THE former head of the diplomatic service has warned that “difficult and tricky negotiations” with the European Union and Nato could see the date of Scottish independence delayed even if it is supported in the referendum next year.
Speaking to the foreign affairs select committee yesterday, Lord Jay of Ewelme, who was also the British ambassador to France, warned that Scotland would have to find “imaginative ways” of carrying out diplomatic work direct from Edinburgh because of the costs of setting up a traditional embassy network.
His warning came as two other former senior Scottish diplomats, Sir James Craig and Anthony Layden, said that an independent Scotland would have “little weight” and “be negligible” diplomatically if it separates from the UK.
Lord Jay, who headed the diplomatic service between 2002 and 2006, dismissed SNP claims that entry to the EU would be “automatic” but said Scotland would eventually be allowed in.
He told MPs that countries such as Spain would want to send a signal to separatist movements in their own states and “make sure it wasn’t a shoo-in for Scotland”.
On Nato, he warned that negotiations would be “tricky” and suggested the United States would make entry difficult if Scotland banned nuclear weapons from its soil.
Lord Jay added: “Whether that would then call into question the date of full independence, I don’t know, but I think there are some very difficult issues there.”
But Lord Jay said he did not agree with claims by many pro-union campaigners that Scotland would be forced to join the Schengen Agreement governing travel in the European Union. The UK has an exemption from Schengen and if an independent Scotland was forced to sign up to it as a precondition of joining the EU as a new member state, then it would mean border posts with the rest of the UK.
Critics of independence have pointed out that since the Treaty of Lisbon, all new accession states have been forced to join Schengen without exemptions. But Lord Jay said: “I personally find it very difficult to see circumstances in which the EU would so operate that a Schengen border would be erected between Scotland and England.
“That seems so complicated and difficult I think some sort of agreement would be found.”
However, he said that as a smaller country in the EU with only a few votes, Scotland would not have the same power as the UK to promote Scotch whisky.
He added: “If I was the owner of Bushmills, I would be quite keen on the prospect of Scottish independence because I would think it would mean that a large number of British embassies around the world would be switching their tipple from Scotch whisky to Bushmills.”
He also raised doubts that Scotland would be able to carry out diplomatic services with the traditional network of embassies, warning of the costs of finding suitable buildings and recruiting and training staff.
And he said that Scotland’s share of the diplomatic service budget of £80 million was “extremely small” for the set-up costs of an embassy network.
He said that the rest of the UK would inherit the current embassies, though he suggested Scotland may share facilities in some places. But he warned that “there could be problems” with access to sensitive information – and with which flag was flown from the building.
He added that Scotland would have to find “imaginative ways of doing things”.
One of the regions the SNP has flagged up as one it would target diplomatically is the Gulf. But two Scottish former ambassadors to Arab countries, Sir James Craig and Anthony Layden, were both sceptical that Scotland would be able to exert much influence.
Mr Layden, a former ambassador to Libya, said Scotland was in a much stronger position working as part of the UK and warned that independence would hurt it more than the rest of Britain.
An SNP spokesman said: “If Scotland votes Yes in 2014, we will become an independent member of the European and international community in 2016 – a hugely positive prospect.
“Scotland will be able to speak with our own voice in the world and make our own contribution, instead of Scotland’s financial resources going to the UK government, and our interests not being properly represented.”
But a spokesman for pro-union campaign Better Together said: “One of the greatest things about the United Kingdom is the diplomatic network that represents our country… What possible reason could there be for abandoning it?”