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Scottish Independence and Scotland's Future
Scotland in the World
Advancing into the World
Scotland’s expanding Field of Vision by James Wilkie


Advancing into the World

Scotland’s expanding Field of Vision

By James Wilkie

The old Britain is already dead.  No matter what the result of the independence referendum may turn out to be, times have changed and there is no way back to a past that has now ceased to be the status quo, and not even a No majority will change that.

A positive vote on the referendum question will immediately throw the issue of Scotland’s future status into the international arena.  It is here that there are obvious dangers arising from the Nation’s three centuries of being cut off from the world.  Not the least of these dangers arises from the lack of foreign policy expertise on the part of Scottish political leadership at one of the great turning points in our history.

Now, I am well aware of the current importance of the SNP, at least after it had, at the last minute, wakened up sufficiently from its all-or-nothing dream to support devolution.  Without the active support of the SNP campaign apparatus, and on a lesser scale those of the LibDems, Greens and SSP, the 1997 referendum campaign for a Yes vote could have floundered.  Only at a very late stage did the SNP awaken to the importance of devolution as a necessary step towards independence.

It saw the light only after the Council of Europe, at the instigation of the Scotland-UN Committee, had already forced action on devolution of political power to Scotland and Wales under threat of international sanctions, and up to that stage with no SNP involvement of any kind.  

If devolution had been left to the SNP, to this day we would still be waiting for the party to gain a majority of the Scottish seats at Westminster.  That, however, is now history, and we must now turn our attention to the future.

I have supported the SNP government at every turn on its competent handling of domestic issues – an astonishing achievement for a party that had never in its history held government office – while pointing out that it is right out of its depth on diplomacy and foreign affairs.  It is exactly those fields of action that have now moved into a position of central importance for the achievement of independence, and it is here that the major signs of weakness are more than evident.

A command of diplomatic negotiation techniques and a comprehensive analysis of contemporary trends and developments on the international scene are the primary functions of government that mark the difference between administering a devolved system and governing an independent state in a global context - especially since the latter has changed out of all recognition within the past 20 years or so.

There is no indication that the Scottish Government and/or its advisers has come anywhere near grasping the fact that we now have global governance (and I mean governance, not government).  

Another institution in the same position is the European Union, which on economic issues and certain others is now to a large extent just a centre for passing on policy decisions taken by the global institutions like the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) or the all-important World Trade Organisation (WTO), which hardly rates a mention in the recent White Paper, amongst its many other deficiencies on the broader aspects of independence.   

It is obvious that the Scottish Government, in view of its lack of on-board expertise on the broader aspects of independence, has been relying extensively on external advice by academic and other consultants.  Now, I am not disparaging academic advisers (I am one myself), but unless their “ivory tower” knowledge is backed up by a good deal of “coal face” and practical “hands-on” experience then their advice is in many cases very limited in application.  

Constitution drafting can be carried out at academic level, and the SNP has enough financial (and monetary?) expertise available, but that does not apply to every field of action covering external issues.  In particular, active diplomacy at the intensive level demanded of independence negotiations needs considerable experience of practical negotiation techniques and much else besides.  

In any national foreign service the number of people who get to carry out policy formulation and serious negotiation is very limited. Service in an embassy in itself may involve no more than routine duties like newsgathering and reporting.  In diplomatic, intelligence and security services, where knowledge is compartmentalised in progressive stages as well as on a need-to-know basis, mere membership of one of these services is no guarantee of a comprehensive know-how or possession of an overview of the field as a whole.

In my 40-odd years of experience in international affairs, including innumerable one-man special assignments on behalf of the Foreign Minister, I have covered the entire range of policy from A to Z, which is unusual in an age when specialisation is demanded.  For 16 years I brought out my Foreign Policy Yearbook as an official statement of national policy, based on access to the papers of every department in the Ministry.  I served as Rapporteur and Expert on Mission for the United Nations around the world as well as at UN HQ.

I think I have seen every diplomatic trick, and every form of political skullduggery imaginable, as well as some that are not.  I had to clear up the debris personally after an espionage disaster, and I had to cope with the notorious Waldheim affair back in the 1980s, when the objectives of an international power struggle hinged on defaming the former United Nations Secretary-General.  And a lot more besides.  Some of this is on the Internet, and some will remain secret indefinitely.

In the light of hard practical experience I can tell right away from the Government’s White Paper that the SNP is being very inadequately advised, or indeed actively manipulated, in those sectors of policy that lie outwith its normal domestic range of expertise, or which demand projections of future global trends and developments, presumably because its advisers in those fields are themselves not up with the latest developments on the international scene.  

The SNP’s quite inordinate concentration on the sub-regional European Union (Scotland in Europe), (which in reality is very far from being European) is a case in point, especially by comparison with its neglect, due to obvious ignorance, of far more important international organisations.  The SNP has apparently been unduly influenced on EU membership by the so-called European Movement (see membership) (aka Euromove), an organisation set up by the CIA for other foreign policy objectives when Frank G. Wisner was head of covert operations.  How can the SNP tell if the advice it is receiving is competent, or not a malignant stratagem by vested interests?  In this field it itself does not know enough to be able to judge.

As I have repeated incessantly over a period of years, the SNP did not bring about the present national movement in Scotland, because it itself is merely the most prominent symptom of the same, and not its cause.  Having pursued a thankless struggle for three quarters of a century, it is carrying a huge load of outdated baggage from its past, and it is as green as grass on those contemporary aspects of global statesmanship that are now the most vitally necessary for the government of a sovereign independent state. (See Scotland in the World)

The Scottish decision makers simply do not know their field of action once they move onto the international stage – although in their inexperience they may think they do.

We have to support the present Scottish Government towards the achievement of the immediate goal, but not to the extent of allowing it or any other single party to dictate the form of government in Scotland after independence has been achieved.  A lot can be left until constitutional independence has been finally established as an essential basis for everything else, but certain things have to be made clear even at the present stage.  

The final result has to be achieved through non-party consensus by the entire Nation of Scots, and not through dictation by persons who imagine themselves to be possessed of some God-given insight into truths that are a closed book to the common herd.  Even at the present stage we need the devil’s advocate, but a constructive one.

Scotland’s future must be mapped out by the best brains with the best qualifications and experience that the Nation can assemble, together with reference to the best advice available from external sources, while disregarding political affiliations.

Until that consensus has been achieved, and confirmed by democratic approval, no steps must be taken towards committing the new state to international agreements, memberships or commitments that might prove to be disadvantageous to future generations in the longer term.

Independence gives us a glorious and unrepeatable opportunity to make a fresh beginning on first principles.  It should not be thrown away by hasty decisions on a short-term basis, by acceding to manipulation by vested interests or simply the emotive needs of individuals.  The future is a long time, and it is not our prerogative to subject Scots of future generations or even centuries ahead to the consequences of decision making that we have arrived at without regard to its future effects.