Scotland’s Place in the World

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 5 March 2024.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-12372, in the name of Angus Robertson, on Scotland’s place in the world. I invite members who wish to participate to press their request-to-speak buttons.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

This debate follows yesterday’s publication of the latest paper in the Scottish Government’s “Building a New Scotland” series, “An independent Scotland’s place in the world”, which sets out the values, principles and practical action that the Government believes should guide our international relations as an independent country.

Tomorrow, members in the House of Commons debating chamber will hear why independence for Scotland is essential and urgent. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will set out tax and spending plans within the context of a failing United Kingdom economy that is characterised by low growth, low productivity, low investment, poor living standards and high inequality.

Crucially, the chancellor is likely to ignore the economic calamity of a Brexit that has already wiped billions of pounds from the Scottish economy, compared with what we would have had with European Union membership. Brexit has worsened the cost of living crisis and left the United Kingdom looking increasingly isolated on the world stage.

Tragically and disastrously, the Labour Party is now fully signed up to Brexit, which means that it is fully signed up to the economic damage of leaving the EU, no matter the cost to Scotland. Although the Labour Party likes to talk about economic growth as its top priority, that is simply incompatible with its embracing of a hard Brexit that will see Scotland excluded not just from the EU, but from the huge European single market. That is the context for the paper that was published yesterday and for today’s motion.

When the Conservatives and Labour turned their backs on our fellow Europeans, they instead proposed a vision of what they call “global Britain”, which is apparently a buccaneering free-trading nation that has been released from what they saw as the shackles of the European Union. That vision has been a total economic and a diplomatic failure. One foreign affairs commentator described the so-called global Britain strategy as

“So sad. This politically illiterate, unilateralist international posturing is unreal. It’s un-realist. It’s humiliating for Britain, and it’s bound to fail.”

The Scottish Government, by contrast, is internationalist to its core. It is committed to multilateral organisations and to the principle of co-operation as we seek to tackle the great global challenges that affect us all.

Photo of Craig Hoy Craig Hoy Conservative

If this is such an important series of reports and if this is such a serious debate, why have only 10 of the cabinet secretary’s parliamentary colleagues turned up for it?

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

I look forward to hearing the member’s speech; I hope that he has something positive to contribute. I will make progress, Presiding Officer.

People in the rest of the UK will, of course, always be Scotland’s closest friends. As an independent country, there will be many issues on which we will agree with the rest of the UK. There is no difference, for example, between the position of the UK Government and the Scottish Government on Russia’s barbaric and illegal invasion of Ukraine. However, we take different positions on the need for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and on perhaps the most fundamental of foreign policy issues—our relationship with our fellow Europeans. People in Scotland want to go in a very different direction from that which is proposed by all the Westminster parties.

Within the constraints of the powers of the Scottish Parliament, Scotland has a strong record of international engagement, from our bilateral review with Ireland to our work on Arctic connections, as well as our international development programme. There are those across the Westminster parties who would want to see those powers constrained even further and for that work to be stopped. However, Scotland is not defined as a devolved Administration; we are an ancient nation, and my party, the Scottish National Party, and our partners in the Scottish Greens have an internationalist outward-looking vision for our country.

Independence offers Scotland the chance to play a full role internationally and to determine the kind of state that we want to be—one that promotes and protects human rights, acts on our values and principles and builds partnerships with others to address global challenges. Independence would allow Scotland to pursue Scottish interests internationally by focusing on the issues that matter most to people, communities and businesses here, while demonstrating our commitment to shared rules and international standards. As a new state with new powers, an independent Scotland would have the opportunity to make a fresh start and structure its diplomacy, working relationships and priorities accordingly, while not overlooking the legacy of its past.

Our ambition is to be represented at every level of European Union decision making and able to influence decisions and promote Scotland’s interests. With membership of the EU, people here would once again benefit from EU citizenship and the right to study, work and live right across Europe. As part of the world’s largest single market, an independent Scotland’s businesses would gain access to almost 450 million consumers without the barriers to trade that they face because of Brexit. They would also benefit from the opportunities that come from the EU’s ability to secure advantageous trade arrangements.

Today, though, we also look beyond Europe to the wider world. “An independent Scotland’s place in the world” sets out how an independent Scotland would take its place in the international community alongside 193 other United Nations member states, building relationships in pursuit of our international priorities.

The protection of the nation and its people is a first duty of every Government, and that would be no different in an independent Scotland. The Scottish Government proposes that an independent Scotland would apply to join NATO and would seek discussions with NATO leaders at the earliest opportunity following a vote for independence. As with the EU and the UN, there is much that we can offer as a NATO member. Scotland occupies a position of strategic importance, close to the high north and Arctic and facing out to the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. An independent Scotland would therefore be a key strategic partner in the collective defence of northern Europe.

We would commit to defence spending of 2 per cent of gross domestic product and would make democratic accountability a cornerstone of defence policy, so that an independent Scotland would participate in overseas military operations only if they were lawful, approved by Scottish ministers and authorised by the Parliament.

The Scottish Government is also clear that nuclear weapons would be removed from Scotland in the quickest and safest way possible after independence. That is entirely consistent with NATO membership, as 23 of the 31 current members neither possess nor host nuclear weapons.

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

My party and the cabinet secretary’s party have different positions on NATO—as I will outline in my speech—but we absolutely agree on the moral obscenity of nuclear weapons. Can the cabinet secretary confirm that the Scottish Government still supports the objectives of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons?

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

Yes, absolutely. The Scottish Government supports the objectives of the international Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. As the paper makes clear, the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland is a key priority, with a commitment to constitutional prohibition, which would mean that Scotland would be a non-nuclear-hosting NATO member state, just like our neighbours Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland.

As well as defence co-operation through NATO, the Scottish Government would participate fully in the EU’s common security and defence policy. In doing so, an independent Scotland would join the family of nations that are committed to the international rules-based system, playing an important role in peacekeeping operations, conflict prevention and the strengthening of international security.

The third pillar of an independent Scotland’s defence and security policy would be our relationships with our nearest neighbours in the UK and Ireland. An independent Scotland would build on our strong relationships with the other nations and Governments across these isles to assure mutual safety.

All of that would be considered in a comprehensive expert-led defence and security review that the Government would commission following a vote for independence. That would ensure that, by independence day, Scotland had the appropriate capabilities to protect and defend its borders, citizens, democracy and economic interests.

We would work with like-minded partners to advance an ambitious and progressive agenda, guided by our interests and values, including those that we share with the European Union, of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. In line with those values, the Government would commit to meeting the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on official development assistance, thereby helping to contribute to a more stable world. Multilateral connections would be an important way for an independent Scotland to achieve impact, through the United Nations, the World Bank and, of course, the European Union.

Even with the limited powers that we currently have, Scotland has managed to develop a reputation for our commitment to addressing the climate emergency. Tackling climate change and biodiversity loss would continue to be a top priority, as would focusing on fair and just climate action towards net zero greenhouse gas emissions and a more sustainable future. That would include building on our already deep and long-standing connection with Commonwealth countries from Canada to Malawi, and our growing connections with many others, including Rwanda and Pakistan.

Following independence, Scotland would actively participate in the Commonwealth as a consensus-based multilateral forum that gives equal weight to countries’ voices, no matter their size. To achieve that level and breadth of international engagement, an independent Scotland would have a dedicated international network, deploying the full range of diplomatic functions to promote and protect Scottish interests.

A further benefit of EU membership is that citizens of an independent Scotland who are in need of emergency assistance would be able to access the consular services of more than 2,100 EU member state missions around the world, which is significantly more than the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office currently has.

Independence would mean a new and better relationship with our friends in the rest of the United Kingdom—one in which we work together as equals to co-operate on shared challenges, with a renewed Scottish democracy being a force for good across these islands.

Today’s debate is about issues that are central to Scotland’s future. Indeed, it speaks to two very different futures—being inside the EU or outside it; being a part of the huge European single market or living with a hard Brexit; having a voice for Scotland as a member of the international community of nations or being subject to attempts to silence that voice; having a nuclear-free Scotland or spending billions of pounds on Trident; and being in a partnership of equals with our friends in the rest of the United Kingdom or in a Westminster system that is uninterested in Scotland’s concerns.

It was some decades ago that the former Presiding Officer and president of the Scottish National Party said:

“Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on”.

That is more relevant now than it has ever been. Scotland has the opportunity to take its place in the international fora and communities of nations—in the United Nations, in the European Union, in NATO—while working with our neighbours and allies on these islands.

I move,

That the Parliament believes that Scotland should be able to take its place in the world as a sovereign nation that acts based on its values and principles, working towards peace, sustainability and security as a good global citizen, and in the interests of its people.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Alexander Stewart to speak to and move amendment S6M-12372.1. You have around nine minutes, Mr Stewart.

Photo of Alexander Stewart Alexander Stewart Conservative

I am pleased to open the debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives, although it is disappointing that the Government has chosen to waste parliamentary time by debating today’s farcical motion.

This is not the first time that that has happened this year. Only two weeks ago, the Parliament was debating hypothetical social security powers in a hypothetical independent Scotland. Anyone viewing today’s proceedings could be forgiven for thinking that Scottish Parliament TV has started showing repeats.

In the light of the motion that has been lodged today—

Photo of Alexander Stewart Alexander Stewart Conservative

I will take some time before I take an intervention; I might take one later.

My amendment calls for the Government to put a stop to the continuous grandstanding based on constitutional grievances, which is where we have been and where we are again today. My amendment calls for the Government to stop engineering a farcical politics based on non-existent powers in a non-existent future. It calls on the Scottish Government instead to focus on the powers that it already has—the powers to fix Scotland’s national health service and to restore our once world-leading education system. Many people in Scotland wish to see those things prioritised and do not wish to see continuing debates of this nature.

However, all too often, it appears that those are not the interests of the individuals with the power. We need only to take a look at the motion for evidence of that. In it, the Government attempts to speak about the “interests of” the Scottish people. It is a shame that the Government appears to have no idea what those interests really are. I would hazard a guess that few people are concerned about Scottish independence at this time, and that many people are concerned about our schools and how they are performing. When it comes to Scotland’s schools, it is hardly surprising that the SNP would rather talk about its constitutional issues and wish lists than deal with the issues that directly affect people.

For example, it is opportunistic for the SNP to talk about constitutional issues; it is doing so because it does not want to talk about the record low programme for international student assessment—PISA—scores, the continued violence against teachers in our classrooms or the continued failure to close the attainment gap between Scotland’s richest and poorest pupils. Those are all situations and circumstances that we should be discussing in Parliament. We should be focusing on those things, rather than on ideas about the possibilities of things that could happen in the future, when the reality is that people across this country do not wish to see that.

Even on today’s subject, “Scotland’s place in the world”, the SNP is not interested in having an honest debate. International relations is very much a matter reserved to the United Kingdom Government, and the Scottish Government knows that. Scotland’s place in the world is best served by working constructively within that framework, rather than continually wishing that that framework did not exist.

The UK is the fifth largest contributor of foreign aid in the world and it was a founding member of the United Nations. It can truly be proud of its reputation on the world stage, because many countries have received and still receive UK support for international development projects. Around the globe, the United Kingdom has done massive work to support projects and is involved in many organisations, which recognise the strength of the United Kingdom. It is just a problem and a shame that the Scottish Government does not.

As part of the UK, Scotland is a key player in one of the most influential countries in the world, both economically and culturally. Seemingly, however, the SNP would rather leave all of that behind. We have just heard the cabinet secretary try to convince us that an independent Scotland would have more influence on the world stage, and not less. That is fantasy politics indeed. The truth is that maximising Scotland’s place in the world depends on the SNP working constructively with its counterparts in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

A majority of MSPs wish to see an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, as do a majority of members of Parliament from Scotland at Westminster. What has the UK Government done to deliver on the views of this Parliament or the majority of our parliamentarians?

Photo of Alexander Stewart Alexander Stewart Conservative

There are many views and the situation is dire. We have to admit that. I want to see progress on a resolution to things and to see a two-state situation in that part of the world. There are attempts to achieve that. Even today, discussions are taking place in other parts of the middle east to try to create a ceasefire, and I look forward to that happening in the future.

Given the Scottish Government’s approach to today’s debate, it seems that it is trying to cloud the picture by arguing that Scotland would be better off on its own. However, we know that the financial broad shoulders of the United Kingdom ensure that we have a stable, responsible and properly managed situation. The Scottish Government’s idea of taking a constructive approach has involved it releasing yet another taxpayer-funded independence brochure. The publication of “An independent Scotland’s place in the world” represents the 11th time in the past two years that the SNP has chosen—scandalously—to waste the time of civil servants and the money of Scottish taxpayers, who are paying for this. It is unbelievable that we are putting all that time, effort and money into something that is hypothetical and that the people of Scotland do not wish to see. [



The paper talks about the importance of “security, wellbeing and prosperity” despite the fact that none of these things has even the slightest thing to do with Scottish independence. [


.] The SNP Government is clearly willing to continue its same old narrative week after week—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Stewart, will you resume your seat for a moment? Mr Hoy and Mr Kerr, I have tried to make it clear to you that I do not want to hear separate conversations going on across the chamber, however much they might be incited. Please afford dignity and show respect to the person who has the floor, who is your colleague Alexander Stewart. You can have the time back for my comments, Mr Stewart.

Photo of Alexander Stewart Alexander Stewart Conservative

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

The SNP Government is clearly willing to continue the same old narrative week after week. Taking such an approach is within its gift—we know that it can do that, and it chooses to do it. However, members on the Conservative benches will continue to call out this Government’s abandonment of its duties and the communities that we represent. It is time for the SNP Government to end the grandstanding and the manufactured grievance, and to start using its powers to work towards delivering the Scotland that the public really want, and start delivering on their priorities. That is what our communities and our constituents want.

I move amendment S6M-12372.1, to leave out from “Scotland” to end and insert:

“the Scottish Government should accept the will of the people of Scotland as expressed in the clear and decisive result of the 2014 independence referendum, and calls on the Scottish Government to focus on Scotland’s real priorities, such as growing the economy, reducing NHS waiting times and violent crime, and improving education standards and public services.”

Photo of Neil Bibby Neil Bibby Labour

This is a crucial time for global democracy, as 2024 will see nearly 2 billion people around the world go to the polls and give their verdicts on their political leaders in places from India to South Africa and from the European Union to the United States. I also look forward to the people of Scotland and the UK being asked for their verdict in a general election this year, in whatever month it may happen.

This year will undoubtedly present huge opportunities, but it will also present significant challenges for democracy in the world. Last week, Mr Stewart and I joined with the cabinet secretary when he led tributes to the late Alexei Navalny and demanded consequences for Putin and his regime. History tells us that our parties do not always agree on matters that relate to foreign affairs, but it is important in this moment, when we do agree, to stand not only with the people of Ukraine but with those who fight in Russia against oppression and for democracy.

Many places, not just Russia, do not enjoy the free and fair democratic process that we enjoy. That puts into important perspective the occasional claims of democracy denial that are made by some in this place.

This time is also crucial for global security. While we debate, there is a land war on mainland Europe, conflict in the middle east and uncertainty in south-east Asia. In short, this issue and this situation are serious. However, regrettably, I cannot say that the paper or the debate are serious.

The first role of any Government is to protect its people. We agree on that, as we do on the need for greater co-operation on security and defence with the European Union and for better support for our armed forces personnel and our veterans. In order to make that a reality, a country needs to have a comprehensive strategy for defence. Right now, we should be strengthening our defence within the United Kingdom, not walking away from it or putting it at risk. I say with no hesitation that the defence of our people is significantly better served by being part of the UK than it would be by what is proposed.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

How can that be the case, given the recruitment and retention crisis, the possible selling off of one of the aircraft carriers, and the Ajax tanks fiasco? Surely we could do better in an independent Scotland.

Photo of Neil Bibby Neil Bibby Labour

I am just coming on to why that would be the case. The paper does not propose having any aircraft carriers.

I pay tribute to our excellent armed forces. They are among the best trained anywhere in the world. They are dedicated, brave and a credit to our country. The paper talks about investing in and prioritising “core capabilities”. That is basic stuff but, in the context of the debate, it is particularly important to highlight the UK’s special forces, which are exemplary. The Royal Marines and others have niche capabilities that cannot be replicated from scratch.

So it is with our intelligence services. The paper gives an agency name and a list of core functions—that is fantastic but, frankly, the lack of detail insults the intelligence of the people of Scotland.

The paper points to the example of Estonia as a country smaller than Scotland that has nonetheless developed considerable cybersecurity capacity. However, it fails to mention that Estonia did so over the space of 30 years, under pressure from a growing Russian threat.

I turn to the issue of nuclear capabilities, which seems to confuse the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government has stated in its paper that it intends for Scotland to become a nuclear weapons-free zone. That does not sound compatible with NATO being an explicitly nuclear alliance. It appears to confuse not holding nuclear weapons with explicitly forbidding them from its territory.

Photo of Neil Bibby Neil Bibby Labour

I will in a moment.

It has been reported that the cabinet secretary has said that Scotland would join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, but that is not what he said in answer to Ross Greer, and the paper talks of a “nuclear-free Scotland”. If the Scottish Government wants the paper to be remotely taken seriously, that needs clarification. Is the Scottish Government saying that it would allow NATO nuclear assets into Scottish waters and on to Scottish land? Yes or no? Will the cabinet secretary make clear to the United States, France and the rest of the UK whether their nuclear fleets would be banned from Faslane?

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

What Neil Bibby has outlined is the position of the Governments of the Kingdom of Denmark, the Kingdom of Norway, Sweden and the Republic of Finland. If it is all right for them, why is it impossible for Scotland?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Neil Bibby, I will give you the time back.

Photo of Neil Bibby Neil Bibby Labour

Talk about not answering the question! I asked not about Denmark, Finland or Norway—[


.]—but about the Scottish Government’s position on whether it would allow NATO nuclear assets into Scottish waters or on to its lands. I am happy to take another intervention, if the cabinet secretary will answer that point directly. Is he saying that he would forbid NATO nuclear assets from entering Scottish waters or land?

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

As Neil Bibby should know, the right of passage for any vessel—conventional or nuclear, armed or powered—is guaranteed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. That is a statement of fact.

Photo of Neil Bibby Neil Bibby Labour

The cabinet secretary’s position is extremely confusing. Do we seriously think that NATO would allow a situation whereby a member would prevent it from using nuclear assets on its soil?

Many other key questions remain unanswered. The Scottish Government has said that it will have a review of defence and security and that its outcome will be in place “By independence day”. That is the very definition of saying that it will be all right on the night, and that is simply not good enough. It is not good enough that there are no details in the Scottish Government’s paper on the number of warships, the number of submarines, the number of fighter jets or the number of bombers. It gives us a rough estimate of needing 15,000 armed forces personnel, which it asserts as reasonable because it said that 10 years ago. The paper does not even use the terms “navy”, “army” or “air force”; it talks of “a maritime component”, “a land component” and “an air component”. What is wrong with calling them a navy, an army and air force? For that matter, what is wrong with the British armed forces that we already have?

It was quite apt that, before this debate, we heard a statement on Ferguson Marine. The Government’s paper acknowledges the importance of the defence sector and its 33,000 jobs. Leaving the UK would put those jobs at risk. The Scottish Government has struggled to procure two ferries on time and on budget—are we seriously meant to believe that the Scottish Government is going to procure us a naval fleet to match the Royal Navy?

The Government’s papers are a waste of time and money. They fail everyone in Scotland, no matter their constitutional viewpoint. The vast majority of people in Scotland want the Scottish Government to focus on the cost of living, the NHS and schools. Most people want the Government to give up the spin, to be honest, as Alexander Stewart said, and to do its job, rather than

“attempt to gaslight the Scottish public”, as Shelter Scotland said this week.

“An independent Scotland’s place in the world” lets down even true believers in independence. It is not a serious piece of work, and it does not even attempt to answer the serious questions. The paper talks of

“cooperation on issues of defence and security” with the rest of the United Kingdom as

“common sense”.

I agree. The SNP’s plans are the complete opposite of that, and they are not serious.

I move amendment S6M-12372.2, to leave out from “should” to end and insert:

“benefits from the defence, diplomatic and economic connections that it shares with the rest of the UK; highlights the massive amount of capacity building that would be required of an independent Scotland in areas such as defence and procurement, intelligence and cyber security, and diplomatic presence and expertise just to replicate the benefits that Scotland currently enjoys as part of the UK; encourages the Scottish and UK governments to work more closely together to ensure that Brand Scotland’s unique contributions and innovations are better sold across the world, and understands that, in an increasingly turbulent geopolitical situation, the interests and security of Scotland are significantly better served under the umbrella of its existing membership of NATO, as part of the UK, than by severing those connections and seeking to build them from scratch.”

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

Deputy Presiding Officer, you already know that I think very highly of our Minister for Independence. I think that he is destined for many greater things in the world. I did not think that he was so cunning, however. Jamie Hepburn clearly has a new strategy for achieving independence: relentlessly producing paper after paper, week after week, in boring, soporific detail, he is trying to bore us into submission. Just when is it all going to end?

I have not read “An independent Scotland’s place in the world”, just like the other papers, but I can imagine what is in it. It will be full of grand assertion of just how brilliant the SNP and the Greens have been on the international stage. However, let us look at the record. Nicola Sturgeon personally signed a deal with the China Railway No 3 Engineering Group—CR3—during a meeting at Bute house. No due diligence was done. It was discovered that CR3 had been blacklisted by the Norwegian state pension fund for gross corruption, and it was found by Amnesty International to have connections to human rights abuses. The Chinese company SinoFortone was also a signatory to the same £10 billion deal, which was later described as “all bollocks” by the chief fixer, after it was revealed that it only owned—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Rennie, even if you are quoting, as I have made clear before—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Please resume your seat, Mr Rennie.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I would expect members to use language that is fitting for the parliamentary chamber; that was not fitting for the parliamentary chamber.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I am sorry, Deputy Presiding Officer—and I am sure that my mother would not be impressed with that either—but I was simply quoting what was—

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

Sorry—could I finish this point?

I will withdraw those remarks, and I apologise.

Those comments were made by the chief fixer after it was revealed that the company only owned a pub in the middle of the Cotswolds. In 2022, it was uncovered that at least 49 public bodies in Scotland were still unaware of the Scottish Government’s human rights tests that were introduced following those deals. To this day, the Scottish Government continues to use Chinese surveillance cameras, a year after pledging to remove them over security concerns.

Former First Minister Alex Salmond kowtowed to China by refusing to meet the Dalai Lama during his visit to Scotland, having personally assured the Chinese ambassador that it had nothing to do with him. Both he and Nicola Sturgeon thought that making a few speeches in China about Adam Smith would wash away all the human rights concerns.

Alex Salmond thinks that we have also forgotten about the tartan trews. On a trip to China, he got a poor, downtrodden official to buy him a pair because he had left his own at home, and then he tried to claim those tartan trousers on expenses and cover it up from the taxpayer.

But then, Alex Salmond does like strong leaders. Back in 2014, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Crimea, he said that he had a certain admiration for Vladimir Putin, saying that his restoring Russian pride must surely be “a good thing”. Did Humza Yousaf, Nicola Sturgeon or any of the ministers—or any of the members of this Parliament—at that time criticise that outrageous statement? There was not a chance that that would happen. I suspect that it was a case of “Wheesht for independence”.

Alex Salmond later hosted a long-running TV show on the Kremlin propaganda channel Russia Today. More recently, he agreed to front a new television show on the Turkish channel TRT, which critics described as “a propaganda arm” of the Turkish regime.

Humza Yousaf, the current First Minister—for now—has been flirting with the Turkish regime as well. He courted President Erdogan, inviting him to Scotland despite concerns, including from members of his own party, about civil liberties and human rights abuses.

Let us not forget that, in 2013, as international development minister, Humza Yousaf visited Qatar but failed to raise the case of an imprisoned poet, Mohammed al-Ajami, despite visiting a poetry festival in the region on the very same trip.

The hypocrisy continues. An SNP minister held an unrecorded dinner with disgraced Australian financier Lex Greensill, amid financial deals that have exposed taxpayers to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds. The party has dodged questions about whether Government-owned Prestwick airport was once used for US rendition flights, which have been the subject of a 10-year investigation. The SNP wants an independent Scotland to have the protection of the nuclear alliance NATO although it rejects nuclear weapons.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

Not just now.

It is still breaching international minimum standards on the age of criminal responsibility.

Let us not forget the Greens. At their conference in 2015 they passed a motion calling for Hamas to be taken off the international terrorist list. How outrageous that was.

Despite that record, with all the pomposity that it could muster, the Scottish Government pledged to create a peace institute, which would utilise all its incredible talent and credibility to bring peace across the world. That was before it cancelled the whole project because it had run out of money.

Whether it is through the SNP being duped by China, ignoring the jailed poet in Qatar, standing by while Alex Salmond praised Putin and flirting with Erdogan, or the Greens stating that they had backing to remove Hamas from the terrorist list, what a shower they are—parading as saints on the world stage but clueless, bumbling and a little bit more than grubby. They are an embarrassment to Scotland, but none of that will be included in this paper—that is for sure.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to the open debate.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

First, I note that Alexander Stewart, in closing his speech, spoke about the “abandonment of ... communities”, and Neil Bibby touched on the cost of living. I wish that their respective colleagues in Inverclyde Council had, last week, decided to accept the £2.9 million from the Scottish Government, as opposed to Labour councillors voting against it and Conservative councillors sitting on their hands and abstaining. Neil Bibby also mentioned Estonia and talked about how it developed its cybersecurity capacity over 30 years. However, Estonia was, and is, an independent country—it had that decision to make and it chose to do so, in comparison with the situation that it faced beforehand.

I am pleased to speak in the debate, and I welcome the latest paper in the “Building a New Scotland” series, “An independent Scotland’s place in the world”, which shows how Scotland can take its place “on the international stage” as the 194th member of the United Nations. The paper makes clear that the Scottish Government’s vision for our country is to join the global community of nations, and that an independent Scotland in the UN, the EU and NATO will hold the powers that are needed

“to protect its citizens and prosper in the global” community.

That is especially important at a time when every nation faces immense global challenges, from climate change and energy to the security crisis, as we see day in, day out. Scotland must face those challenges through more, not less, co-operation with our fellow Europeans and with the wider international community. However, Scotland is being prohibited from pursuing such approaches as a result of a Brexit that we did not vote for, and which has seen the UK retreat from positive values-based foreign policy. While Brexit Britain obsesses over “stopping the boats”, an outward-looking, independent Scotland would commit to multilateralism and to the eradication of global poverty.

In fact, despite the limitations of devolution, Scotland already plays its part on the world stage. We have an enviable reputation, with our strong international profile and a large global diaspora. With independence, those global linkages could be maximised for the benefit of Scotland’s people, businesses and institutions. That is particularly important. I have previously spoken with the cabinet secretary regarding potential work to connect Scotland to our diaspora in Australia and New Zealand.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has helped to cultivate those conversations, and I know that my CPA colleagues on all sides of the chamber will agree that the Scottish Parliament’s engagement with the organisation has been important in helping to boost Scotland’s reputation, and Scotland’s name, in the Commonwealth. I know that the Deputy Presiding Officer was formerly a member of the Scotland branch of the CPA, so he will know exactly how important our branch is and the importance of the role that it plays in the CPA more widely.

With independence, however, we could build on our strengths and take our place alongside our fairer, happier neighbours. It would provide us with the opportunity to develop a genuinely different and progressive approach to overseas aid and development. For example, over the past decade, the UK has squandered the international leadership that it once showed on aid. In contrast, the Scottish Government would use the full powers of independence to meet the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on official development assistance. That would safeguard a sizeable aid budget with which Scotland could make a real positive impact in the world’s poorest countries.

An independent Scotland would also be more ambitious in tackling the climate and biodiversity crises, thereby making a positive contribution to the planet and to its people. Scotland could join others, including those in the global south, and use its voice to champion their perspectives on climate justice and advocate for global vaccine equity and debt relief.

Some detractors always like to say that Scotland is too small to have an impact in the world, but small countries already lead effectively on the international stage. Finland, for example, has passed one of the world’s most ambitious climate targets into law, thereby acting as a global exemplar. Independence could therefore unlock even greater influence for Scotland, through working with partners in the EU and beyond to demonstrate how a fair transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions is possible.

Crucially, an independent Scotland would be nuclear free. Immediately on securing a vote for independence, the Scottish Government would pursue negotiations with a view to securing the expeditious removal from Scotland of nuclear weapons, which have, for more than half a century, been based just across the Clyde from my constituency. There is no reason why their removal should be an obstacle to NATO membership—after all, only a minority of NATO members actually host nuclear weapons. Finland’s accession to NATO—

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

I am sorry—I am in my final minute.

Finland’s accession to NATO proves that hosting nuclear weapons is not a precondition for membership. I therefore fully support nuclear weapons being removed from an independent Scotland in the safest and swiftest manner possible. We need to consider how Scotland would protect itself, so I welcome the pillars of defence that are outlined in the latest “Building a New Scotland” paper.

When the UN was established in 1945, it had 51 members. Today, it has 193, and I want us to be number 194. Independence is normal, so why not Scotland?

Photo of Craig Hoy Craig Hoy Conservative

I do not think that I commend Keith Brown often enough or warmly enough, but I commend him today, because although his Westminster colleagues flatly rejected his proposed boycott of the Westminster Parliament, judging by the number of SNP MSPs in the chamber today, they have taken his proposed boycott to heart and are sitting out this entirely irrelevant and fantastical debate.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I thank Craig Hoy for giving way and for allowing me to live rent free in his head. I joined the SNP 40 years ago because I believed in the withdrawal of Scottish MPs from the Westminster Parliament. Did he believe in Brexit when he joined the Tories?

Photo of Craig Hoy Craig Hoy Conservative

I will tell you what I believed: Alex Salmond said that Scotland would be free by whenever it was, and that was 25 years ago. The SNP has still not achieved that, and it will not achieve it, because it is not Scotland’s number 1 priority.

I spent nearly a decade in the Asia-Pacific region. In Hong Kong, one is never far from a Scottish connection. For example, the MacLehose trail is a reminder of the Glaswegian governor who made Chinese an official language of Hong Kong and commissioned the construction of the Hong Kong underground. If one looks to the central skyline, one cannot miss the HSBC logo, which is a modified St Andrew’s cross and a reminder of the bank’s Scottish roots and its Aberdonian founder, Sir Thomas Sutherland. One can take a walk through the bars off Lockhart Road, which is named after James Stewart Lockhart, the former registrar general and a Scot. An Edinburgh man, John James Cowperthwaite, masterminded Hong Kong’s financial success when he assumed the role of finance secretary in the early 1960s.

Some people may, rightly, take issue with recent events in Hong Kong, and I, for one, am fearful for the territory’s future, but it is still not hard to find a Hong Konger who does not speak affectionately about Scotland and the United Kingdom.

What we have recently achieved overseas as a nation has been achieved in large part because we are both Scottish and British, and that is the case not just in Hong Kong. I vividly recall a Singaporean taxi driver hurtling me from Changi airport to the city centre. When I told him that I was from Scotland, he pointed out that I was a Scot and a Brit, before swerving erratically while pretending to play imaginary bagpipes and waving like Her Majesty the Queen. For him, those two images embodied everything that we can achieve by being Scottish and British.

The point of this trip down memory lane is that Scotland punches above its weight in the world precisely because we are part of a globally recognised United Kingdom. I know from first-hand experience from a decade overseas that being Scottish and British opens doors, cements relationships and gets deals done. The SNP remains obsessed with symbols and flags, not with global reputation or global reach.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

A s the member speaks about memory lane, does he think that Scotland being dragged out of the European Union is a positive or a negative? I say that as someone who studied in Europe. That opportunity is now lost to many people in Scotland.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I can give you the time back.

Photo of Craig Hoy Craig Hoy Conservative

For a start, there is a replacement scheme, and we would not have had access to the UK vaccine programme in an independent Scotland. That meant that we could open up quicker than our international competitors. Furthermore, we are now involved in entering the trans-Pacific partnership, so that we can open up the whole of the region that I am talking about to Scottish companies that want to export to those markets.

In effect, the SNP is saying that Scotland is closed for business. The dangerous truth of the matter is that, in an independent Scotland, we would not be wrapping ourselves in the blue and white of the saltire with which the party is obsessed. Instead, as the paper yesterday showed, we would be hoisting a white flag above Scotland and yielding our defence and energy security to despots such as Vladimir Putin.

Rather than be an intrinsic part and parcel of a NATO nuclear nation, the cabinet secretary would hope for a free pass to shelter under the nuclear umbrella of our nearest neighbour—the United Kingdom.

Photo of Craig Hoy Craig Hoy Conservative

I do not have time.

At the same time, the Scottish Government would destroy our oil and gas sectors and dismantle our nuclear energy industry, which would make us yet more dependent on despots such as Putin.

A person does not need to be a foreign affairs or defence analyst, or a cold war warrior, to realise that the paper is not a serious one. That is because this is not a serious Government. I say genuinely to Angus Robertson that I came into Parliament with a grudging respect for him. However, he is no Henry Kissinger, and the paper suggests that he fails to grasp the intricacies of global diplomacy and international relations.

Whether we are talking about the fake foreign embassies or the collapse of our global education rank, the SNP Government is diminishing our place in the world. This debate and this time could have been used to good effect to calculate how we can grow our economy, reduce waiting times, end violent crime, and improve education standards and public services.

But, no. Yesterday’s paper reveals everything about the SNP Government. It is desperate to try to reactivate an increasingly disenchanted core SNP voter base. It is, frankly, ludicrous. There would be a new set of Scottish spies—the “Aye spies”—and a Scottish security and intelligence agency to replace MI5, MI6, GCHQ and Defence Intelligence. The paper says that that

“would support Scotland’s role as a good global citizen”.

It adds:

“As in all other aspects of an independent Scotland, national security would be delivered in line with Scotland’s values”.

I would like the cabinet secretary to explain to me whether anyone actually knows what that means in terms of international security.

A person does not have to be John le Carré to determine that the SNP Government is making it up as it goes along. The fantasy paper and this fantasy debate are just the latest attempt to divert attention from the SNP’s appalling record in office, and to distract from the collapse in its support around Scotland.

Winnie Ewing once affectionately said:

“Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.”

I think that most people would agree that the cry now, sadly, is: “Stop the SNP because Scotland now, actually, wants to get on.” However, Scotland will not make progress or “get on” either at home or abroad as long as this independence-obsessed Government remains in office.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

Craig Hoy is getting a bit confused about whether he wants to get on or get off, or about what he wants.

I welcome the paper, which is part of the “Building a New Scotland” series and lays out how an independent Scotland would thrive as one of the independent nations of the world. The paper is particularly important because it covers Scotland’s international relationships. Scotland looks forward to taking its place as a full member of the international community, projecting our human rights values on to the world stage, working in partnership with others and addressing global challenges in defence, security, human rights, international development and, of course, climate change—to Scotland being a good global citizen. That is very much in contrast with the approach of Westminster. The cabinet secretary has already outlined the stark contrast between the approach of the Scottish Parliament and the views of the Scottish people and the approach of Westminster when it comes to demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Eleven papers have been published so far, and the area of international relations offers the most opportunity for progress and change when Scotland becomes an independent country. Scotland has the opportunity to truly make its mark on the international stage.

I thank Craig Hoy for spending some minutes of his speech outlining the high regard in which Scotland is held in countries around the world. There is widespread international awareness of the nation of Scotland, and I think that he would struggle to find any other sub-national entity that has such recognition in Singapore, China and other countries around the world, whether that is in terms of our history, our culture, our trade relations or the iconic products that Scotland exports around the world. The education in our universities is world renowned, and there are so many international students here. This summer, we will celebrate the Scottish national men’s football team taking part in the European championships in Germany.

Photo of Craig Hoy Craig Hoy Conservative

Mr McKee is ignoring the point that I made. Scotland is not a sub-national entity. Scotland has a unique place in the world. We can leverage everything that is good about Scotland and everything that is good about the United Kingdom, and we can take both reputations to the world trading environment. Why does he not see that?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

I am glad that Craig Hoy already recognises Scotland as an independent country. The point is that, when we look at other countries—I was a trade minister for many years—we see that we can do nothing like as much as Norway, Denmark, Switzerland or even Singapore, which he mentioned. Singapore is a former colony and now an independent nation that is not much bigger than Scotland, and it is very successful in the world. That shows what independent countries can do when they have the ability to take forward their own policies to suit their own circumstances.

Scotland already operates internationally in the trade and investment environment through the network of Scottish Government and Scottish Development International offices that are already working with partners, including through Nordic partnerships. The success of team Scotland makes this the best-performing part of the UK outside London when it comes to attracting inward investment, and it means that we have the fastest-growing rebound of onshore exports post-Brexit.

We must recognise the success that Scotland can deliver. One of the mistakes that Mr Hoy’s party and others make when they try to pooh-pooh Scotland’s international footprint is that they fail to recognise the jobs, investment and export success that that footprint delivers as a consequence of Scotland being able to project itself on the world stage.

I look forward to being a full member of the European Union, reversing the disaster of Brexit and having access to one of the biggest markets in the world. This party, unlike the Labour and Tory parties and now even the Lib Dems—I apologise to Willie Rennie, but I have to say that again—remains committed to Scotland being a full member of the European Union.

The paper also addresses the future defence and security arrangements of an independent Scotland, recognising Scotland’s key geographical position and our commitment to working with neighbours and partners on broader defence issues.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

Yes, very briefly, if I have time.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I can give you the time back.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Mr McKee will recall that Mr Rennie, who did not take an intervention from me, opined that the Lochaber smelter should not have been the beneficiary of a deal in which I had a role back in 2016. Does Mr McKee recognise that, if that deal had not gone ahead, the smelter would have closed instead of remaining open since then and for the past eight years? Does he think that the Liberal candidate in Fort William would have supported the closure of the smelter there?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

I do not have time to go into the detail of that, but I absolutely agree with the member. It must be remembered that it was a cross-party finance committee that agreed to that deal, having seen the detail of it. Much of the information that is put out about that deal is very wide of the mark: the assets that exist more than cover any liabilities due to the Scottish Government as a consequence. As the member rightly identifies, the jobs are absolutely still in place.

Appropriately, I will move on to industry. The defence strategy recognises the need to focus on Scotland’s defence needs and on the role of the Scottish defence industry within that. That sector would, to a significant extent, continue to support the maritime needs of Scotland’s defence strategy. An independent Scotland would also have control of its arms export regime. That would allow us to align that with our human rights-based approach to international relations, which is quite different from the UK Government’s approach. We could use the internationally well regarded vision for trade that we have already set out in a Scottish Government document as a model to inform how we align our arms export regime with our human rights principles and others.

The commitment to a non-nuclear Scotland is absolutely central to the document and to the SNP’s approach, which is unlike that of the Labour party. There will be no new nuclear weapons on Scottish soil, a position that is similar to that of most other NATO member states. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s commitment to maintain our position on international nuclear non-proliferation and prohibition treaties.

Scotland is well equipped to be an independent nation. In fact, when we achieve our independence, we will be the best prepared country ever to become a full member of the international community. The paper takes us one more step along the road towards independence as that becomes the settled will of the Scottish people.

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

At a time when many in the country are confused by the seemingly contradictory priorities of the Scottish Government, it is good to be able to rely on our monthly fantasy debates about an independent Scotland to give us a sense of stability in an often unsettled world.

Today’s debate is about that often unsettled world. Where would an independent Scotland find its place in the world?

I have little objection to the Scotland that the cabinet secretary describes in his foreword to the 11th paper in the “Building a New Scotland” series:

“Scotland has a long history of being an outward-looking nation, and we are clear about the country we want to be – providing development assistance to the most vulnerable overseas, safeguarding human rights, upholding the international rules-based order and supporting and promoting Scots and Scotland around the world.”

I agree that Scotland not only has long been an outward-looking nation but has been well known to punch above its relative weight on the international stage over decades and centuries. My concern, however, is that the Government is so consumed by its singular focus on independence as the only answer to the difficulties that Scotland faces that our current place in the world is diminished purely because the SNP refuses to believe that we have the ability to build a better country with the powers that we have.

Right now, Scotland lacks any sense of direction. Where is the industrial strategy that will set Scotland on its way to being a high-skill, high-wage economy? Our education system is failing on so many fronts, and, after 18 years of failed interventions into further education, our colleges are struggling, lurching from crisis to crisis. In order to find our place in the world, we must have a strong economy, a highly skilled and motivated workforce and the very best education system in the world.

Ultimately, as an independent country, Scotland would need to rely on things that we used to take for granted but that we have been severely lacking in recent years.

Photo of Audrey Nicoll Audrey Nicoll Scottish National Party

Universities Scotland has recently highlighted that international students have added between £4 billion and £6 billion to the Scottish economy. However, the UK Government’s shameful rhetoric on immigration will cut across that success in the future. Does the member agree that an independent Scotland would address that issue, which is only set to worsen without independence?

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

I want Scotland to tackle the massive crisis in education right now and ensure that every child gets the opportunity to go to university and the chance to succeed. Right now, we are failing. Before we start lecturing countries in the rest of the world about what they need to do, we must put our own house in order.

Our manufacturing base, which was once the pride of Scotland, has been badly let down over years of poor investment. When opportunities have arisen for the Scottish Government to stand up for Scottish industry, I have been left disappointed by the decisions taken. The failure of the Government to take advantage of the opportunities of ScotWind, for example, is enough to raise concerns about the impact that a future manufacturing strategy, or lack of it, would have on the future of Scotland’s economy.

The SNP could have followed through on its promise of delivering a state-owned energy company, as so many other countries around the world have, and that could have taken advantage of ScotWind, secured manufacturing guarantees for Scottish industry and allowed much higher bids from the private companies that it decided to work with for their development sites. Instead, as Common Weal has stated in its report “ScotWind: one year on”,

“The ScotWind auction of January 2022 has massively undervalued Scotland’s offshore energy resources and placed a low and arbitrary maximum ceiling on the amount that competitors could bid for their development.”

Indeed, Common Weal found that three offshore wind auctions that took place in the year following the ScotWind auction—two were in the USA and one was in England—raised 40 times as much money as the ScotWind auction. Imagine what Scotland could do with a single payment of £16.4 billion had it matched the success of the New York bight auction or a payment of £28 billion had it matched the success of the English auction.

When we failed to secure high bids, we could have at least secured the opportunity for manufacturing that a project of that scale would bring to Scottish industry. Will we, instead, continue to see the manufacturing for the renewables industry taking place in other countries across the world while Scotland remains simply the host of the turbines?

In Fife, Rosyth dockyard has an order book that will secure jobs well into the future, but it does not have a skilled Scottish workforce and is heavily reliant on skills from abroad, as are many of the construction and engineering sectors of our economy. The good news is that more and more people are getting apprenticeships that are being created in Scotland, but let us be clear that that is a result of Scotland working as part of the United Kingdom.

Scotland has always punched above its weight across the world, but we need to start putting our own house in order and addressing our education and skills crisis. That will, once again, put Scotland out there in the world.

Photo of Gordon MacDonald Gordon MacDonald Scottish National Party

I welcome the paper on Scotland’s place in the world, which sets out where we see Scotland’s future in relation to defence, international co-operation and the global economy.

Before I focus on the global economy, I want to highlight an example from my Edinburgh Pentlands constituency that shows that there is little certainty in UK defence policy and no status quo position for people to build on. Redford barracks was once the largest Army base in Scotland. In 2011, it was earmarked for closure, but that decision was reversed in 2013. In 2016, it was then announced that Redford barracks would go in 2022, as part of a package of cuts involving 56 bases across the UK, eight of which were in Scotland. The closure date was then put back to 2025, but now it has been announced that closure will be in 2029.

Lack of long-term planning by the Ministry of Defence has created uncertainty, which has had an impact on the local community and its future. Just six days ago, the MOD sought parliamentary authority for the maximum number of personnel in the armed forces. During the next financial year, the number of Army regulars is to be cut by a further 4,500 and the number of Royal Air Force regulars is to be cut by 700 at a time when our armed forces are stretched. You could not make it up.

Independence will mean that we will become the 194th member of the United Nations. It will also provide us with the opportunity to rejoin the European family of nations, which will give us access to a marketplace of almost 450 million consumers, compared with the UK’s 67 million. By rejoining the EU, we will reinstate our right to live and work in any of the 27 member states across Europe. It will also allow EU nationals to come to Scotland to help to grow our economy.

Scotland is the only UK nation that has had a consistent international trade surplus in goods since records began. In 2021, we exported £28 billion in manufactured goods and a further £51 billion in services and other items. Many of the people who purchase Scottish goods are part of a large global diaspora of about 40 million people, covering every continent, who claim to have Scottish ancestry.

Our international trade is supported by our GlobalScot network, which has 1,200 members across 64 countries. The network assists companies to understand local markets and customs to help to win trade, which, in turn, supports employment in Scotland.

In addition, the Scottish Government’s network of offices from Beijing, across Europe, to Washington supports businesses to trade internationally, improve Scotland’s international profile and attract inward investment. The result is that Scotland continues its record of attracting foreign direct investment, outpacing both the UK and Europe in terms of the number of projects and maintaining its position as the top-performing area of the UK outside London for the eighth year.

That record on inward investment is at risk. Since we officially left the EU in 2021, many companies no longer consider the UK to be the gateway to Europe. To combat that risk, we need independence, which would, for the first time, enable Scotland to have a dedicated diplomatic network that was devoted to promoting and protecting Scottish interests. Soft power is important in diplomatic circles, and our international brand is strong, but we need to protect our reputation, as it is one of our most important assets.

Former Obama White House aide Jennifer Erickson said of the Scottish brand:

“There is huge currency Scotland has around the world, and a tremendous amount of goodwill can be claimed in a good way.”

The nation brands index confirmed that. It asked 60,000 people from 20 countries what they thought about the 60 countries that make up the index, and Scotland ranked 16th out of 60 countries—ahead of Austria, Belgium and Ireland—which shows that Scotland continues to have a strong reputation abroad. We were seen as “hard working”, “honest” and “skilful”. When questioned about investing in Scotland, participants said that we were “forward thinking”, “modern”, “developing” and “ambitious”.

Given the views of people from across the world and the good will that exists towards Scotland, we need to break away from the UK, which is now considered to be an unreliable partner. Given that a UK minister indicated during Brexit negotiations that he was prepared to break international law, how can the UK Government reassure future international partners that the UK can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of any agreement?

The nation brands index also indicated that people rank Scotland 10th out of 60 countries for fostering international peace and security. Recent events have justified that ranking, as the First Minister has consistently called for a ceasefire in Gaza. Last autumn, the Parliament voted for an immediate ceasefire, but once again our voice was ignored by Westminster.

With independence, we can promote human rights, build partnerships with other countries and be good global citizens who work towards peace and security in the interests of the people of Scotland. It is time that Scotland took its place as an independent country and as an equal among the global community of progressive countries.

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

During recent weeks and months, there has been a narrative, which has come primarily from the London commentariat, that international affairs is not really of interest to voters or, worse, that the public should not be interested in it and should not vote on the basis of it. That is profoundly undemocratic; we do not do that with any other area of Government policy. It is also patronising, because it presumes that the public care about other people only if they also live on these islands. I do not think that that is true of communities anywhere across the UK, and I certainly do not believe that it is true of communities in Scotland.

Our country has always had an internationalist outlook. That is in part because of centuries of emigration. Scotland has had a disproportionate impact—both good and bad—on the world relative to our size. However, today, our voice on the global stage is severely limited by our being part of the UK, and there is no clearer example of that than in relation to the on-going genocide in Gaza. More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 13,000 children, and we know that those numbers are a massive undercount.

The public in Scotland and across the UK have been in favour of a ceasefire for months, and I am confident that a majority would support an arms embargo on Israel. However, Westminster has treated public opinion with contempt, to the extent that the UK Government is now considering a ban on MPs and councillors engaging with pro-Palestine—and, for some reason, climate change—protesters. That proposal, by the way, was made by John Woodcock, who is an adviser to the current Conservative Government, but who was previously a Labour MP, and who spent a lot of his time in office palling around with some very unsavoury regimes across the world; he is certainly no defender of human rights.

If Scotland were independent, we could apply such an arms embargo and end the scandal—which Ivan McKee mentioned—of equipment that has been made in factories in Scotland being used to supply an Israeli occupation force that is committing a genocide in Gaza. Rather, we have a UK arms export control regime that is so lax that, when the relevant minister was answering a question in the House of Commons last week, they cited the robust oversight of the arms export controls committee—a body that has not existed for years.

In December, Foreign Office officials expressed concern to the Foreign Secretary that Israel was not acting in line with international law, which is something that we can all see on our TV screens. They presented the Foreign Secretary with options on arms export control licences to Israel, and David Cameron chose to continue those arms licences, which I find very hard to square with Alexander Stewart’s claim that the UK Government is making a significant effort to secure a ceasefire. One of the most effective things that the UK Government could do to secure a ceasefire would be to stop providing bombs to the people who are bombing civilians in Gaza.

Photo of Craig Hoy Craig Hoy Conservative

Recently, the Parliament held a reception for young Scottish apprentices who are working at the cutting edge of Scottish science and innovation. Mr Greer was implicated in trying to block their access to the building, which caused concern to some of those who attended. He went on to describe those young people, who came to the Parliament to promote engagement, as being

“a who’s who of Israel’s arms dealers”.

Will he now apologise for doing so and for the offence that he caused?

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

I am grateful for the intervention, because Mr Hoy gives me the opportunity to point out that the Conservative Party hosted a reception in the Parliament for the companies that are currently supplying an occupation force that is committing a genocide. [



Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

The shameful event that happened in the Parliament a couple of weeks ago was the presence of companies such as Raytheon, which is Israel’s missile supplier. It is the supplier of missiles to an occupation force that is destroying schools, destroying hospitals and executing children on sight. That was the shameful event that happened in the Parliament a couple of weeks ago.

NATO is recognised as an area of policy difference between the Scottish Greens and the Scottish National Party. For the Greens, there are two primary reasons why we would not have an independent Scotland join NATO. The first is its nuclear first-strike policy, and the second is the presence of the United States and Turkey in the alliance.

The US and Turkey are not reliable partners. They are not partners for peace or leaders in an alliance for democracy. Turkey is certainly not a democracy, and the United States has done all that it can to undermine democracy across large parts of the world, most notably in—but not limited to—South America. Anything that Israel is committing against the people of Palestine right now has been committed by the Turkish regime against the Kurdish community inside Turkey and outside its borders for decades.

As Greens and those who are committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament, we cannot be part of an alliance that maintains a first-strike nuclear policy, which we believe to be immoral. We would want an independent Scotland to sign the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.

I am confused by Scottish Labour’s position on that point. The last that I remember, its party conference voted for nuclear disarmament. Has that conference vote been overridden or has Keir Starmer simply informed the Scottish Labour Party that it now has a different policy because he has decided so?

Greens believe in co-operation based on common values. We would model an independent Scotland’s role in the world somewhat on Ireland’s role, although we would not quite take the same position of absolute neutrality. However, Ireland’s role on the UN Security Council, for example, is a clear area in which a small nation is acting as a force for good in the world and punching above its weight. We want to be a force for peace but not alone. A country does not need to be a superpower to do good in the world; it just needs to be a team player.

We believe in security in the traditional sense, but we also acknowledge that the biggest threat that we face is the climate crisis, which is why Scotland’s defence forces would need to be equipped for a world where major natural disasters are the norm. We would also want our international development spend to match our defence spend to head off the greatest security threats in the decades to come.

We do not propose that an independent Scotland will be a land of milk and honey, but independence is the opportunity for us to have a positive impact on the world in a way that reflects our values: to be a force for peace, to stand in solidarity with the oppressed and to fight to protect the planet. The UK, whether it is under a red or a blue Government, will not reflect those values. It will not reflect the public’s values. There is plenty of historical precedent to show that, never mind what is going on right now.

Scotland is not better than any other nation, but I certainly believe that we are equal to any other nation and that we want to play an equal part in building a better world. Another world is possible and another Scotland is possible, but for us to play our greatest part in building that better, fairer and greener world, we must take the opportunity to become an independent nation.

Photo of Michelle Thomson Michelle Thomson Scottish National Party

The cabinet secretary stated yesterday:

“Ultimately, independence would enable Scotland to determine the kind of state it wants to be on the world stage.”

I agree and, therefore, welcome the debate and the paper that the Government published yesterday. I will further develop some considerations that I will proffer as a constructive contribution.

I will start by consideration of an independent Scotland as a good global citizen that has a welcome commitment to overseas development and to meeting the UN target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income being spent on official development assistance. However, that, in and of itself, will not mean that we are playing our full part in tackling global poverty. Official development assistance is a necessary, but not sufficient, contribution.

As was pointed out in an ActionAid report from some years ago—I think that it was in 2016—international taxation arrangements via what are called double taxation treaties are depriving many developing countries of vital taxation revenues—not least from global corporations. I know from our time together at Westminster that the cabinet secretary is aware of the issue, because it was the subject of a private member’s bill by one of our parliamentary colleagues.

One estimate has suggested that creating more equitable tax treaties would do more for the funding of African states than the entirety of foreign aid funding. Nevertheless, even with the minimum that is set out in the document, which would initially honour existing double taxation treaties that would be inherited from the UK on day 1 of independence, that would subsequently involve scrutiny of a large number of treaties, which could bring opportunities to enhance our global citizenship. Such treaties need to be updated regularly in order to ensure that they reflect current economic conditions and fairness between parties.

For example, the latest versions of treaties with Ireland and France were agreed in 2019, with the USA in 2021 and with Germany in 2022. However, the UK has not updated the treaty with well-known tax haven, the Cayman Islands, since 2011. Questions need to be asked about why. Tax treaties have played a part in the most well-known cases of aggressive tax planning by international corporations, and they often ensure that money flows untaxed from poor countries to rich countries.

Treaties with many developing countries have also not been updated for too long. The treaty with Ghana, for example, is a 2006 version that was drawn from the Bangladesh treaty of 1961. I suggest that, ultimately, Scotland as an independent country could do much better. We should bear in mind the view of the International Monetary Fund—that use of tax-treaty networks to reduce tax payments is a major issue for many developing countries.

I will move on. I am pleased to see such a strong focus on having a feminist foreign policy that includes specific reference to protecting the rights of women and girls internationally. As we know from the current conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, often innocent women and children pay the highest of prices in terms of death and physical injury. However, there is evidence to suggest that post-conflict traumatised countries rely especially heavily on women to rebuild homes and communities, but are often left to do so with insufficient resources. That is an area in which Scotland could play a particularly important role by channelling support through funding, expertise and capacity building. As one recent report on Ukraine pointed out, there is a huge need to develop trauma-informed education practice, and Scotland has notable world-class expertise to contribute to that.

I also welcome the commitment to rejoining the EU and to enhancing human rights and democracy. However, even under the restrictions of devolution, we can be more ambitious. In the coming days, I will be speaking in Malta, which was the home of the remarkable journalist and campaigner against corruption, Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was assassinated by a car bomb on 16 October 2017. When she died, she was the subject of 48 lawsuits that were designed to silence her by people who are rich, powerful and corrupt.

The campaign for Daphne’s law to protect people who are engaged in exposing corruption and human rights violations has come to fruition partly through the publication of an EU directive on 20 February, just a few weeks ago. It is an area in which Scotland could act in concert with the EU to bring in our own legislation and to protect people who would expose corruption and human rights violations. In that matter, we do not need to wait for independence, and it would be a small step on our path to being an active and good global citizen right now.

I congratulate the Government on the paper and would be grateful if the minister could confirm that the Government will consider the issues of double taxation treaties and adoption in Scotland of an equivalent to Daphne’s law.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I t might be super Tuesday in the United States, but it is far from a super Tuesday in this Parliament. We have yet another fantasy debate and another grotesque waste of taxpayers’ money. I say again, as I said in a previous debate of this ilk, that if SNP members want to indulge their fantasies and speak to each other in their little echo chambers about something that is never going to happen, and if they want to publish documents to their heart’s content, they should do that at their own expense and not the public’s. The SNP is spending £2 million on all this nonsense—and it really is nonsense.

What else could we be debating?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Could we have Dr Allan’s microphone on, please? His card is in the console.

Dr Allan—perhaps you could just move to a different position, because we are using up Mr Kerr’s time, although I will give him the time back.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

No, that does not work, I am afraid.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

There is obviously some problem—[


.] Excuse me.

There might be a problem with Dr Allan’s card, which might be something to investigate. I apologise for the intervention’s having not been possible.

Mr Kerr, please resume.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I am disappointed because I was not able to take that intervention. I am open for business on interventions, if anyone else—

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

I thank Stephen Kerr for the invitation to intervene. The SNP Government was elected by the people of Scotland to put forward the case for independence. If we are not to talk about it in this place, where does he suggest we do it? How do the people of Scotland make the case?

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I have no objection to the SNP making the case for anything—that is entirely the nature of politics. What I object to is the fact that public funds are being used to further a party-political objective in a reserved area. The constitution is reserved: therefore, we are wasting our time talking about this fantasy.

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

Do you agree with me, Stephen, that the debate is, at the same time, a waste of taxpayers’ money? It is not the SNP’s conference in here, is it?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Members must speak through the chair.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I could not agree more. I thank Foysol Choudhury for that intervention.

What subjects could we have been speaking about? Our amendment suggests some things, and I will mention some very quickly, just from today’s newspapers. A headline in

The Telegraph says, “Public at risk in Scotland as police”—[



Members can laugh, but they should listen to this headline. The member who is leading the laughing was previously the justice secretary, so he should listen to this point about the mess that he left after his time in office. The Telegraph’s headline says “Public at risk in Scotland as police funding cuts means fewer crimes are being investigated”. It is a shocking disgrace.

What else could we be talking about? Another headline from

The Telegraph states “SNP ‘risking patient safety’ by accepting NHS union’s reduced working demands”. The Scottish Government is accused of causing more turmoil by cutting the working week. It is incredible that we have not heard a thing about that in the chamber. Neil Gray has negotiated away the full-time equivalent of 10,000 jobs, which astonishes me.

The Herald says that the number of rehabilitation beds is up by just 32, despite a pledge having been made on that. The story goes on to remind us that the former First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced that there would be a great expansion of rehab beds of 50 per cent over five years. What is the number? It is 32. We should be talking about that issue and not this nonsense, because it is about life and death for people in Scotland.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I must hear from Ross Greer: it would be such a shame not to hear from him.

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

If I recall correctly, Mr Kerr— c hampion of correct parliamentary process that he is—had significant objections when the Scottish Government published papers in the “Building and New Scotland” series but did not bring them to Parliament. Now he is objecting because papers are being brought to Parliament. Is it not simply the case that the Conservatives object to the fact that the people of Scotland have voted over and over again for a pro-independence majority in Parliament?

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I am objecting to the papers and the complete waste of time and money. The papers have nothing to do with the issues that I am highlighting, which are just from this morning’s newspapers. The Government should be ashamed for thinking that the debate is relevant enough to take up two hours—or whatever it is—of the Parliament’s time. The Parliament sits in this chamber for only nine hours a week, and we are taking more than two hours of that time to discuss this subject.

There is more about the police in

The Scotsman

. The

Daily Mail has the headline, “NHS waiting times crisis is damaging Scots economy”. A report by the Confederation of British Industry Scotland and the Fraser of Allander Institute talks about the damage that is being done to our economy because of the ineffective way in which the SNP is managing the national health service in Scotland.

It is

“déjà vu all over again.”

Someone said that earlier, and they were absolutely right. We hear about this subject all the time. We are getting fed up: the people of Scotland are bored stiff by such debates and the never-ending obsession of the SNP. I do not know when its conference is to be held, but it should be held soon, so that the SNP members can get the subject out of their system. They can have morning-to-evening debates among themselves about this stuff, but they should not waste the time of Scotland’s Parliament on this fantasy.

Had I known, when I accepted the chief whip’s request to speak in the debate—I am doing so as a favour to the chief whip, by the way—[


.]—that this was going to be another fantasy “independence white paper” debate, I would have opposed the business motion last week. We should have opposed the business motion, and I think that the Parliamentary Bureau should look at itself very closely. It should look itself in the mirror, because this afternoon it has allowed Parliament to withdraw from reality. That is what it has done.

I know that Keith Brown wants the SNP MPs

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Kerr, you will be bringing your remarks to a close. I have been generous.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I will. I have gone on for far too long already—[


.]—because I should not be giving airtime and grace to this nonsense debate.

Keith Brown wants the SNP members—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I said that you should conclude your speech.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I am concluding by mentioning Keith Brown, whose bright idea is to withdraw SNP MPs from Westminster. This whole Parliament, because of the SNP, has withdrawn from reality this afternoon, and it is a shame and a disgrace. This is a—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Mr Kerr.

Photo of Ash Denham Ash Denham Scottish National Party

I thought that I would take up the independence minister’s kind request for me to take part in one of these debates, although he may not be so keen once he hears what I have to say.

We are more than midway through the second pro-independence term of government since the referendum. In response to the Supreme Court judgment, the Scottish Government appointed an independence minister to build the case and rally the cause for independence, and the First Minister pledged to be “the first activist”. However, there does not appear to be any concern in the Westminster system that that will cause any disruption to the continuing union. In a week in which the Prime Minister made a statement in response to a by-election half-surprise, it seems that there is no fear for the union because of the independence ministry.

I am nothing if not practical, and I have already made several suggestions on how we can deliver independence. I have even presented a plan and a potential bill. In a show of bipartisan spirit, I am happy for it to be taken over and put in the Government’s name.

On these independence papers, however, I must say that they are the equivalent of cold dry toast in a buffet of ideas. The hope, the dream and the ambition of 2014 are missing and have been replaced with grievance seeking and a bewildering commitment to doing things in exactly the same way.

It is unlikely that anyone has read the nearly 1,000 pages—I note that Willie Rennie admitted that he has not read the report, and I suspect that Mr Stephen Kerr has not read it either—of what seems to be regurgitation of the prior white paper but which has been carefully distilled to make sure not to offend or to excite anyone.

I will recap some of the highlights from previous papers. There is a migration policy that tweaks the UK plan. It ignores the largest net migrators, which are the Indian and Polish communities. There is a commitment to ending the oil and gas sector, which of course requires a diverse international community.

In its 84 pages, the EU paper manages to spare a single half-page to cover the relationship with the UK, which is our only land-based trading partner and will be our largest trading partner for some time. It complains about the common fisheries policy, the common agricultural policy and the monetary union, while ignoring the much better plan that the Government advanced in 2016 involving the European Free Trade Association. EFTA and the European Economic Area agreement would solve some of those problems and have none of the drawbacks on fisheries, agriculture or monetary policy. That approach is also deliverable quickly, easily and more inexpensively than EU accession, and it has the uniting effect of pleasing both Brexiters and remainers.

The marine paper is entirely lacking in direction, strategy or plan. I suspect that selling out oil and gas and fishing in one paper made it quite difficult to write, which is probably why it is relatively short.

The social security paper is the best of a bad bunch, but it does not clearly navigate the ageing population. It does not seek to increase the pension or allow many pension-age carers to have additional financial support, and the financial incentive to secure our population’s future is barely acknowledged.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I have much sympathy with many of the points that the member makes. Does she agree that, if Scotland is to obtain independence, it is desirable and perhaps essential for the many different voices that advocate independence to be respected and to work together, be they in the SNP or Alba or elsewhere?

Ash Regan:

I completely agree with Mr Ewing’s sentiment on that.

The culture paper, which runs to 55 pages, aims to keep both the BBC and Channel 4 and to support exactly the same industries that we have now. It does not bother to look beyond that to smaller creators or other visionaries.

In short, the entire series of papers is a work of art in being completely unambitious. How many people will read them? Not even the people who are taking part in this debate have read them, so I suspect that the answer is very few. The Government hopes that they will be well covered in the media, but I have to break it to the Government that, unfortunately, it seems that the launch of “Celebrity Big Brother” got more coverage today than the latest independence paper. Winnie Ewing has had a couple of mentions this afternoon and I will mention her again. Winnie Ewing got us this Parliament. Alex Salmond got us a referendum. Jamie Hepburn has got us ignored.

Photo of Craig Hoy Craig Hoy Conservative

I think that this is an apposite moment for my intervention.

Does the member think that the dream has died for this Government, or is it simply that it is not up to the job?

Ash Regan:

The dream will never die for the wider independence movement.

I move on to the latest paper, which I have read, although I perhaps wish that I had not. The only surprise was that the Scottish Government wants a feminist approach to foreign policy. I had to laugh at that, because it is feminism that is foreign to this Government—a Government that, let us not forget, is unable to define what a woman is. I suspect that that will make designing international development policy rather tricky for it.

I come back to my initial point: who in the UK Government is scared of the Scottish Government’s papers? Far be it from me to burst the minister’s bubble. After all, in response to my urging him over the past few months to take action on independence, he said that the Scottish Government was hard at work producing the papers. However, they present nothing new and no one is reading them. I say to the minister that this is not the action that the independence movement is looking for. Papers that address the big questions from 2014—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Ms Regan, you need to conclude.

Ash Regan:

—and move the argument forward would be useful, but the papers that we have are not useful. We need action towards independence. I have outlined a strategy that Westminster would be afraid of, and the minister should look carefully at it.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

As has been mentioned—[



The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Minister, will you please refrain from what you are doing and look this way? Thank you.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

As has been mentioned, just before the first world war, there were around 60 independent sovereign states in the world, and today there are almost 200.

Last night, I went to see a production of “Hamilton”. It is amazing how many single transferable unionist speeches from different parties mirror exactly the arguments that were used by the UK back at that time: “You can’t go. You can’t manage on your own. You’re not good enough. You’re too small. You don’t have the experience.” Nothing in the unionist arguments has moved on. That is why there has been the same approach today to the publication of the Scottish Government’s paper—to dismiss, denigrate and talk down Scotland’s potential.

In a little more than 100 years, our world has transformed from being one of very large empires to being one of sovereignty and independence, backed by the UN and the international rules-based system, which the UK Government said that it was happy to break—it was happy to break international law and its word on treaties. Despite that, much of our world is a better, more peaceful and more democratic place, because of the diversity that we now see within it. Unashamedly, my ultimate political aspiration is for our country to join the UN in our own right, as an independent country. I firmly believe that that is the direction of travel that we as a country are taking.

One hundred and fifty years ago, there was no Secretary of State for Scotland or any other meaningful political distinction for Scotland within the UK. One hundred years ago, there was no Scottish National Party to advocate for independence. Thirty years ago, there was no Scottish Parliament. However, just 10 years ago, 45 per cent of Scots voted for full independence. In other words, the direction that the world and Scotland are travelling in is clear—it is the direction of independence and a seat at the UN. We cannot do justice to Scotland’s place in the world without highlighting that fact.

Not only is independence normal; it is essential to having any meaningful say in our increasingly international world. International questions such as climate change and defence require international answers, and the bodies that produce those answers—the EU, NATO and the UN—are clubs of independent states, which the UK is and Scotland, currently, is not. The alternative is to continue to allow Scotland to be represented by the UK Government which, more often than not, has been rejected by Scottish voters and for which Scotland is rarely, if ever, a priority. That does a huge disservice to Scotland’s offering to the world.

Nowhere is that more evident than in defence. We heard Neil Bibby talk about the Royal Marines. Is he aware of the consternation in the Corps of Royal Marines about the latest threat to its existence, following on from threats in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher and under various Governments since then? There is no confidence that the UK Government will defend the existence of the Royal Marines, so the idea that it can be held up as a paragon of fantastic management of our defence by the UK Government is completely wrong.

Photo of Neil Bibby Neil Bibby Labour

I am aware of concerns that we need to invest in our armed forces at a UK level and there has been a lack of investment from the current UK Government. My point in relation to that was that the paper—which, for clarity, I have read—talks about investing in “core capabilities” but does not mention niche capabilities or special forces. That is an omission that means that what is proposed would not replicate what we currently have in the United Kingdom, notwithstanding the point that Keith Brown has made.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

The point that is being made is about how much planning and foresight are going into the issue. The comparison that was made by Neil Bibby is based on saying that the UK is doing something that the paper is not, but the UK is not doing it. In 2012, we had a commitment from the UK Government that we would have no fewer than 12,000 service personnel in Scotland. It has ditched that without even telling anybody. We have the lowest UK armed forces numbers since Napoleonic times.

We have a recruitment and retention crisis—nobody wants to stay, because they do not have the equipment that they need. That goes back to Labour’s time, when it could not provide the helicopters or the boots in Afghanistan, and during which it issued P45s to service personnel on the front line.

The UK is no paragon of virtue—that is before we even mention the possibility of selling off the Prince of Wales aircraft carrier, which cost billions to build and would be sold at a discount, or the possible closing down of the Royal Marines because the niche capability that Neil Bibby talked about is not valued by the UK Government.

Let us go back to Labour. For the Nimrod programme, billions of pounds was spent on dismantling something before it was completed. The track record of the UK Government in defence is appalling. The idea that Scotland could not do better is for the birds. We currently have an arrangement whereby Scotland can be dragged into illegal wars.

Let us talk about nuclear weapons. What is the sound of a nuclear Trident submarine drill? It is a “plop” in the water. Hundreds of billions of pounds have been spent on something that has never been independent, does not even work and could not conceivably be used. The UK Government spends that money at the expense of proper training and proper equipment for service personnel. The paper that was produced by the Scottish Government says that we would not do that and that we would not have those nuclear weapons.

We will be dragged, as before, into illegal wars, despite the clear and express view of people in Scotland that they do not want that to happen.

Leaving Scotland’s defence capabilities in the hands of Westminster is failing Scotland’s service personnel. Service personnel have moved from Germany to Scotland to Northern Ireland within the space of 18 months, with whole families made to learn different education systems. The UK defence system is a mess. Everybody knows that—everyone on the Defence Committee at Westminster knows it—but we do not hear anything about that here. We should, because Scottish taxpayers’ money goes into those fiascos.

There has been talk about the Ferguson ferries. Members should consider the aircraft carriers, which are massively over budget, or the Ajax tanks—what a disgrace! There is not a word in defence of Scottish taxpayers from the Tories in relation to any of that, because they see their role here as to defend the UK Government, not to stand up for their constituents.

Independence would allow us to get rid of nuclear weapons, and I totally refute the idea that an independent Scotland would somehow be uniquely incapable of joining NATO. Much of the unionists’ argument relies on convincing people in Scotland that we are uniquely different from every other country in the world and that we cannot manage those affairs. It is our job, and the job of the paper that has been produced by the Scottish Government, to give the contrary argument.

We have a chance to make a different impact in the world—on defence, peacekeeping, climate change and being a constructive partner. We have seen the diminution of the UK’s international reputation over many years. On the matter of taking our country to independence, governing ourselves at home and representing ourselves abroad, we hear from the Tories that they do not like us representing ourselves abroad—

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I will conclude on this point.

They do not like us representing ourselves abroad—with the honourable exception of Donald Cameron. Labour members of the House of Lords do not want Scotland’s voice to be heard abroad. Taking our country to independence is the way in which we can govern ourselves at home and represent ourselves abroad. As the essence of what I stand for—

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

That i s the essence of what I stand for, what my party stands for and what the Scottish Government stands for. For that reason, I support the motion in Angus Robertson’s name.

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

As Alexander Stewart noted, the latest independence paper shows that the SNP is still wasting time on imagining what it would do had it won the 2014 independence referendum almost 10 years ago. In 2014, the people of Scotland voted democratically to remain in the UK, yet the SNP continues to use precious time in the chamber to bore us, as Willie Rennie and Stephen Kerr rightly put it, with independence papers as it continues with its agenda.

This is Scotland’s people’s Parliament, not the SNP party conference.

Alex Rowley rightly outlined concern that we have been called to the chamber time and again to discuss the SNP’s constitutional obsession. Many colleagues across the chamber, including Neil Bibby and Craig Hoy, have outlined the valuable time spent on that in the Parliament that could have been spent on productive discussions to improve the lives of people in Scotland now. Those people are struggling with the cost of living crisis, the housing crisis and the NHS crisis, to name but a few issues.

It is important that an outward-looking Scotland plays its role in the world. As Ivan McKee and others outlined, Scotland is renowned internationally, and we must focus on what Scotland can do now to continue that legacy. The independence papers have failed adequately to address even the big unanswered questions, such as those of currency, the border and the economic case for independence. If they have failed even to address those big questions, how could they deliver on the massive amount of capacity building that would be required for an independent Scotland in areas such as defence, intelligence and security?

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

I am sorry: I will not be taking interventions, because you guys have had so many debates in the Parliament.

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

I have a lot to get through.

That would be wasting taxpayers’ money—[


.] Let me get my points in. You guys have had millions of debates—and there are probably many more to come.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Choudhury, I am not entirely sure that “you guys” is the way that—

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

Those are capabilities that Scotland—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Choudhury, I am speaking.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I am not sure that using the phrase “you guys” to refer to your colleagues is keeping within the tenets of courtesy and respect.

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

I apologise to members.

Those are capabilities that Scotland already enjoys as part of the UK.

The Scottish Government’s motion talks about Scotland acting

“in the interests of its people.”

In this increasingly turbulent geopolitical situation, Scotland needs to remain a member of NATO as part of the UK instead of severing those connections and trying to build them again from scratch. The Scottish Government should instead focus on the detail of improving our place on the world stage by working closely with the UK Government and engaging with international partners to build cultural and economic connections. It should work closely with the UK Government to sell brand Scotland around the world, marketing our unique contribution and innovations to facilitate trade and tourism for our country.

There is no doubt that it is important that Scotland plays a role on the world stage. As the cabinet secretary outlined, building relationships with global partners can increase opportunities for tourism and trade. It can also reaffirm that Scotland is committed to working with others towards important shared goals such as achieving sustainability and tackling climate change.

Last year, as convener of the Parliament’s cross-party group on Bangladesh, I, together with Miles Briggs and Evelyn Tweed, travelled to Bangladesh, where we discussed the importance of sharing knowledge and skill globally among nations on issues of importance such as climate justice. On that matter, I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests. The trip showed that so much can be done now to develop such relationships and to increase benefits for Scotland in the current climate.

Our time in the chamber should support the will of the electorate and find ways to improve offerings for the Scottish people with Scotland as part of the UK. We should honour the democratic decision that reflected that will and find ways for Scotland to benefit from the defensive, diplomatic and economic connections that it shares with the rest of the UK.

While the SNP-Green Government continues to use the Scottish Parliament’s time and Scottish taxpayers’ money to talk about its fantasy scenario, Scottish Labour stands ready to deliver for Scotland in line with the people’s democratic will and to improve Scotland’s standing both at home and on the world stage.

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

Working with the UK Government and within the terms of the devolved settlement, the Scottish Conservatives—I started to say the Scottish Government, but we are not the Government yet—have always argued that it is vital for Scotland to have an international voice in developing trade, connecting with the diaspora and promoting Scotland as a destination for investment and tourism. When we have debated that point in the past, our exchanges have been constructive and have engaged the entire chamber. Most importantly, the debate was not predicated on a fallacy.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

Given Mr Golden’s welcome words about international engagement, will he take this opportunity to praise the work of Scottish Development International in promoting trade, or the Scottish Government’s international network of offices that do so much to promote Scotland abroad? Will he put that on the record?

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

I am happy to praise the efforts of such individuals—including SDI, with which I have worked in the past—who seek to promote trade with, to link with and to work with the United Kingdom within the devolved settlement. That is absolutely important. I will come on to some additional points on that in due course.

Craig Hoy spoke about the fantasy paper and, in describing his own experience in Hong Kong and Singapore, highlighted the global value of being both Scottish and British.

Alexander Stewart expressed his disappointment that the Government is wasting parliamentary time.

Willie Rennie gave a highly entertaining and informative speech that outlined the lack of coherence in the Scottish Government’s policy in the international sphere.

Ash Regan, from whom we heard just a few minutes ago, described the document as a “grievance” paper and a “regurgitation” of previous announcements. She came up with some new ideas, which are always welcome in this place.

The Government’s motion reveals a thinly veiled approach to international relations, with the SNP putting the promotion of independence at its heart. Is it any wonder, therefore, that, at a time when—thanks to the SNP—local council funding is in disarray, the NHS is at breaking point, the climate emergency has been cancelled and Scotland’s once world-class education system is in the doldrums, the Scottish Government would rather waste money on its latest prospectus for independence and related projects?

Furthermore, today’s debate serves to underline the millions of pounds that the Scottish Government spends on international relations with very little scrutiny of what that money is spent on. When the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee recently reviewed the Scottish Government’s international work, the Government was consistently criticised on the transparency, scrutiny and accountability of its work. That aspect has not been addressed today. If the intention is to have a real debate on Scotland’s place in the world, perhaps the minister could address that in closing.

On that subject, last year the Parliament agreed that the Scottish Government would provide more details regarding the metrics on which the delivery of the “Scottish Connections Framework” will be measured. I would appreciate an update on that from the minister in closing. There is concern, highlighted by the focus of today’s debate, that the SNP does not want its international outreach work scrutinised, nor to be held to account or to be fully transparent in that work, because that would expose the flagrant waste of money when the SNP pursues its independence agenda at home and abroad instead of serving the interests of the people of Scotland.

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative


I will move on to the amendments. Labour, led today by Neil Bibby, has highlighted that Scotland’s place on the international stage is best served by the mutual benefits that we share with the rest of the UK in areas including defence, diplomatic relations and economic connections. We will support Labour’s amendment, and we agree with it whole-heartedly.

Regrettably, today’s debate has been a waste of time. That has been a recurring theme for a number of months now, with this debate representing the most recent in a long line of pointless debates on independence. Only one month ago, we were debating an independent Scotland’s place in Europe, and now we are debating an independent Scotland’s place in the world. It continues to get more ridiculous and ludicrous. The SNP is treating this Parliament as a mockery. Next month, it will probably have us debating an independent Scotland’s place in the United Federation of Planets, with Humza Yousaf demanding that Scotland take its rightful spot at the top table, next to the Vulcans and Betazoids. All of this is fantasy anyway, so that subject would be as valid as this one.

As far as the SNP is concerned, it would give it another opportunity to duck scrutiny. The SNP wants to avoid the issues that really matter to the people of Scotland—priorities such as growing the economy, reducing NHS waiting times, reducing violent crime, and improving education standards and public services. We should be spending parliamentary time debating those issues, but the SNP clearly believes that those are not the sort of priorities that the Parliament should be concerned about.

I urge members to support the amendment in the name of Alexander Stewart.

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

I thank members who have taken the time to speak in the debate. The issues that we have debated are of importance in the context of where Scotland stands in the world. I am grateful to those who have given it proper consideration, but I am perhaps less grateful for that last contribution. I freely confess that I have no idea what a Betazoid is, but I assure Mr Golden that we will bring forward more debates on the future of Scotland and on an independent Scotland. However, I must apologise to him—they will not be in the context of his clear interest in “Star Trek”.

I turn to the amendments. I will start by focusing on Alexander Stewart’s speech. He suggested that if someone tuned in to Scottish Parliament TV today, they might have thought that it was a repeat. They may well have done so, but I respectfully suggest that that might have been because they had tuned in at the juncture at which he was speaking. I will return to that point in a moment.

However, his speech was much better than the nightmarish vision of project fear on overdrive that was laid out by Craig Hoy. I would take his suggestion, and those of other Conservative members—sometimes from a sedentary position—that the prospect of an independent Scotland would in some way be capitulation to Russia, rather more seriously if it did not come from members of a party that, in the run-up to the 2019 general election, accepted £3.5 million-worth of donations from members of the Russian oligarch class. [



Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

T he amendment in the name of Alexander Stewart says that we should

“accept the will of the people”.

Let me quote from the manifesto that we presented at the 2021 election. We said that we would

“ensure that the people of Scotland have the information they need to make an informed choice about their future.”

I respect the right of people to comment on the content of our papers—Mr Rennie might want to start reading them in order to do so on an informed basis. That is precisely the information that our “Building a New Scotland” series provides.

I remind Mr Stewart and other members that we won the 2021 election standing on the manifesto that I directly quoted from and that his party lost that election. I say to Mr Stewart, just as Ruth Maguire said—[



The Presiding Officer:

Minister, take your seat for a moment.

Mr Stephen Kerr, I think that you may have forgotten where you are. I ask you to remember that you are representing your constituents in our national Parliament; please conduct your behaviour accordingly.

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

Mr Kerr must forget where he is quite often, because that is his usual demeanour.

Ruth Maguire also made this point in her intervention on Mr Kerr: we won that election. Mr Stewart should accept the will of the people of Scotland and understand and respect the right of the Scottish Government to bring forward these debates—[



The Presiding Officer:

I am sorry to have to take up more parliamentary time, but I cannot hear the minister and I am fairly close to him. I am sure that everyone would like to hear the minister. Please continue.

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.

I do not know whether Mr Kerr would like to hear this part, because I am going to return to his speech. He talked about economic damage. We would take his concerns about economic damage rather more seriously if it was not his party that had just led—

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

I hear what you say, Presiding Officer, but if the minister is pointing at other members and deliberately provoking them, it is hardly a surprise that members feel it necessary to react.

The Presiding Officer:

Mr Carlaw, I say gently that the person in the chair is best placed to chair the meeting and that I will intervene as and when I find that necessary.

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

What news to us that Mr Carlaw is such a shrinking violet that he is affected by such meagre provocation.

Let me return to the point that I was making. Mr Kerr talked about economic damage. We would take that point rather more seriously if it was not his party and Government that had just led the UK into recession. The Resolution Foundation made the point that if the UK economy had kept pace with comparable countries since 2008, the average household in the UK would be £8,300 better off, and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has talked about increased levels of destitution in this country, so we will take no lessons on the economy from Mr Kerr and the Conservatives.

I turn to Neil Bibby’s amendment, which talks about severing connections. The paper is about the exact opposite—the polar opposite—of severing connections. It lays out a prospectus for us to be able to reverse Brexit, which we did not vote for, and enable Scotland to return to the European fold, as Gordon MacDonald set out.

As we know from the previous debate that Mr Golden referred to, the Conservatives, in alliance with the Labour Party and, indeed, the Liberal Democrats, voted against the simple concept that Scotland is best served by being in the European Union. That was not even in the context of being an independent country, but included being part of the United Kingdom. It is very clear that the only way for us to rejoin the European family of nations is by becoming an independent country.

Fundamentally, the paper speaks to two different visions. The cabinet secretary spoke about two competing visions; I want to talk about those, too.

The first vision is of the status quo and doing what we can—we will always do what we can—to seek out like-minded partners, acting as a good global citizen, and using the limited resources and powers that we have to make an impact. We saw that just last month with £500,000 committed to help to address the food crisis in Malawi, where more than 5 million people are unable to meet their basic food needs, and we see it in our support for the people of Gaza. We will always do what we can. However, the status quo also means having decisions of fundamental importance, such as on Brexit, made for us by Westminster, resulting in isolation and decline. That isolation and decline would only be hastened by any proposals to decrease or diminish Scotland’s international engagement, as we have seen threatened by the UK Government in recent times, despite its being the case that, since the advent of devolution, starting with Donald Dewar’s Administration, all devolved Administrations have sought to represent Scotland on the international stage.

The second vision is of independence—of a sovereign nation, active and engaged on the world stage, with decisions that affect us made by us; taking our place as a state among equals in the global community and having the powers to truly transform our country; and harnessing all the potential and ability of our nation to make a difference internationally.

Listening to Opposition members, we would have to believe that what we have laid out is somewhat fantastic and beyond our capabilities. However, in lots of ways, nothing that is proposed in the latest paper should be considered to be particularly radical or groundbreaking. The proposals align with the way in which many other nations of a similar size to that of Scotland operate. However, for Scotland, which has been so long without the levers and powers of a state, the proposals are groundbreaking, and they could be transformative.

Ivan McKee talked about how other similar-sized nations can play their part on the global stage as independent countries. We could do things differently to the United Kingdom. As an independent country, we would seek to become a party to the UN International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which is something that the UK has declined to sign. As an independent country, we would join the revised European social charter, which is something that the UK has never ratified. As an independent country, we would not seek to exempt migrant women from the protections of the Istanbul convention, as the UK does. As Stuart McMillan highlighted, and as set out in our paper, we would, as an independent country, join Sweden, Denmark and Norway in meeting the UN target of committing 0.7 per cent of gross national income to overseas development. That is something that the UK does not do—it has specifically legislated for a lower amount. That belies Mr Stewart’s suggestion about leadership from the UK on international development. As an independent country, we would seek to implement a humane and sensible immigration system that is not founded on hostility, which is also something that the UK has not done.

As an independent country, we could be, and we would seek to be, a good global actor. It is only as an independent country that we can properly become a good global actor. That is why the Scottish Government has laid out the case for independence in “An independent Scotland’s place in the world”, and that is why we will continue to advocate for independence. We will continue to take that work forward.