Scotland 'should invest more' in foreign policy, former SNP MP claims in book

Scotland lags behind other similar sized sub-state actors such as Quebec and should increase its overseas presence if it is going to maintain its international standing post-Brexit, a new edition of a former SNP MP’s book claims.

The position comes amid opposition anger about the expansion of the Scottish Government’s overseas offices, with Nicola Sturgeon opening a new ‘Nordic Office’ in Copenhagen, Denmark, last week.

In a new edition of the book, Nation to Nation: Scotland’s Place in the World, by Stephen Gethins, the professor of practice in international relations at St Andrew’s University labelled such criticism “short-sighted”.

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House of Commons research, commissioned by the office of SNP MP Brendan O’Hara, states Scotland spends less on external affairs than similar sized sub-state actors despite £27.6 million being spent in 2020/21, increasing to £33.4m this year.

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By comparison, the Canadian province Quebec will spend around £74m on ‘international relations and francophonie’ this year, including £33m on Quebec’s Representations Abroad.

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Flanders, a region in Belgium, spent €184m [£158m] on international policy in 2020, while the Catalan government will spend €28m [£24m] and €39m [£34m] on foreign relations and development co-operation respectively this year. The Basque country spent €53m [£46m] on external relations in 2018.

Writing in the book, Mr Gethins states Brexit will require Scotland to work “harder” due to the fewer ties with EU institutions, and said this demands the Government be “even more inventive in its international engagement”.

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First Minister for Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has faced criticism for her government's approach to foreign relations

This, he writes, “will require investment at a time when resources are stretched”.

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“If Scotland is to maintain its links, there will have to be an increased presence in Brussels, other EU capitals and around the world”, he adds.

Scotland’s new Nordic Office, situated inside the British Embassy in the Danish capital, is the Scottish Government’s ninth international office.

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It forms part of the wider official international presence that began in 1992 with the establishment of ‘Scotland Europa’ in Brussels.

However, Mr Gethins took aim at opposition politicians for attacking the First Minister and the Scottish Government for its approach to international engagement, claiming travelling and meeting foreign leaders “is and should be part of the job”.

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Ms Sturgeon was accused of being “caught asleep at the country’s wheel while rubbish is piling up on [our] streets,” by Sharon Dowey, the Scottish Conservative spokesperson on Europe, during the SNP leader’s trip to Copenhagen.

Mr Gethins argues this is the wrong approach and is “short-sighted” criticism.

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“Although it has been difficult in recent times due to the pandemic, face-to-face political engagement is also important,” the former SNP MP writes.

"Scottish politicians are often criticised for travelling, but it is and should be part of the job. There is a place for scrutiny and responsible use of public funds, but criticising travel for the sake of it is short-sighted.

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"Travel is exhausting and can take you away from home, but in an inter-connected world international engagement should be a part of a minister’s role. It certainly is elsewhere in Europe where states have built and maintain relationships across borders.”

The sixth and final episode of the brand new limited series podcast, How to be an independent country: Scotland’s Choices, is out now.

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It is available wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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