Tweet, Tweet! e-Diplomacy for an Independent Scotland

Nicola Biggerstaff – 23 September 2022

As foreign royalty and dignitaries from around the world gathered in Westminster Abbey for Her Majesty the Queen’s funeral, it became clear that this once in a lifetime event was her influence personified. Leaders from across the Commonwealth and beyond were witness to one of the most expensive displays of diplomacy in modern times, with traditional diplomatic relations represented in their simplest form of showing up. Absences are more notable than attendance, arriving by car more notable than arriving by bus. Every decision is a coded message to the trained diplomat, and it was a clear glimpse into where the Commonwealth stands now, where it may stand in the future, when we have those necessary conversations on the legacy of empire.

Now we move into a new era, we need a rethink on how we in Scotland can stay ahead on the international stage, in a way which doesn’t waste our resources or keep us tethered to the past. Should we in a future independent Scotland move to a republican system of governance, how can we attract the same level of global attention to our interests, without the drain on public funds of a state wedding, state funeral, or banquet?

The first step for a fully independent government in this endeavour should be to establish a strong online presence. Primarily through platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, this will allow our government to represent us on the international stage in a way which is easily accessible around the world. Anyone at any point is only one online search away from discovering a rich array of Scottish culture and current affairs, one tweet away from becoming immersed in the debate themselves.

In this way, the concept of eDiplomacy is not that new. The Scottish Government already has the foundations for this in place, with most (if not all) government ministers, MSPs and councillors having some form of online presence on these platforms. People may think this is only for self-promotion, only thinking ahead to the next election. For some this may be true, however when it comes to our international presence, it’s more than constituents who benefit from their regular updates.

The First Minister’s online presence is noted for her conveyance of the Scottish Government message across the globe. It’s her tweets which generate the national media attention sufficiently to extend this to the international stage. The Scottish Government’s latest steps to abolish period poverty by making it compulsory for institutions to provide free sanitary products was praised by news outlets around the world. The positive attention has improved Scotland’s image on the international stage and even encouraged similar proposals in other countries, including 35 US states. Thanks to the nature of the internet, influence is only ever a retweet away.

Think of the regular updates we receive on Ukraine from President Zelenskyy’s Twitter account (@ZelenskyyUa with 6.5 million followers), with updates on the conflict, as well as meetings and phone calls with foreign representatives fully laid out in his feed in Ukrainian, immediately followed by the English translation. What would be the purpose of this, other than to keep foreign press fully briefed on the actions of himself and his government? By reporting back in a widely spoken language among media representatives, this allows for ease of reporting back to their news agencies, keeping the Ukrainian War at the top of the agenda thanks to the ease of access to information.

Translation services have always been essential to any successful diplomatic relation, and being able to conduct these first hand, without the need to hire translators or, even worse, have your counterpart hire their own, is a bonus. It suggests a desire to reach out, especially when translating into English, to as far afield as possible. We can also take the example of the Swedish diplomatic presence on Twitter, who have gone so far as to set up separate accounts for their Ministry for Foreign Affairs (Utrikesdepartementet), one to tweet in English (@SweMFA with over 68,000 followers) and one in Swedish (@Utrikesdep with over 60,000 followers). Other accounts like this exist under the Swedish diplomatic mission, including the UN mission to Geneva (@SwedenGeneva with over 10,000 followers), the UN mission to New York (@SwedenUN with nearly 65,000 followers), and the EU mission (@SwedeninEU with over 15,000 followers). We could learn a lot from this, how to tailor our online presence to meet the ever-changing circumstances of foreign relations.

Luckily in Scotland, as an English-speaking nation, translation services aren’t essential in most of our dealings. The majority of foreign counterparts with whom we regularly have dealings with either already speak English, or have easy access to English speakers to assist. This doesn’t mean we should abandon translation entirely. This could even be an opportunity to introduce the world to our languages which have been subject to resurrection in recent years. Scots and Gàidhlig have been subject to major investment from the Scottish Government in recent years and up until now, many have argued that this has been a waste of money and resources on languages which are ‘dying out’. So why not put them to use here? Use our online platforms to promote the languages alongside our culture, painting a more diverse picture of Scotland on the international stage than ‘How funny was that tweet from 2016?’

The virality of Scottish culture also lends itself to any future diplomatic endeavour. ‘Scottish Twitter’ is a regular feature of online content, our humour raking in views globally. What about all those times on holiday when wait staff would gush at how much they loved having you around? Personally, I was the life of the party when I went down to England to see my twin cousins for their birthday one year, their friend’s ability to understand what I was saying slowly deteriorating as the night (and the drinks) went on. It makes us relatable, honest, and human; all traits which form the basis of friendship, and this would translate on the diplomatic level provided we work upon our online presence. Working to incorporate culture into our international message can only aid us further.

eDiplomacy gives us the tools to expand our reach prior to independence, setting early foundations to future diplomatic relations. It’s something we should work on now alongside our current international endeavours, like our hubs and development commitments, to ensure we stay with the times, and don’t get lost in the pageantry of the past.

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