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 thank my hon. Friend. Scotland has an important role to play in the new landscape and in more imaginative ways that we need to tackle conflict. That came out of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s reports, and I know that the Minister himself has been reflecting on it.

I commend Beyond Borders Scotland and Mark Muller Stuart for recognising Scotland’s role in his work at the United Nations and bringing the First Minister on board with some of that work. That was seen most recently when Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy to Syria, decided that Scotland should host his women’s advisory body as part of its work around implementing Security Council resolution 1325. Let me quote from Mark’s article in yesterday’s Sunday National:

“On 5 May 2016, all party leaders in Scotland”— this was the day after the Scottish parliamentary elections, so full credit to all the party leaders—

“came together to welcome Syrian female peacemakers from both sides of the divide to the Scottish parliament with the support of the FCO. It was an event that was unlikely to have occurred in London. Following this collaboration, the First Minister committed the Scottish Government to provide funding for the training of fifty female peacemakers every year for the next five years with the support of the UN. This is but one example of Scotland’s growing standing and capacity to act in the service of peacemaking.”

I ask the Minister to reflect on that. Scotland’s First Minister has shown outstanding leadership in this area, which is dear and close to her heart. However, as with facing up to climate change, due credit must go to the leaders of all parties in the Scottish Parliament, who together, on the day after those Scottish Parliament elections—just imagine!—came together to work with peace makers from the troubled conflict areas in Syria. I give due recognition to all the leaders of the political parties in the Scottish Parliament for having done so. Perhaps that attitude in another Parliament of minorities can enable us, working together across the divide, to deliver these benefits. But maybe that is for a fuller debate another day.

Let me say quietly and gently that Scotland can also act as a bridge to Europe in these troubled times. We know that regardless of what happens next week, the relationship with our European partners—our key partners; our closest partners—has been damaged by Brexit, whether we like it or not, leavers or remainers. There is recognition that Scotland voted to remain and wants to remain engaged. Through our businesses, political institutions and others, Scotland can act as a bridge when we try to reconstruct, one way or another, that damaged relationship between the United Kingdom and its European partners.

Our responsibilities, given conflicts in recent years, mean that we need to reflect on the mistakes that have been made. I have reflected on the Foreign Affairs Committee’s comments on the response to Libya, and that can be seen elsewhere, such as the conflict in Iraq. I know, and the Minister knows, that there are many fine officials in the Foreign Office and elsewhere. I have met a large number of them, including the new ambassador to Myanmar and our ambassadors in Kiev and Tbilisi. They are excellent officials working in extraordinarily difficult situations. I also reflect on a meeting I had with the then ambassador to Libya, who was working incredibly hard in one of the most difficult situations imaginable.

I know that officials are looking at new and innovative ways of tackling challenges, but at times the UK is held back in its foreign policy by a failure to think outside the Westminster and Whitehall box. I hope the Minister does not think that too harsh; it is not a reflection on him, but merely on the culture. That could be holding us back in tackling foreign policy challenges in a more imaginative way.