One of the main differences between Scottish independence and devo-max is foreign policy. If the SNP are to make the case for independence, then they need to show that the people of Scotland can do better than the FCO. Who do Scots want to represent us on the world stage? Perhaps, just maybe, do we think we can improve on William Hague? Would we like to be able to choose not to send the Black Watch or the Scots Guards to die in Westminster’s wars?
It is not up to the SNP to decide what the policy of a post independence government would be. That will be up to the Scottish people. But that shouldn’t stop them from declaring what it is that they would do – first because it is likely that they will have a role in setting such a policy, and secondly because it demonstrates how these powers could be used differently. It was with this in mind that I tweeted the Scottish Government’s minister for external affairs last night:
.@fionahyslop if you were foreign secretary of an independent Scotland, would you vote to recognise Palestine at the UN?
— AdamRamsay (@AdamRamsay) November 29, 2012
She replied promptly (in smaller countries, the powerful are closer):
— Fiona Hyslop (@FionaHyslop) November 29, 2012
Good for her. But why not shout it louder? Today, St Andrews’ Day*, Palestine was finally granted observer status at the UN. But the British Government, representing Scotland, was one of the shameful few who abstained on this motion. I’ll wager that most Scots, (and, probably, most people in Britain) disagree with this policy. Why isn’t the Scottish government shouting from the rooftops that Hague doesn’t represent Scotland?
But shouting isn’t enough. One mantra that all good press officers share is “show, don’t tell”. The SNP could lecture the people of Scotland for as long as they like on what a better foreign policy would look like. They can say what they would do in any given situation. But people are much more likely to notice if they just start to do things.
Holyrood commands no army. It can send no drones, nor enforce any economic sanctions. But a better foreign policy – the kind of foreign policy we would want an independent Scotland to have – is surely about exerting soft power. And for that, we need no weapons. For that all we need is a megaphone, and clout.
At home, Alex Salmond’s pomposity can rankle a little. But what domestically appears to be arrogance can look statesmanly or stateswomanly on the global stage. On his first international tour as PM, Cameron tripped from gaffe to gaffe. William Hague is a toad. The image of Ed Miliband and Mitt Romney standing together over the summer showed each to wither under the spotlight. On the other hand, I can well imagine Salmond and Obama slapping backs, or, for that matter, Nicola Sturgeon and Angela Merkel holding court together at some international press conference. Scotland has, right now, leaders with the charisma to shine through the international media. The UK does not. This is an advantage the SNP government could use better.
I’ll give just one example of something that they could do – something they should announce this week, following the UN vote. There are 45 countries in the world with diplomatic missions in Palestine. The UK is not one of them. Why not announce that Scotland is now opening a consulate in the West Bank**? Why not invite Palestine to reciprocate? This, surely, would cause a stir. But I think there’s a good chance it would put most Scots on Holyrood’s side. It would help to show the point of bringing foreign policy home.
Just as my English friends are jealous and Scots are proud of our university funding system and our still-publicly owned NHS, perhaps we would begin to feel the same about our place on the world stage. Such moves would be risky, sure. But the run up to the independence referendum, twenty points behind in the polls is not a time to play it safe. It is a time to take a few chances, to mix things up. And whether or not it helps with the referendum campaign, doing good in the world has got to be a good thing.
*St Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, was, of course, Palestinian.
**this idea isn’t mine – it comes from a discussion I had a few months ago with someone from a major foundation working in the Middle East after I asked them what Scotland could do that would help.