Scotland’s Foreign Policy Footprint

Part of Delegated Legislation (Committees) – in the House of Commons at 8:06 pm on 3rd December 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Gethins Stephen Gethins Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 8:06 pm, 3rd December 2018

I am grateful for the opportunity provided by this Adjournment debate, which, happily, coincides with St Andrew’s Day last Friday. As well as being marked by Members from across the House, it was of course marked by millions throughout the world, including the tens of millions of Scots through birth, residency, ancestry or affinity. St Andrew’s Day is of course particularly important for me and my constituents, because I have the great privilege of being the Member of Parliament for St Andrews, whose cathedral marks its 700th birthday this year, which I am sure all of us throughout the House can celebrate. It was built to commemorate the battle of Bannockburn, as I am sure we all can today. The cathedral was lit up on Friday, for the first time in a decade, to mark our patron saint.

As such, it seems apt this evening to reflect on Scotland’s place in the world and its foreign policy footprint. I say to the Minister—I know he understands this—that we should have this debate regardless of Scotland’s constitutional future. We should have a sensible debate when discussing soft power and the attributes that Scotland brings to the international community. Obviously he and I will have different views on Scotland’s future, and that is entirely legitimate, but I do not think it should take away from our having a sensible discussion of one of the Foreign Office’s greatest foreign policy assets—[Interruption.] That being, as well as the Minister, Scotland’s soft power and the benefit it brings to the Foreign Office’s diplomats in doing their work.

Before I really get under way I should add, for the record, that there are a fine range of Scottish organisations. I refer to my declaration of interests, in that I am a trustee of the John Smith Trust and an adviser to Beyond Borders Scotland. Both roles are unremunerated, but I should bring them to the House’s attention.

I hope the Minister does not mind my saying this, and it is no criticism of him, but there have been times when the Foreign Office has perhaps been a little Whitehall-centric and conventional in carrying out its work over the past few years. I sincerely hope—in fact I know—that he will take my arguments in the spirit in which they are intended, as a constructive part of the discussion about how we conduct foreign policy throughout this Chamber and beyond. I accept that he may not agree with me entirely, but I hope he will appreciate the genuinely constructive way in which I hope to carry out this debate, to which I am sure all my colleagues will hope to contribute. Look at them—do they not look like a constructive bunch?

First, I wish to talk about Scotland the brand. Scotland may not yet be independent, but I think everybody can agree that we have undergone a significant constitutional journey in recent years, with Scotland having reasserted itself on the international stage since the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. All parties can take some credit for the fact that we have gone through that constitutional journey. We have at times had difficult and divisive discussions and debates, but they have always taken place in a spirit of democracy. We should all take some pride in that journey.

Scotland has significant soft power resources at its disposal. It is quite remarkable that a nation that is not yet a recognised independent state has such a recognisable brand, which many independent states would highly envy. I can remember, when I worked in South Ossetia in the south Caucasus, discussing Burns with local veterans. His work was so widespread throughout the former Soviet Union, bridging the gap between warring factions in that conflict. It has been translated into all the languages of the Soviet Union, including Ossetian. It was incredibly important for me to be able bridge that gap through Burns—through our soft power.

Despite the truth of history and despite what may have happened in history, Scotland’s history is often, rightly or wrongly—I make no judgment—viewed quite differently from that of our neighbours across these islands, not least our larger neighbour directly to the south. That is something we should all try to use to our advantage. We have a valuable global brand.