Globe from above

Scotland and the World: Sorted

Nicola Biggerstaff

I must admit, it is getting increasingly more difficult to witness global tensions escalating without becoming completely overwhelmed with despair every few hours. While we cannot, and should not, look away from the atrocities being carried out globally, now should also be a time to look inward: what can we do as citizens to change things? Where do we even start?

The British foreign policy landscape is one steeped in hundreds of years of regular, consistent damage control. The government has never been averse to an intervention, and airstrike or invasion or two, but this latest round in collaboration with the United States in Yemen signals a fearful escalation for an already contentious region, all thanks to… our own previous interventions and airstrikes.

The tit for tat nature of these escalations has never ended well historically, and this is not what their people want them to be doing. We must speak up when the government refuses to represent us on the international stage and instead pursue their own, self-serving agendas.

In Sorted, we write in depth about the ideal foreign policy stance Scotland could take using the powers of independence, including a new approach to foreign policy, how we should culture our own future alliances, and how we should legislate on immigration.

Firstly, we should aim to be a good global citizen overall and above all else. Making a commitment to doing no harm first and foremost will set the foundations for more open, positive international relations with a broader range of actors.

Sorted accepts the recommendations of the Scottish Council on Global Affairs (SCGA) in their 2022 report, which advocates for an adaptation of the original ‘3 R’s’ of Feminist Foreign Policy in the Scottish context, Rights, Resources and Representation, and instead recommends adopting the ‘3 A’s’: Ambition, Authenticity and Accountability. This addresses the main critiques of the original policy, namely its neoliberal outlook and its failure to incorporate intersectional social issues such as racial inequalities and environment.

An ambitious foreign policy will, in the face of our limited resources as a smaller nation, see Scotland make as much of a difference as we can. An authentic foreign policy will see us putting our money where our mouth is, with measurable interventions which replicate genuine measures taken at home. It would be hypocritical to dedicate resources to tackle global poverty while rates of poverty domestically continue to skyrocket, for example. And a foreign policy which is accountable also acknowledges the damaging legacies of previous foreign policy in developing nations globally.

Pioneered by the Swedish government back in 2014, adopting a Feminist Foreign Policy would place Scotland among such socially progressive nations as Canada, Germany and the Netherlands who have already adopted it in previous years. The Scottish Government has adopted some version of these principles already, but of course without the full spectrum of powers offered by independence, we have extremely limited scope to flex our diplomatic muscles.

An independent Scotland should aim to join the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation as quickly as possible, and aim to maintain as frictionless relations with our near neighbours and the rest of Europe as legislation and trade agreements would allow. We’re not here to showboat or pick a fight, but to build good relations as broadly as possible, and aim to make an impact with our initiatives.

We should aim for as little involvement in foreign conflicts as possible. However, maintaining a status of blanket neutrality may not always be an option in the face of, for example, blatant violations of international law. Assessing stances and alliances on a case-by-case basis as and when issues arise would allow us to maintain a flexibility which is not afforded to those in legislated or long-standing alliances. In practice, this means an independent Scotland should not apply to become a member of NATO, in order to avoid the risk of being dragged into conflicts and escalations we have no involvement or interest in.

A caring approach to immigration would aim to reduce levels of poverty among new migrants entering an independent Scotland, for whatever reason. Aiming for integration from day one, with the resources of a fully funded National Care Service embedded into the infrastructure of immigration policy, will assist all new migrants, whether they’re here to study, or seek asylum, or are here for economic or familial reasons, in acclimating to our culture, accessing our public services and employment opportunities, as well as navigating our civic and democratic systems.

To summarise:

Scotland has always been an international country and our independence would enable us to improve our international links enormously. But perhaps no opportunity is greater than to leave behind Britain’s post-imperial delusions and aggressions. For far to long we have been stuck in a foreign policy which is utterly dominated by our belief that it is our right to interfere in other nation’s business in pursuit of our own self-interest. Scotland has the chance to develop a different personality, to take a different stance, to be a different kind of friend to the world.

This is all, of course, just a snapshot of Common Weal’s foreign policy work. Scotland has the potential to be a trailblazer on the international stage, and leave outdated means of conducting ourselves in the past. To find out more, grab your own copy of Sorted: a handbook for a better Scotland here.

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