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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We Should Welcome Tax Competition Between Scotland And England

Scottish Bank Notes - Scotland Tax Rates

Finally, the chance for variety in the United Kingdom’s fiscal policy

There is good news this week for all those who want the United Kingdom to ultimately move in a more federal direction and reconstitute itself as a country where broad swathes of powers are devolved to the four home nations, with only those critical central powers being reserved by Westminster.

The first tentative step on that journey could be about to begin, as Scottish Labour announce that they intend (if elected) to exercise Scotland’s right to vary their income tax rates from the standard UK rates set by the Treasury.

Of course, being Scotland, any divergence will be in an upward direction, as LabourList reports:

Scottish Labour would use devolved powers to raise income tax while ensuring compensation for low paid workers, Kezia Dugdale will reveal today.

In a major speech in Edinburgh this morning, the Scottish Labour leader will set out a clear position to the left of the SNP, by pledging to increase the Scottish rate of income tax to 11p – 1p higher than that proposed by George Osborne and John Swinney. Given the powers mean that income tax rates at each level have to be raised in the same manner, Dugdale will also announce a payment scheme that will boost the salaries of those earning under £20,000 by £100.

Good. It is about time that the United Kingdom saw a greater variety of fiscal policy, and this relatively modest proposal is a good way to start.

However, there are obvious shortcomings. The present mechanism for varying rates is clunky and deliberately difficult to use, with that awkward rule which states that all bands of income tax have to be increased or decreased in lock-step with each other, so that raising the top rate of tax by 1p would also require raising the basic and upper rates by the same degree. This restriction is wrong and unnecessary, and almost worthy of Gordon Brown in its devious childishness.

Why should the Scottish government not have the power to cut the basic rate of income tax but raise the top rate if it so chose? Or why should Scotland be prevented from taking measures to make income tax flatter, if hell froze over and they wanted to move in that direction? There is no just reason for denying Scotland this additional flexibility.

Scottish Rate of Income Tax - Scotland - UK - Fiscal Policy

And yet we should still be glad for this more limited proposal from Scottish Labour, constrained though it is by current laws. Firstly, we should be glad because it will inject an element of real democratic choice into the Scottish elections, and give voters a meaty, substantial policy argument to mull over instead of the endless independence question.

The Spectator celebrates:

Those of you who live in the rest of the UK will have no idea what a relief it is for us Scots to have some real politics to deal with at last. Scottish Labour’s announcement today that it wants to raise income tax for everybody in Scotland is terrific – simply because it means that this year’s election will be a real contest about real policies.

For the first time in years we are going to get an election which is not about the constitution.

[..] So, at last, Scots will face a real, political choice this May. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are on the left, promising to put up taxes and spend more on public services, the SNP is in the middle, promising to do nothing while the Tories are on the right, pledging to reduce taxes, if they can.

Secondly, we should be glad because although the impact of this policy debate will only be felt in Scotland, it may start a debate in the rest of the UK about the advantages of a more federal approach to governance of our union, allowing for variations in key policies to reflect local priorities and sentiments.

Of course, Scotland already has broad powers over healthcare, transport and many other areas of policy – a fact which the Scottish National Party was noticeably quiet about during the referendum campaign, preferring to falsely pretend that the root of all Scotland’s ills lay in Westminster. But such is the prominence of tax policy, felt by nearly everyone, that it is bound to be noticed. And perhaps when people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland see Scotland making adjustments in fiscal policy in line with their local priorities, they will start to make similar demands for fiscal autonomy.

And thirdly, this could be another potentially great opportunity to discredit left-wing orthodoxy on taxation, and begin to cure Scotland of the misguided but prominent notion that steeper taxes and a more harshly redistributive tax regime are the pathway to Utopian social democracy.

The sanctimonious glee with which Scottish Labour yearn to raise taxes is betrayed when Kezia Dugdale says:

We will tear up this SNP budget that simply manages Tory cuts and instead use the power we have to set the Scottish rate of income tax one pence higher than the rate set by George Osborne. This will provide an extra half a billion pounds a year to invest in the future.

It all sounds so wonderful until it actually happens. And then, lo and behold, everybody’s pay packet takes a hit, but any additional revenue which finds its way to government coffers fails to make much of an impact.

In this case, Scottish Labour’s generous estimation is that the move would raise £500 million pounds every year – though one strongly doubts they modelled the likely behavioural impact of this tax change when cooking up their numbers. But even in the unlikely event that this prediction proves to be solid, if all of the proceeds went to bolster education alone (and they won’t), by my calculation it would amount to little more than £700 per child, per year once measures to compensate lower earners hit by the higher tax rate are factored in – hardly the kind of bold spending increase to justify Dugdale’s crusading rhetoric about investing in the future.

Meanwhile, if Scotland raises income tax rates by 1p, the marginal person will decide not to take that job offer and relocate from Manchester to Edinburgh. The marginal person will think again about moving their family or small business north of the border. And since Scottish consumers will have less disposable income in their pockets, the marginal business will go bankrupt or close down. Their numbers may not be great, at first. But Scotland will have become a slightly less competitive place. And northern England will have become slightly more appealing.

But this is good. It is all part of the healthy competition of ideas, which for too long has been suppressed in the United Kingdom by our vastly over-centralised Westminster government. One of the reasons that the SNP have gotten away with their sanctimonious but ineffectual howling at the Evil English Tories for so long has been the absence of any meaningful counterfactual to Conservative policies. With no counterfactual, Labour and the SNP have been able to accuse the Tories of all manner of missteps and claim that their own policies would have been far more beneficial, without any need (or mechanism) to prove their claims.

That time could now be at an end. If the political parties in Scotland become more willing to use the powers of the Scotland Act 2012 to make the kind of biting tax increases that the Scottish people apparently yearn for, we will soon find out whether merrily cranking up the size of the state really does result in a happy population holding hands and singing under a social democratic rainbow, or if it actually leads to something else – the reluctant realisation that there might just be something to conservative fiscal policy after all.

My money is on the latter.

Scotland Income Tax

Chart: Scottish Parliament

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Nicola Sturgeon And The SNP Are Trying To Blackmail Britain

Nicola Sturgeon - SNP - Scottish Independence - IndyRef - Blackmail

First published at Conservatives for Liberty

For the sake of everyone else in the United Kingdom, 2016 must not be another year of coercion and blackmail by selfish Scottish nationalists

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, has presumed to tell the elected Prime Minister of the UK that our country is on “borrowed time”, and that if we do not mend our ways and immediately start enacting left-wing policies which were comprehensively rejected in the 2015 general election, we will lose the pleasure of Scotland’s company in the United Kingdom.

From the Telegraph:

Ms Sturgeon has prompted speculation about a quick second referendum by promising the SNP’s 2016 Holyrood election manifesto will contain details of potential “triggers” for another vote, such as the UK leaving the EU, and a timescale.

However, amid warnings it would be the nationalists’ last chance, she has made clear she will only call another vote when she is sure of victory.

[..] she warned David Cameron that Scots would weigh up independence “against the alternative” of Westminster rule and warned that he was “living on borrowed time” thanks to his refusal to listen to their views on Trident, austerity and greater devolution.

Nicola Sturgeon needs to learn her place. With all its new powers, the SNP has governed Scotland poorly; its policies on policing, education and tuition fees have failed. The economic success of Scotland – including high employment – is facilitated by the union.

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Mhairi Black’s Overrated Maiden Speech

 

By most accounts, the SNP’s Mhairi Black – Britain’s youngest MP in several hundred years – gave a great and powerful maiden speech when she finally spoke during the Budget debate this week. And so it was, if you lower the bar for greatness so far that it encompasses earnest, occasionally witty, wide-eyed socialist babble.

Certainly many Labour MPs were enthusiastic, as the Guardian reported approvingly when the speech went viral:

In the anti-austerity speech where Black called herself “the only 20-year-old in the whole of the UK who the chancellor is prepared to help with housing” after the age limit imposed on housing benefit, she also called for a healing of relations with the Labour party.

“I have never been quiet in my assertion that it is the Labour party that left me, not the other way round,” she said in the speech where she also praised the lateLabour grandee Tony Benn. “I reach out a genuine hand of friendship that I can only hope will be taken. Ultimately people are needing a voice, people are needing help. Let’s give them it.”

Several Labour politicians seemed receptive to her call for cooperation. Praise for Black’s speech was tweeted and retweeted by Labour MPs including Tulip Siddiq, Diane Abbott and Sarah Champion, as well as Labour’s Madeleine Jennings, the parliamentary researcher for MP Stephen Kinnock.

This blog disagrees with almost everything that Mhairi Black believes in, but has no personal animosity toward the twenty-year-old parliamentarian. In many ways it is refreshing and long overdue for someone so young to be included in the makeup of parliament, especially at a time when government policy (and state largesse) so overwhelmingly favours older people, with their selfish attitudes and non-means tested benefits. It is only a pity that Mhairi Black doesn’t represent a serious political party but rather a group of zealous, moralising fantasists who would tear up a three hundred year old union in a fit of pique over ten years of Tory Lite rule. But so be it.

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Westminster Must Brace Itself For The Arrival Of The Tartan Tea Party

2- SNP - Scottish National Party - General Election 2015 - Tartan Tea Party - Nicola Sturgeon

 

When parliament reconvenes, an astonishing fifty-six Scottish National Party MPs will take their seats in the House of Commons.

Despite having gained their 56 MPs on a vanishingly small 4.7 per cent of the national vote (as compared to UKIP, who achieved 12.6 per cent of the national vote but only 1 MP), Nicola Sturgeon is claiming some kind of mandate to influence government and oppose Evil Tory austerity.

This is mostly hubris. The SNP will be sitting on the opposition benches, which means that they actually get to sit things out for the next five years, spectating rather than playing some kind of deep and meaningful role in government – that particular dream died the moment that Ed Miliband’s Labour Party self destructed north and south of the border.

But though the SNP landslide is largely thanks to irrational voting by Scotland – a collective hissy fit from a nation who increasingly consider themselves more enlightened and progressive than their southern neighbours, demanding higher government spending paid for by anyone but themselves – there will naturally be an impact on the way that Westminster operates.

In terms of accepting the new reality, this piece from Alex Massie in The Spectator is right on the money:

The referendum taught us that Scotland is a place beginning to dream bigger things; yesterday’s results confirmed that. The SNP’s victory is a reminder that trust is the most valuable commodity in politics. Because the SNP are trusted – rightly or not – to put Scotland’s interests first they are forgiven their sins, contradictions and inconsistencies. They are held – fairly or not – to a different standard than that applied to other parties. There is little point in whining about this; it is just the way it is.

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