How to run a foreign policy when you have no authority

This post was prepared in haste just before the second Salmond/Darling TV debate on 25 August. The press say that Scotland’s place in the world may be a topic on the programme and I thought this post might form an interesting context. We shall see.

There’s a type of positive thinking called neuro-linguistic programming that believes by constant repetition you can

Create your own future history.

The SNP in government have been very good at this, although only the referendum will tell whether they’ve been good enough.

This is what they do.

They not only want to change the constitutional position of Scotland in the future, they push constantly at the boundaries of what they’re entitled to do.

Take the example of foreign affairs.

Not a devolved matter. Full stop.

Yet lo and behold, they have a cabinet secretary for culture and foreign affairs, and a minister for external affairs and international development (they also have a minster for transport and veterans, even though they also have no remit for defence. But that wee foible may be a discussion for another time).

Here are some of their pronouncements on foreign affairs in 2014 found on the News area of the government web site. I have excluded announcements related to routine EU matters dealt with through the UK government, international tourism marketing, the Commonwealth Games, and SNP proposals for an independent Scotland.


  • Government to support tours by arts companies to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, USA and Canada
  • Minister for external affairs and international development to visit Malawi and Zambia
  • A project which can transform the lives of thousands of Malawians by delivering affordable and accessible renewable electricity is to be extended by the Scottish Government
  • First minister announces aid to Syrian refugees


  • Finance minister visits Norway to explain Scotland’s approach speaks at a conference in Norway on social enterprises
  • Rural affairs secretary discusses agricultural issues in Brussels with EU commissioner
  • Government urges support for persecuted Ugandans


  • Finland and Scotland are in partnership to help secure funding for shared issues
  • External affairs secretary launches a Nordic-Baltic Policy Statement to widen and deepen Scotland’s relationships with countries in that region
  • Scotland sees Polish migrants as an asset, not a threat
  • Grants for 11 Scottish organisations to pursue projects in Malawi, Bangladesh, Tanzania and India
  • Education secretary leads delegation to New Zealand for conference on the teaching profession
  • Scotland to host 2018 conference on the teaching profession


  • Scotland week strengthens links with North America
  • First minister meets Faroe Islands prime minister


  • Cabinet Secretary for culture and external affairs to visit Poland
  • External affairs secretary visits Ireland to build links and co-operation


  • External affairs minister congratulates new Malawi president on his election
  • First Minister attends D-Day Memorial in Normandy
  • Scotland is playing a key role encouraging collaboration between countries with Arctic territories and Nordic regions
  • Cabinet secretary in Orkney to celebrate bicentenary of Norwegian constitution
  • First minister strengthens Sino-Scottish relations


  • External affairs minister comments on the Srebrenica genocide on its 19th anniversary
  • Medical help for Gaza
  • External Affairs minister comments on the situation in Gaza and Israel
  • First minister comments on Malaysian airliner crash
  • Scotland prepared to accept Palestinian refugees
  • Scotland’s international profile has never been higher
  • First minister comments on situation in Gaza
  • First minister calls for more UK action on Gaza
  • Funding for Gaza


  • Call for UK Government arms embargo to Israel
  • Appeal for Gaza
  • First Minister statement on Iraq
  • Scottish funds support Ebola fight
  • Practical aid in Africa making difference to thousands in Rwanda, Zambia and Tanzania
  • Advice against trade with illegal settlements in the occupied territories of Palestine.

The referendum ‘purdah’ period started on 22 August so there should be no more such government announcements until after 18 September.

Taking any one of these statements in isolation a critic of No Thanks! might say my criticism is churlish. After all, why shouldn’t the government support worthwhile projects in poor countries and seek to pursue trade links to Scotland’s advantage?

But it’s the overall scale and impact of the pretensions of the devolved administration (yes I use the provocative phrase deliberately) that raise doubts.

Note how a preponderance of more recent statements refer to the admittedly dreadful situation in Gaza. That couldn’t possibly be related to that part of the referendum electorate that is Muslim, could it? Yet I see no concerns expressed about the situation in Ukraine. A couple of positive references to Poland raise similar electoral suspicions.

As a taster of what an SNP foreign policy post-independence might be none of this fills me with any confidence.

If I were the UK government and the referendum hadn’t been on the horizon I would have been strongly tempted to slap down the pretensions of a devolved government that has no responsibility for foreign affairs.

As I say, always pushing at the boundaries.

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One Response to How to run a foreign policy when you have no authority

  1. Reblogged this on jillstephensonblog and commented:
    A timely and well-observed blog that covers an I portent area. The Scottish govt keeps telling us that it does not have the funds to pay for social projects that are reserved, where does it find the money for this reserved item?


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