The Pressure series: Helping others see us

“What Scotland is seeking is the kind of meaningful local democracy which empowers it to be a responsible partner nation among all the other countries in the world, and we should say so with confidence.”

In the final part of The Pressure Series, Ellen Höfer and Craig Dalzell look at how Scotland can use pressure on and from the international community to help Scotland become an independent country.

We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” – Henry John Temple, Lord Palmerston.

MUCH of the current debate about the process of Scotland becoming independent is framed around the idea that if we go about it the ‘wrong’ way then Scotland will be rejected by the ‘international community’.

Whilst this may very well be true, the opposite – that if we go about our independence in the ‘right’ way, we’ll be automatically welcomed by that community – is not a given. Nor is it a given, as several senior Scottish politicians have claimed, that if Scotland does go about the process in the ‘right’ way yet we are still denied our independence by the dictat of the British state, that the ‘international community’ will rally to Scotland’s cause in the face of the obvious democratic outrage. As former British PM Lord Palmerston said (and as Henry Kissenger paraphrased), nations do not have allies, only interests.

It is the interests of nations that dictate whether they will weigh in on Scotland’s behalf, back the UK Government against Scotland or simply stay silent. Whether or not your country recognises states like Taiwan or Palestine, or whether or not it recognises the results of independence referendums in places like Catalonia or Kurdistan will very likely hings on the interests your country has with and in those places, their neighbours and the countries from which they are seeking to become or remain independent.

But if lack of interest might work against Scottish independence, this isn’t to say that the international community could not be engaged to our benefit. Protest at democratic outrage cannot be taken for granted, but could it be encouraged by our actions?

It is certainly the case that the long-running saga of Brexit has caused the UK to burn a great deal of its trust and usefulness on the diplomatic stage. And political shifts in certain countries – notably the replacement of US President Donald Trump (and his long-standing personal grudge with the Scottish Parliament) with Joe Biden who, if not necessarily a Scotophile, certainly has strong Irish roots and a sensitivity to British maltreatment – may open opportunities for Scotland to both boost its own profile on the international stage, as well as to help to diminish the UK’s. There are concrete steps that Scotland can and should be taking in order to help build links to other nations.

Policy with international self-awareness

None of our policy decisions should be taken without self-awareness about how they may be perceived  internationally. Awareness in the context of a nation aiming to be a thought-leader does by no means suggest Scotland should only lean back and ape policy decisions taken elsewhere, but it does require us to understand that if we break from international norm, we must do it for and with good reason.

A horrifying example of how the Scottish Government has failed to do this recently is contained in the Sustainable Growth Commission’s suggestion of the so-called ‘Annual Solidarity Payment’ to the UK, an indefinitely payable lump sum of billions, including an annual £1.3 billion in foreign aid, to be spent on Scotland’s behalf by what at the time of independence will be a foreign nation’s government: Westminster.

Why? Why on earth would any progressive wee nation choose to relinquish one of the greatest mechanisms for meaningfully building its international profile and ability to show its proactive, transformative goodwill with the international community? A payment of solidarity with the only nation who has not only shown Scotland none, but has also decided to decrease and further tarnish its own standing among its peers? Why bind our own helping hands when instead we can use them to shape the future? It is precisely this type of convenient lack of self-awareness that would leave Scotland even less empowered after independence than it is now. 

The bonds that we strengthen from today and into the future must be of the kind of substance that can resist tension, strain, pressure and heat. As we have outlined in part three of our Pressure series within a UK context that very much does mean mutual support with nations and movements that we share goals with and fighting for timeless, worthy causes, rather than against short-term destructive forces.

The same is true outwith the context of the United Kingdom. Scotland shares important interests and ambitions with nations around the world. How about Costa Rica, the environmentally most advanced and happiest country in the world, with a population and land area only a little smaller than Scotland’s, which abolished its army in 1949 and instead funnelled the free-up budget into education, health and pensions? It, too, struggles with its own ecological footprint and that is despite the fact that since 2015 all but 1 per cent of its energy is produced through renewable resources. Scotland, on the other hand, has the opportunity to independently perform significantly better on income inequality and may want to get some pointers on how not to design inadequate taxation policies. Happy, equal and green are ambitions we know Scotland must pursue, but it need not do so in a self-constructed vacuum.

Reframing nationalism

The Scottish independence movement has prided itself for many years of creating an image of ‘civic nationalism’, of one linked to place and inclusive community rather than ethnicity and exclusion. However, while other UK nations and the left media are starting to buy into this branding exercise this reframing has only been partially successful beyond our own borders. Especially in Europe, there is a deep suspicion of nationalism in all its forms, regardless of the precursor adjective nations like to attach to it: ‘social’ nationalism also sounded happy-clappy right until it wasn’t.

Scotland’s drive for independent nationhood is about independence rather than the nation part. What Scotland is seeking is the kind of meaningful local democracy which empowers it to be a responsible partner nation among all the other countries in the world, and we should say so with confidence. This is the message that any country will find it hard to disagree with and we, as campaigners for Scottish independence, should do our cause a massive favour by ceasing to point at the pre-school grade civic nationalism fridge art we have admired with much heart and little reason for years.

Human rights 

It is clear that the UK Government’s actions against human rights differ from the approach Scotland would want its government to take had we control over all the powers required for change. From treatment of vulnerable groups like those from a low-income background to disability rights, immigration, health and safety, employments, access to food and housing, data protection, privacy, equality, healthcare, welfare and to the loss of rights and protections resulting from Brexit to each no-longer-EU-citizen in the United Kingdom, the reality is that every Scot stands to lose rights they used to be protected by.

This regression in the absence of full devolution of powers will become more pertinent as we head into 2021, and though we have spent four and a half years burying our scared, angry heads in the sand, the fact has not yet changed the approach of the Scottish Government, nor significantly increased the vehemency of calls for action from our movement to those democratically mandated to protect Scotland and its inhabitants. But it should.

The international community does pay attention to whether nations do or do not violate the human rights inside and outside of their nation-states, but are not necessarily inclined (though at the very least morally obliged) to interfere unless it is in their direct self-interest to do so. This is in no small part due to the nature of representative politics – often doing the right thing can be a secondary motivator to a number of other factors, like whether it will look good in the media, how it will impact budgets, whether it does or doesn’t open financial opportunities and many others. Self-interest is a motivator on stages both small and personal or big and national stage, and public pressure is as important a deciding factor as moral obligation ought to be.

So what does Scotland have that can raise public recognition of Scotland and pressure on the governments at home in the various nations of the international community? We have new Scots. From European citizens being set up as UK government’s Brexit collateral to the victims of the Windrush scandal, from first, second and third generation migrant communities to refugees and asylum seekers from around the world and even those migrants the British public tends to overlook as being migrants, white, native English-speaking folks that are just as much subject to the immigration policies of the hostile environment, nearly all of them are still connected to nations outside of Scotland through family, friends and heritage.

Protecting New Scots is not just the morally correct thing to do (we all know how much our Scottish Government indulges in declarations of welcome and equality) it can also be a highly effective means of rallying international support behind our wee nation’s ambition of independence. To do this more proactive policy making is needed, the boundaries of devolution have to be challenged overtly in deed and national and international media and we have to be willing to actually do rather than just say (or write begging letters to the UK immigration minister and Home Office we know will be binned upon receipt). How do you get the ball rolling? By incessantly urging your elected representatives to do so. Now.

International bodies

The Scottish Government is already doing a fair bit in this regard – including its engagement with groups such as the Arctic Council and the Wellbeing Government’s Alliance. Even where Scotland is constrained by devolution in ways that limit its ability to formally join some groups of interest, it should consider if it can apply for Observer status with groups of interest or even if it can act even more informally by offering Scotland as a venue for meetings (and, of course, offering delegates the chance to see a bit of Scotland and what it has to offer while they’re here). Firm commitments to join such bodies as soon as we are able to would help to build bridges of friendship with nations who may have an interest in seeing us take a seat beside them.

International bodies

Similarly, Scotland should look at the international treaties that it may or may not want to join (or continue being a member of) upon independence not just in the light of its own interests but also in how our membership serves the interests of potential allies and puts pressure on the UK itself. One very prominent example would be the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which creates binding obligations on signatories to help other signatories remove nuclear weapons from their territory. If Scotland declared ahead of time that upon independence it would sign the TPNW it would force other signatory nations to start thinking about their role in helping us. 

Green tech and a GND

We often talk about the huge number of jobs that a Green New Deal is guaranteed to create in Scotland. Indeed, a GND that allows Scotland to meet the global climate targets in time for the IPCC’s now 9-year deadline is one that requires more workers than Scotland’s current workforce is able to fill on its own – and that is true for both workers of the highly specialized, sustainability trained kind and people in traditional roles such as plumbers.

As vocally pro-immigration as Scotland likes to portray itself to be, the reality of the fact that every nation on the planet is on the same incredibly tight deadline as every other nation means we cannot simply import skilled workers that other countries need exactly as much as we do to; any sensible nation at this point will also be trying to attract the exact same workforce.

A sensible nation blessed with a little bit of foresight (and in Scotland’s case a proud history of higher and further education) would do well to raise its ambition from just being a competitive climate leader. Instead, it could look towards being the first nation to map and realise a future as a thought and strategy-leading climate teacher, a hub of skills and knowledge with which it is able to both meet its own climate targets while in the process helps to train other countries’ workers with the skills they need, as well as to develop, demonstrate and sell technology, tools and parts needed.

A nation with this kind of ambition is setting itself up to be the nation every country in the world will not only want to be pals with, but also a nation which no one in the international community can afford to overlook.