What Nicola Sturgeon is looking to achieve from US visit

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
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The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will today cap what has been a successful foreign trip when she addresses a sold out audience at Stanford University.

It marks the next stage of a flying visit to California that has seen her meet luminaries such as Governor Jerry Brown (with whom she signed a climate change agreement) and Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Nicola Sturgeon met with Apple CEO Tim Cook during her five day tour of the US. Picture: Scottish Government

Nicola Sturgeon met with Apple CEO Tim Cook during her five day tour of the US. Picture: Scottish Government

While Tory critics at home ramp up their charge that the First Minister is neglecting her day job, her allies contend her trip will boost investment links, especially with regard to trade and tourism.

But with Prime Minister Theresa May also undertaking a foreign trip this week (in the Middle East) is Sturgeon attempting to promote herself as a different diplomatic option?

With most UK allies notably cool on independence for Scotland in the lead up to the 2014 referendum, there is an acknowledgement in the SNP that they need to build on international links.

Could establishing Nicola Sturgeon on the world stage be part of that strategy? We look at some of the possible reasoning behind the First Minister’s U.S visit.

The benefits

Of course, it would be churlish not to point out that the First Minister’s visit is one of simple economics.

The United States is the world’s largest economy, and trade links with any country of that size is common sense for any devolved Government.

This is especially true since Donald Trump took office, with many countries opting to try and quickly improve links before a protectionist economic regime gets its feet under the table in the White House.

READ MORE: Sturgeon secures investment on US trip

Perhaps it is significant that Ms Sturgeon will start her week in California and end it in New York, two liberal bastions which look to be the centre of any anti Trump resistance.

Indeed, Ms Sturgeon’s meeting with Jerry Brown could be seen as a snub to Trump officials given the California Governor is a sworn enemy of the new President.

The First Minister’s signing of a climate change agreement could also be seen as a rebuke to an incoming Presidency, Senate and House of Representative that are full of climate change deniers.

Alternative Diplomacy

It might still be ‘alternative facts’ that are all the rage in American political discourse but it could be an alternative brand of diplomacy that the First Minister is looking to bring to the country.

Theresa May’s approach to Brexit so far has left a lot to be desired as far as some of Britain’s allies are concerned.

The other 27 EU countries have balked at suggestions that the UK can somehow avoid paying a so-called divorce bill as Britain leaves the union.

A heavy-handed response from some sections of Theresa May’s party and allies in the press to Spain seeking approval over a deal that applies to Gibraltar have also taken seasoned diplomats aback.

READ MORE: Sturgeon US talks a sell-out

It could be, then, that Ms Sturgeon is trying to project herself as a political leader from the UK that other countries can trust, even if, as a devolved leader, her power and influence is significantly less than that of Mrs May’s.

Creating a differential approach to the UK Government in terms of foreign relations could also explain why Ms Sturgeon is meeting progressive politicians on her trip.

Theresa May, by contrast, is coming under fire yet again by travelling on a trade mission to Saudi Arabia, which has been criticised for its human rights record and treatment of women.

Ms Sturgeon will speak at the Women in the World conference in New York before heading home, an event headlined by Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The optics of the First Minister addressing a conference on empowering women while Theresa May visits a country that doesn’t allow women to drive might not be subtle, but they could certainly be effective.


An interesting aside to the First Minister’s trip, one which it would be interesting to see if local media ask her about, is the issue of ‘Calexit’.

A nascent movement for California to secede from the rest of the US has gathered pace since Donald Trump’s election after he lost the popular vote in the state by over four million votes.

The campaign is seemingly learning lessons from the one Ms Sturgeon was heavily involved in back in 2014.

An official Political Action Committee called ‘Yes California’ actually borrows the logo and branding of the Yes Scotland campaign.

They are trying to gather enough signatures to ensure that deciding to hold a de-facto referendum on Californian independence makes a statewide ballot in 2018.

The organisers of the petition, who say that California would be the world’s sixth biggest economy as an independent country, have until late July of this year to get just under 600,000 people to sign it.

SNP politicians have been quieter on Calexit than they are on other international breakaway movements like the one in Catalonia, but the First Minister’s visit raises the question of what she thinks of the organisation borrowing her movement’s branding.