2007 - 2022

A Foreign Policy for Scotland

This is the speech on foreign policy to the Scottish Independence Convention conference on 7 November 2010 at the National Piping Centre in Glasgow

The spur that converted me to Scottish independence was to do with foreign policy. I was heavily involved in the anti-war movement and it was through it that I came into contact with members of the SNP. From the thought that we wouldn’t have been dragged into that disaster if we had been independent, everything else flowed.

I describe myself as an internationalist nationalist. While opponents may like to deride us as wanting to opt out from the world, the opposite is the case. Yes, we can rid ourselves of the vestiges of a imperialist London foreign policy, but this means a greater role for Scotland in the world, not a lesser one.

Worryingly though, for a country that is not far from the goal of independence, there is a real lack of a foreign policy culture in Scotland. It may have been fine in the past to abdicate responsibility for this to the FCO, but we need to galvanise more people to be engaged in these matters to achieve all that we can.

We have to lead with our values. Making Scotland a force for good in the world. Meeting our obligation to giving 0.7% of GDP in aid, rather than dragging our heels for decades as the UK has. Being able to sing about our commitments on climate change to the world, rather than being frozen out of the key discussions as we were at Copenhagen last year. Upholding human rights and being against torture under any circumstances. The kind of country where Craig Murray [speaker on the same panel at the conference] could be ambassador!

Scotland could be an international centre for peace. Witness the role played by Norway in brokering the Oslo accords. Angus Robertson, MP for Moray, brought delegations from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan to Speyside for talks a few years ago. As a nation that gave up nuclear weapons we would carry additional moral weight.

Much of the time, upholding these values can be seen as inhibiting trade. It leads to a political trade-off in deciding what is more important. However, Scotland as a force of good would also help with trade. The profile and stock of our country would rise. Even more so if our neighbours continued to engage in illegal and pointless wars.

Our assets are clear. Massive renewables potential, one quarter of Europe’s wind offshore. It’s time to start realising that, rather than it continuing to be potential for the next decade. Golf. Tourism. But no embassies that are marketing any of this. Scottish Development International exists but is inadequate and inadequately resourced. By way of example, UK Trade and Industry has 2,400 employees in 96 countries around the world, often in British embassies. By contrast, our African, Middle East and Southern Europe HQ is in Paris of all places. Our South African regional HQ is in London.

We have to use immigration better. People coming to Scotland from around the world brings natural links. Scotland though has one of the most ethnically homogenous populations in Western Europe, for whatever reason. We need more people, with energy, fresh ideas and new ways of doing things.

We need to better use people of immigrant stock already here as well. Everyone speaks of the need to tap into the Chinese market for example, but this solely seems to consist of sending politicians who can’t speak the language over there for meetings. Meanwhile, there has been little or no effort to utilise, mobilise and promote our Scottish Chinese population toward this endeavour, with all the advantages they have at building those bridges.

Our connections with the world have to improve. That includes more direct flights to and from Glasgow and Edinburgh Airports. Having one of them owned by a different company to the one that owns Heathrow will undoubtedly help.

It also means a high speed rail connection to Europe. Currently, the UK government are setting in motion a plan to link up England’s main cities – Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds – via London and the channel tunnel to Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and other major cities. If Scotland is on the periphery now, this plan will put us even further into the margins. Westminster have kept cross border rail reserved and have stopped the Scottish Parliament borrowing to supplement its pocket money handout. We are not even in a position to build a mile of track between Paisley and Glasgow Airport never mind construct the high speed future Scotland needs.

Full fiscal autonomy may grant these powers, but even if London could stomach the competition this would represent, and gave up dependence on Scottish oil, from a foreign policy perspective it’s the nightmare scenario. Some may prefer this kind of federal arrangement, but of all this things to leave at Westminster, would it be foreign policy? We can do it better.

For this though we have to imagine Scotland in the world from now. Relations built. If we’re not allowed into conferences to talk about our world-leading climate policies, we should have friends around the world pressuring the UK about it. If the UK government is telling lies about Scotland’s oil, the world’s media should be asking them about it. If our Scottish government have got excellent policies, as we did on Iraq, our politicians should appear on the global media to talk about it.

Friends, independence isn’t just desirable or possible. It is inevitable and it is time we started acting like it.

Osama Saeed is one of Scotland’s foremost peace activists and human rights campaigners, you  can read his regular blog here.

Comments (11)

Leave a Reply to Mustafa Arif Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Ian Hamilton says:

    As another Internationalist Nationalist I cheer for this piece.
    I have asked the SNP to formulate a foreign policy for years.
    Ian Hamilton

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks Ian – Osama talks common sense with clarity and vision – a rare thing these days. A vision of us being able to be part of the world is essential to countering the framing of independence as ‘separation’.

    2. Osama Saeed says:

      I finally got to watch Stone of Destiny on Friday! Thank you for everything you do and have done sir.

  2. Mustafa Arif says:

    You’d prefer the Malcom Rifind / Alex Salmond appraoch to dealing with Slobodon Milosovic then?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Is that Malcolm Rifkind?

    2. Osama Saeed says:

      I think it was at this conference someone said that the only Scottish troops stationed abroad should be ones with blue UN helmets on. One problem is that the UN is in need of major reform though. There may be times when there would be a moral imperative to intervene abroad as long as it is effective and there is a large swathe of international and public opinion with it. Iraq clearly didn’t check any of the boxes. I wrote about this previously here http://www.osamasaeed.org/osama/2007/04/where_it_all_we.html

    3. Tess says:

      I bow down humbly in the prsecnee of such greatness.

  3. Mustafa Arif says:

    Yes, Malcolm Rifkind, sorry. You will recall that as Foreign Secretary during the Bosnian war he gave the example if the disgraceful position of appeaseing Milosovic later argued for by Alex Salmond during the Kosovo crisis (Mr Blair’s original “illegal war” – and one that I suspect was supported by most Muslims, including Osama.)

  4. Observer says:

    Salmond’s unpardonable folly comment related to the tactics that NATO used, as they would accelerate civilian death – which they did.

    I anticipate that there may be a lot of negative comments made about Mr Saeed’s alleged links to very very bad people who want to blow us all up, because there always are.

    However I thought that the article was very good & have saved it.

  5. McGillicuddy Dreams says:

    “Scotland could be an international centre for peace. Witness the role played by Norway in brokering the Oslo accords. Angus Robertson, MP for Moray, brought delegations from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan to Speyside for talks a few years ago. As a nation that gave up nuclear weapons we would carry additional moral weight.”
    I enjoy the vision of this sentiment being felt by the world when they think of the scottish nation and its population. The same drive for Scotland to be a light of peace and reconcilliation in the world could be understood readily by many and could be underlined many fold by actions amplified under an independent state. Many ideals can be achieved and imitated through good governance of foreign policy.

  6. hamish kirk says:

    I hope and pray that an independent Scotland will not be involved in imperialist adventures like the ones in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.