specialists from the worlds of science, technology, anthropology, agriculture, religion, history and so on to develop a more joined up approach to foreign policy.
There would be six EU members with a population less than Scotland. Size is only one factor in foreign policy. Ideas, principles, commitment, talent and domestic support are more important. Scotland does not lack in any of the above. And in an increasingly uncertain world Scotland could be an important voice in efforts to preserve the liberal, rules-based international order that is now under threat.