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To see ourselves…

John Edward / May 2023

Image: Shutterstock

 

C'est un effet admirable des progrès de l'esprit humain, qu'aujourd'hui il nous vienne d'Ecosse des règles de goût dans tous les arts…” Voltaire, Gazette littéraire de l'Europe, 4 April 1764.

This year sees the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Scotland Act, which (re)established a Parliament in Scotland.  The Government of Wales Act confirmed a similar process in Wales, while the Northern Ireland Act implemented the Good Friday Agreement and returned devolution to Northern Ireland.  All three had a substantial impact on the nature and complexity of UK relationships in Brussels and the wider EU, not all of which have fully adapted to a post-withdrawal life.

The Scotland Act affirmed that “International relations, including relations with…the European Communities (and their institutions)…are reserved matters”, namely powers that remain at Westminster.  Indeed the Scottish Executive (now “Government”) was restricted from seeking any legislation or act incompatible with any Convention rights or with Community law.  None of this prevented the strengthening of what had previously been seen as “regional” representations in Brussels, with some of the UK home nations moving up the league of powerful sub-state actors in the EU, where jurisdictions like Bavaria, Flanders and Catalonia had been long established.  Scotland House, including the well-established Scotland Europa, re-launched in Brussels in 1999, occupying the former footprint of the UK Representation in the EU quarter in Brussels and offering the chance of “Seeing Scotland in a new light”.

Since that time, and almost irrespective of administration, Scottish governments have engaged what is often called “paradiplomacy”.  In some cases this was to advance regional interests that were less of a priority for the Member State, such as rural or isolated communities, or aspects of energy generation and distribution.  Latterly, as Scotland has elected First Ministers from the Scottish National Party, those interests could be argued by some to actually differ in ways from those of the national government.

One recent development in Scotland’s sense of its place in the world is the establishment of a Scottish Council on Global Affairs – a joint initiative by the ancient universities of Glasgow, St Andrews and Edinburgh.  Resolutely non-partisan, the Council has the declared support of at least 3 of Scotland’s main political parties and was launched last year by both the UK and Scottish governments.  This is the first time such an institute has been set up in the UK outside of London, despite models like the Chicago Council proving that presence in the country’s capital is not a prerequisite for increasing knowledge and engagement in global affairs.  Equally, institutions like the IIEA in Dublin prove that helping shape and debate a global future is not limited to the largest world players.  The experience of the Coronavirus pandemic, coming on the heels of UK withdrawal from the EU, and followed by the return of land war to the European mainland has underlined the need for international cooperation and multi-disciplinary expertise to address the political, economic, security and public health challenges of the twenty-first century.

To date, the Council has looked at a range of issues that show how international concerns are shifting beyond traditional boundaries and borders.   A recent report considered how international law might respond to, and attribute blame for, the growth of ‘ransomware’ as a threat to state and non-state actors.  Events have studied the evolution of Citizenship in Europe, and the strategic, economic and environmental importance of the Arctic High North. 

Most recently, the Council has looked at whether Scots’ attitudes are distinct from their English counterparts.  Responses to these indicate that the median Scottish respondent is little different from their English counterparts; Scots are less militaristic and isolationist in outlook, but differences are modest.  On relations between the UK and the EU, the seminal issue in UK politics since 2016, there is little to separate Scottish and English views on close or distant future EU relations.  Views on the EU itself are generally higher in Scotland than England – perhaps most evidently borne out by the results of the 2016 referendum itself.  Only in terms of personal identification do numbers diverge noticeably, with twice as many in England seeing themselves still as supporters of ‘Leave’ than Scots, who are almost 50% more likely to identify with ‘Remain’.

On areas where there has been some discrete policy movement, such as Scottish Government championing of feminist foreign policy objectives, polling demonstrates a clear majority of UK voters also are supportive, suggesting that elements of Scottish paradiplomacy are potentially ripe for examination by UK parties seeing votes in the next UK general election.  Equally, Scotland will have to consider whether assuming that the 2016 referendum would recharge the movement for Scottish independence has perhaps proved that national differences are not as great as assumed.  25 years on, it may be that the United Kingdom can start to look within its own borders for some ideas, dans tous les arts, as to where its external affairs are may be heading.

 

John  Edward

John Edward

May 2023

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