The SNP Government Is Unilaterally Creating Its Own Foreign Policy

Humza Yousaf - Scottish National Party - SNP - Foreign Policy

Grandstanding SNP politicians do not have the right to unilaterally set British foreign policy

In a concerning report by the Herald Scotland, it transpires that the SNP government north of the border is attempting to create its own mini foreign policy, not aligned with nor cleared through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Westminster.

More concerning still, the fact that the Foreign Office quite rightly asked the Scottish government to cease and desist from this irresponsible behaviour is being portrayed as the real scandal, rather than Nicola Sturgeon’s back-of-an-envelope attempt at statecraft.

From the report:

The Foreign Office in Westminster is demanding to vet Scottish Government dealings with other countries on human rights, according to correspondence seen by the Sunday Herald.

The UK foreign minister, James Duddridge, has asked the Scottish international development minister, Humza Yousaf, to clear all his letters to foreign governments with the UK government before raising concerns about human rights infringements and other matters.

The move has infuriated Yousaf. “It beggars belief that the Tories – who are in the midst of scrapping the Human Rights Act – want to vet the Scottish Government’s letters raising human rights concerns abroad,” he said.

“I am proud of the SNP raising concerns about human rights without fear or favour – and certainly will take no lessons from the Tories on this,” he added.

“Whilst we are happy to share correspondence with Westminster, as we have done to date as a matter of courtesy, we certainly will not be asking or seeking permission before raising legitimate concerns about human rights.”

And for context:

Yousaf wrote to Duddridge and the Malawian High Commission, Kena Mphonda, on December 16 2015 raising concerns about the arrest of two Malawian nationals, Cuthbert Kulemela and Kelvin Gonani, for alleged homosexual offences.

Duddridge replied on January 7 2016, saying that following representations from the UK government, charges against the two men had been dropped. “You mention that you have written to the Malawian High Commissioner on this matter,” he wrote.

“While it may be useful that the Malawi High Commission is aware of your concern about this issue, I would be grateful if correspondence with governments on human rights and other reserved matters be cleared through this department.”

There is no grey area or room for interpretation here – this was a completely irresponsible act on the part of the devolved Scottish government. Foreign and defence matters are reserved to the UK government and Westminster parliament as you would expect in any country even remotely based on the principle of subsidiarity. It is not the job of any of the devolved assemblies – in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland or indeed England, if there was one – to enter into sensitive diplomatic correspondence with other sovereign nations.

Imagine for a moment that one day California or Texas decided to start acting as an independent agent on the world stage, raising all manner of issues with foreign governments, and maybe even negotiating their own trade deals or bilateral arrangements. The federal government in Washington, D.C. would rightly never tolerate such an arrangement, as it would undermine the very sovereignty and credibility of the United States. The same goes for Scotland.

Whether the SNP government had a point is immaterial. In this case, the SNP and their buccaneering international development minister Humza Yousaf (again, a role which should not exist in a Scotland which remains part of the UK) are probably on the right side of the issue. Malawi has a very concerning record on LGBT rights and the persecution of individuals, and the concerns raised were valid. But being right on this one occasion does not validate the wholly offensive principle of Scotland creating its own mini foreign policy behind the UK’s back.

In typical virtue-signalling SNP fashion, Yousaf tries to fold this issue into their pitched battle against the Heartless Evil Tories in Westminster, saying he will “take no lessons from the Tories” on human rights. But this isn’t about human rights. It is about the structure and proper running of our country. If we now establish the principle that self-regarding Scottish politicians can make interventions like this with foreign countries, what is to say that they cannot one day scupper a sensitive trade, security or intelligence negotiation by blundering onto the scene and undermining the UK’s position?

Even if the Scottish government happens to be right, any differences of opinion on foreign policy matters should be discussed and settled behind the scenes, so that the UK government can speak with one voice. Anything else will see the UK mercilessly divided and conquered by our foreign negotiating partners.

The Scottish people voted in 2014 to remain part of the United Kingdom on the understanding that certain additional domestic powers would be devolved from Westminster. Whether or not you believe that the UK government has delivered on those pledges, at no time was the idea of an alternative Scottish foreign policy raised for debate. There was no expectation that the Scottish government should be an independent actor on the world stage any more than the governor of Iowa or Texas can sign treaties with North Korea.

But as with so many other matters, a repeat of instances like this can only be prevented if we decide once and for all what kind of country we want to live in, and how the various parts of it should work together. And that means holding a constitutional convention as soon as possible. Given the approaching EU referendum, some time shortly after 23 June would seem to be a good time.

If we are to truly resolve the roiling questions about the future of the United Kingdom and our democracy and settle these issues for a generation or more, we need to collectively agree a fair and equitable devolution of powers to the four home nations on an equal basis. The question of whether England is treated as a home nation or a group of regions is of secondary importance, though this blog strongly believes that for true parity, England must be treated as a single entity just like Scotland. But this discussion must take place soon, within the wider context of a full constitutional convention.

Such a convention would give us the opportunity to debate and agree which powers should properly reside at each level – the federal UK government in Westminster, the devolved assemblies in the home nations, and county and town councils. We can simultaneously reform our legislature, ideally making the House of Lords democratically elected and ejecting the Lords Spiritual so that Britain no longer ranks alongside Iran as the most prominent technical theocracy in the world.

If this all seems ambitious and unlikely, then this is only a failure of our imagination. There is no good reason why we should not have such a debate (well, there is one reason – the future of the monarchy – which will be discussed in a future blog post). And as Pete North argues, why should we not be ambitious in terms of the future governance of our country?

Do nothing, and we can be sure that more of these instances will occur in the future, with ambitious Scottish politicians looking to make a name for themselves and burnish their human rights, national security or trade credentials by taking advantage of our lack of a written constitution and designing their own far-reaching roles on the world stage, with no oversight and no accountability.

Enough. No more SNP diplomacy by numbers. Whether they happen to be right or wrong on a given issue, for so long as Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, diplomacy and foreign policy should be a reserved matter for our shared government in Westminster and not hijacked by the Scottish nationalists.

That is the settlement which the people of Scotland signed up for in the 2014 referendum, and that is what they should now get.

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5 thoughts on “The SNP Government Is Unilaterally Creating Its Own Foreign Policy

  1. lanarkist February 29, 2016 / 10:16 AM

    Universal Human Rights are not negotiable, they are a right!


  2. Joe February 29, 2016 / 9:35 AM

    The main difference between Scotland California and Texas is that Scotland is a sovereign nation and is a country within it’s own right whereas the other two are states. And previous to that as you also well know is that Scotland had been an independent nation for hundreds of years. The union is in it’s death throws and we’d rather not be seen throughout the world as having the same extreme right wing xenophobic views as the Tory buffoons or the truly dense UKIP. If you don’t like Scotland using it’s voice I suggest you kick Scotland out the union and do us all a massive favour.


  3. Michael February 29, 2016 / 8:54 AM

    Couldn’t disagree with this article more. It is right that political parties have the right to express an opinion wether in government or not, (as labour do) especially on human rights issues. You also seem to forget the UK is not a country it is a state made up of countries.


  4. Suzanne Smith February 28, 2016 / 11:19 PM

    I’m English and as much as I would like Scotland to stay in the UK, they don’t tend to be as stupid as English people to not remember the past history of Tories when they lie, as soon as they read a Tory propaganda headline. You don’t see many Scottish people crying on Question Time because they believed the Tories, as they remember that Tories have harmed more British people and society than anything from the EU. They know that Tories don’t have the interests of most people at heart. They know that UKIP is made up of extreme ex-Tories who are against EU as it’s stopping them from abusing British people, and their main policy is to get rid of human rights from all British people.
    If we leave the EU then Scotland will want to be a separate nation in the EU more than ever, and then Tories will then turn England into a USA state like they have done before, and make everybody else in the world hate us for reasons only the few at the top benefit from.
    Despite Tories first getting us into the European market when they thought it would only be good for the upper classes and their corporate donors, as soon as there were EU directives good for most people such as allowing workers enough breaks and making companies label GM food, Tories made the rest of Europe hate us and also Ireland on the other side when they made no attempt at a peace plan, dubbing out voices of N Irish politicians in the media so we didn’t know other opinions, putting us all in danger.
    Lots of people go on about Blair and Iraq, but they forget that it was the Tories who made us so involved with the USA that we couldn’t have left for the 2nd war if we wanted. Boris Johnson tells us what to do with the EU, when he can’t or pretends to not remember what his own party has done, because on same TV show everybody made a fuss with his Germany never used chemical weapons comments, nobody noticed he said there wasn’t a vote on the 2nd war against Iraq, when more Tory MPs voted yes to it that other parties.
    Thatcher made us the only country that allowed the USA to use us as an airport to bomb Libya which killed Gaddafi’s child and led to Lockerbie. Other countries wouldn’t even give them airspace and made them fly around. That was in the cold war when Russia was an ally of Libya, USA was planning the Star Wars protective shield but we would have nothing. I remember a lying question dodging Tory being asked lots of times on the TV what protection we would have in Reagan’s Star Wars while being their lap dogs, and he eventually said we wouldn’t have anything.
    Then John Major made us the 2nd largest force in the 1st Iraq war, and we were the only other country going on bombing raids with the USA in the region up until 2nd war, so that we couldn’t have left all our commitments there on the day before USA decided to go to war a 2nd time.
    It’s happening again now. We’re arming Saudi Arabia while saying less brutal nations like Syria under Assad need to be overthrown, supporting the USA sending arms to extremists groups against Assad so that Islamic State are driving around Syria in trucks the USA sent there.


  5. Barry Rainey February 28, 2016 / 8:59 PM

    what a pile o crap,so the scottish goverment can only have an opinion if the uk goverment likes what it says ,dream on


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