SNP sets out vision of seat at top table of world leaders
THE first document outlining how an independent Scotland would conduct its foreign affairs has been unveiled by the SNP.
At a ceremony in Brussels, Scottish external affairs minister Mike Russell said Scots could have a "dual citizenship" arrangement with the rest of the UK.
In the document – entitled Europe and Foreign Affairs – Mr Russell also claims that an independent Scotland could share embassies and other facilities with the UK.
The report says Scotland would have a stronger place in the European Union with its own commissioner and more MEPs, ignoring concerns that Scotland would have to renegotiate entry into the EU.
It also argues that an independent Scotland could improve its relations with the rest of the UK while pursuing separate foreign policy goals and alliances.
But there was an admission that it would increase bureaucracy with a separate Foreign Office in Scotland and Scottish officials in Brussels.
Mr Russell argued that, as part of a small nation, Scots would be more likely to secure leading international roles, including secretary-General of the United Nations.
The blueprint proposes that people in Scotland should be allowed to have dual nationality if they wish. It suggests that there would be an open door for asylum seekers and a green card worker scheme for non-EU citizens. It also claims that an independent Scotland would be more generous than the UK in providing international aid and support.
The document comes just a week after the SNP unveiled its proposals to hold a independence referendum next year, with plans to lay down the legislation for it on St Andrew's Day. Opposition parties have already pledged to block a vote.
The report is the second in a series of papers produced for the SNP's National Conversation following criticism that the process had no rigorous analysis or studies, unlike the rival Calman Commission review of devolution.
But like the first paper, on an oil fund, the foreign affairs paper was heavily criticised for being "contradictory", "full of holes", "vague" and an exercise in grandstanding.
Opponents said it was "a colossal waste of money" in preparation for a referendum that would be blocked.
Critics pointed to omissions, including defence being dealt with in just one line, and nothing on currency arrangements – both key areas for foreign policy development.
There was no mention of the fact that a foreign government, the British government, would own Scotland's two biggest banks.
Critics also argued that the Irish government, which was referred to extensively in the paper, last year spent 900 million on its foreign affairs department. This would be well beyond the 568m Scotland spends in its share of the UK's Foreign Office.
The Nationalists said Ireland's foreign affairs bill was actually closer to 216m in 2007 and said the experience of smaller nations showed that Scotland could have a "better focused" foreign policy, less interested in "power and status".
Unveiling the document, Mr Russell said: "I believe we are at a key moment in Scotland's story. This paper sets out options for the people of Scotland if they choose to seek further responsibilities for their parliament and government. It is time that Scotland had a stronger voice in Europe, and indeed beyond, to represent our interests, needs and priorities."
But Labour MP Anne McGuire claimed there was a "glaring contradiction" in the paper. "It reads like somebody has written it for a school project, not like a serious government document," she said. "They cannot assert that Scotland needs something different, but in the same breath decide to piggy-back on our existing experience and structures."
The document has given further momentum to calls for Holyrood's audit committee to hold an inquiry into the National Conversation. Members from all three main opposition parties on the committee have raised concerns over the 700,000 cost of the exercise and the use of taxpayers' money and civil servants' time on "SNP propaganda".
Conservative deputy leader Murdo Fraser, one of the MSPs to call for an inquiry, said:
"Would an independent Scotland be a member of Nato? Would an independent Scotland join the euro? We never hear the answer to these questions – no wonder they have to ask everyone else."
Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Mike Rumbles MSP said:
"SNP ministers should be working with the EU to find ways to help lift Scotland out of recession. Instead, Alex Salmond has sent Mike Russell to continue their one sided conversation on independence. This is absolutely outrageous."
Bold words, but what's truth?
The Scotsman's David Maddox on the document unveiled by Russell:
THE RHETORIC …
THE document states: "A Scottish embassy network could and should look very different from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office model. Scotland's approach would be much more likely to be similar … to those of other small nations."
It also states: "The building of alliances and smarter deployment of resources better focused on Scotland's needs, rather than the projection of power and status, would be key to representing Scottish interests internationally."
The document argues an independent Scotland could get full membership of the UN and EU. EU membership would give it more MEPs, the chance to chair the Council of Ministers, negotiate more strongly on issues such as fishing and have its own commissioner.
It states that, as a small nation, Scotland will provide leaders for world initiatives on security, peace and reconciliation, plus organisations like the UN, saying small countries are more likely to be chosen.
The paper discusses allowing joint citizenship, both British and Scottish.
On defence, its only line is: "An independent Scotland would ensure it had the appropriate capability."
It states Scotland would welcome asylum seekers and refugees. It also suggests a "green card" system.
The document states: "In many senses, Scotland's relationship with the rest of the UK would be enhanced, not diminished by independence."
… THE REALITY
THIS appears to be contradicted by suggestions later in the document that it would want to share facilities and possibly staff at UK embassies. But the SNP has said this already happens with the UK and other EU members in some countries.
The argument here is that Scotland could better spend its Barnett share of UK foreign affairs cash – 568m. But it ignores the reduction of costs through working as part of a larger unit. Critics claim Ireland spends 879m on foreign affairs.
This takes in a lot of assumptions, particularly over the EU and Scotland's influence as a small nation. Scotland would probably have to renegotiate its membership of the EU and this may mean it pays more than it does now as part of the UK.
This has been taken by critics as an example of SNP hubris on the importance of Scotland based on assumptions with no real foundation. It also seems to go against the view that Scotland would not be seeking "power and status" in its foreign policy.
The section is vague and appears to be offering people "independence lite".
It does not detail if Scotland would be a Nato member and what the consequences of withdrawing would be.
It reflects a feeling that immigration is based on the south-east of England. But it works on a possibly wrong assumption that Scots are more welcoming.
This is designed to quell concern of bad feelings in England. Critics argue, as a competing nation, relations will inevitably be worse.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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