Category Archives: politics

Scotland’s foreign policy



Wales as part of Englanti
Originally uploaded by hugovk

Scotland hasn't had a foreign policy since the Act of Union in 1707, and to some extent not since the Unions of the Crowns in 1603. It is therefore interesting to have a look at what kind of international outlook an independent Scotland is likely to have.

First of all, every country is to a large extent focused on its neighbours. Whereas from London the neighbours listed by a combination of closeness and size are France, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Norway and Iceland, the list of the neighbours as seen from Edinburgh goes something like England, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Germany, France, Netherlands and Belgium. In other words, Scotland is likely to pay much more attention to especially Norway, Denmark and Iceland than the UK; on the other hand, Scotland will probably not be as preoccupied with France, although I'd expect the relationship to be very friendly, perhaps even to some extent reviving the Auld Alliance.

Secondly, Scotland is likely to have a very close relationship to Canada, the US and other countries with significant numbers of citizens of Scottish descent. According to Wikipedia, there are almost 10m Americans and almost 5m Canadians of Scottish descent, which is likely to make these countries close partners. Other countries with significant numbers include Australia (1.5m) and Argentina (100k).

Last but not least, the UK's foreign policy is to a very large degree defined by be effects of the British Empire. Scotland would be much less tainted by this (although of course Scots played a full part in the Empire). So whereas the UK has a difficult relationship with Argentina because of the Falklands and with Spain because of Gibraltar, there is no reason why an independent Scotland shouldn't enjoy cordial relations with both Argentina and Spain. Scotland would also be a normal member of the UN without a veto in the Security Council and without nuclear weapons, so there would be less of an incentive to formulate a policy vis-à-vis all the countries of the World.

To sum up, I expect Scotland's foreign policy to be focused on Scandinavia and North America, and to be friendlier and less global than the UK's.

Independence for Shetland and Orkney?



Shetland_dsc_0946
Originally uploaded by image_less_ordinary

Tavish Scott and some of his unionist friends have been having fun recently suggesting that Shetland and Orkney might separate from Scotland in the case of Scottish independence.

As far as I can see, there are theoretically four options for Shetland and Orkney if Scotland becomes independent:

  1. They can remain part of Scotland.
  2. They can become part of Norway (or Denmark) instead.
  3. They can become part of England.
  4. They can become independent.

Option (1) is of course the most straightforward option. Although option (2) would perhaps tempt some of the islanders temporarily, I'm not sure they'd really want to learn Norwegian as their first foreign language, introduce Norwegian law, go to university in Norway, and so on. Option (3) would possibly appeal to some of the islanders, especially those of them who have moved there from England; however, would the majority of the population really want to be flown to England for complex hospital treatments, or by default go to university in England? Also, the islands have never in their history belonged to England, so it'd be a somewhat strange outcome. Option (4) is of course a possibility, but they have a very small population and don't even have experience with devolution.

I think it's a good idea for Shetland and Orkney to get some degree of autonomy within Scotland. Perhaps this would over time develop into full independence, although I'm doubtful. However, to leap from being a full and integrated part of Scotland to becoming an independent nation overnight would be a complete shock to the system, and I'd be very surprised if the islanders themselves would go for it, especially as there is no established independence movement on the islands as far as I know.

I can therefore only conclude that Tavish Scott is just trying to spread uncertainty and fear about the prospects of Scottish independence – he's not really advocating separating the islands from mainland Scotland. I would have hoped the unionists had some positive arguments in favour of the Union, but that might have been too much to hope for.

The LibDems suffered because of incompetence in Scotland, too



tavish speech 07
Originally uploaded by Liberal Democrats

The English media have to a large extent described the LibDem collapse in Scotland in terms of dissatisfaction with the CoLD coalition.

However, although this is bound to be part of the explanation, I don't think one should underestimate the part played by their own sheer incompetence in the Scottish Parliament.

As I blogged exactly four years ago, the LibDems behaved very strangely in refusing to even sit down with the SNP.

Back then, the obvious interpretation was that they only wanted to form a coalition with Labour, but now that they're in a coalition with the Tories in Westminster, insisting on a Labour coalition up here seems a bit odd.

I think many voters asked themselves who would govern efficiently and stand up to Westminster in a constructive manner, and almost nobody thought that the LibDems were the answer to that question.

They need to redefine themselves. Perhaps, as suggested by Liberal Vision, there is a gap "on the pro-independence centre-right" that they could fill. I'm sure that would work better than whatever it was they tried over the past four years.

Let's see what the new leader decides to do!

The effect of the new government in Scotland



Act of Union_stamps
Originally uploaded by CowGummy

If I haven't blogged very much about the new UK government, it's mainly because it's so hard to blog about from a Scottish perspective.

Most of the interesting things they do don't apply to Scotland, and you can only blog so much about their deficit reduction plan.

I've found two good articles about this.

The first one is by Iain Macwhirter:

[F]rom a Scottish perspective it’s hard to pass much of a judgment on the performance of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition so far because, in terms of domestic policy at least, it’s almost completely passed Scotland by. Of the many initiatives that have been launched by the coalition in its first 100 days, very few actually apply here, apart from the deficit reduction programme and that hasn’t been implemented yet.

The second one appeared in the Caledonian Mercury, and it describes well how radical the new government is in England:

England is embracing the free market, a smaller state and weaker local authorities and Scotland is sticking with what it’s got – comprehensive education, a totally state-run health service and powerful councils.

...

So, if all this is happening in England, where does this leave Scotland? The blunt answer is: in a mess. Scotland is going to get the cuts but without the reforms. It is going to see swathes of public servants thrown out of work but without anything new structurally to take their place.

Although it might not have been the coalition's intention, I think it's becoming abundantly clear why Scotland needs full independence, or at the very least full economic autonomy. The alternative is the abolishment of Scottish devolution, and that wouldn't go down very well north of the border!

Is the Scandinavian model restricted to Scandinavia?



Swedish Guard
Originally uploaded by Brendan Plant

Charlemagne is quoting Johan Norberg for wondering whether the Swedish model is restricted to Sweden: "If countries don't already have a tradition of an efficient, non-corrupt bureaucracy with an impressive work ethic a larger government only means more abuse of power and more waste of money. I often try to convince Americans, no, more government in the US would not get you a big version of Sweden, it would get you a big version of the US Postal Service."

It's an interesting point, and I think it's at least partly true.

I do think Sweden in this context can be replaced by a much larger area, at the very least Scandinavia and parts of Germany, but living in Scotland, I can see that many things are just not working because of different attitudes.

For instance, buses are regularly late, but people just shrug their shoulders and use their car the next time. In Denmark, people would be very upset and it would eventually become a priority for the government to sort out.