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Scottish Government should have 'unfettered and unconditional' access to UK diplomatic services, SNP says

Johnny Green/PA Archive/PA Images

Scottish Government should have 'unfettered and unconditional' access to UK diplomatic services, SNP says

The Scottish Government should have “unfettered and unconditional access” to the UK Government’s diplomatic and consular services in order to advance its agenda, the SNP has said.

Proposals put to the UK Government suggests that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and other Scottish Government figures should have the right to use embassies and other official UK facilities to put forward different positions overseas on issues like Brexit, climate change and trade.

Such access should be allowed without “concession or negotiation,” the party said.

The call comes as part of the SNP’s submission to the UK Government’s integrated review of defence and foreign policy.

The review began in October 2019 and is regarded as the biggest and most in-depth look at the UK’s defence, diplomacy and international development capabilities since the end of the cold war.

The outcome of the review has been delayed and aspects of it are reportedly causing tension in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet over issues such as a potential cut to international development spending as well as cuts to the army, including the possible dissolution of the Scottish Black Watch battalion.

SNP Westminster Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alyn Smith and Defence spokesperson Stewart McDonald co-authored a 12-page submission to the review, which makes suggestions on a wide range of areas from military and naval strategy and international development spending.

In addition to informing the UK Government’s review, the submission also highlights what the SNP imagines Scotland’s defence and foreign policy stance could be like in the event of leaving the UK and becoming independent, McDonald said.

As well as advocating for the removal of Trident nuclear weapons from Scotland, the party urges the UK Government to urgently sign a security and defence treaty with the European Union.

It also calls for measures to improve the terms and conditions for military personnel, including allowing the formation of a union-like body for the armed forces.

The SNP also wants to ban the recruitment of 16 year-olds and to allow UK parliamentary scrutiny of special forces.

Efforts to improve national security should involve reforming the system of political donations, cracking down on money laundering in UK overseas territories and ending the “revolving door” of former politicians going to work for companies aligned with states such as China and Russia.

The submission says that the UK Government must “look to the devolved administration” to develop its future foreign policy, adding that diplomacy can “no longer be the preserve of a small, London-centric group”.

It adds that devolved administrations have “unique” foreign policy interests that are not being served by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

They also argue that the Scottish Government should be free to pursue its own interests overseas and should be allowed to use the UK Government’s network of embassies and other consular services.

The submission says: “In order for the devolved governments to fully advocate for their interests abroad, they should enjoy unfettered and unconditional access to diplomatic and consular services, including use of embassy buildings and resources for the advancement of their legislative agendas.”

“This must be by right and not subject to concession or negotiation,” it adds.

Asked on Tuesday what areas of devolved policy making this could relate to, Smith gave issues around Brexit, climate change and international trade of Scottish products as an example, particularly in seeking to have tariffs removed from Scotch Whisky exports to the United States.

Smith said: “Whisky would be the first opportunity there, Scotland clearly has a distinct interest economically in whisky.”

“This is a crucial economic importance to Scotland - and yet has been dealt with by the UK apparatus and the Scottish Government, which I think has a clearly legitimate interest in the discussion, is an arm's length, non-contributing partner to that discussion.”

He added: “The UK apparatus is all predicated upon the idea that effectively the Welsh and Scottish Parliament's and the Northern Ireland assembly are creatures of statute and subsidiary to the UK apparatus.

“That is not our worldview and that is not what was promised in 2014 [following the independence referendum].”

McDonald stressed the importance of defence capabilities in the North Atlantic and criticised previous examples of devolved administrations being denied consular support while abroad.

In 2019 Sturgeon was blocked from receiving Foreign Office help in organising a trip to Belgium in which she met with European Commission leaders to discuss Scottish Independence and Brexit.

McDonald said: “We saw the carry on… when the First Minister was going to Brussels and to Paris to represent the Scottish position on Brexit and you'll remember she was being refused access to cars, all kinds of weird stuff.  The Welsh First Minister, I think, was denied the same thing.

“That's clearly at the petty low end. But where the really important stuff matters... are on issues like climate change. We take a much more serious view of the impact of climate change in our part of the world than the UK Government does.

“And so I think it's only right that where we perhaps have policy positions that we differ slightly or different entirely."

McDonald added: “The Foreign Office, as Sir Simon MacDonald, the previous Permanent Under Secretary, said himself, is there to represent every part of the governance of the United Kingdom.

“That includes devolved governments under the current setup. And it plainly just is not allowing that to happen.”

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace called the SNP's proposals "delusional". 

He said: "The SNP’s plans for Defence are delusional. Over the years the SNP has firstly rejected NATO membership, and then more lately decided that they would want to join after all – a view that is incoherent with their views on the Deterrent and the fact that NATO is a nuclear alliance.

"Article 5 of the NATO treaty says that an attack on one member is an attack on all – collective State security doesn’t have room for the things that the SNP likes and dislikes. Or when the Nationalists unexpectedly change their minds. Again.

­­­­­­­“The SNP’s plans for HM Naval Base Clyde – potentially basing a few Scottish surface ships there – show a complete lack of understanding of the complex work that goes on there to deliver our independent nuclear deterrent capability.

"The thousands of advanced nuclear and engineering posts, the hundreds of programme planners and technicians managing the repair and maintenance programme, as well as the highly trained military and civilian security force, would simply not be required in such numbers just to support a few Scottish surface ships.   

“RAF Lossiemouth is one of the most important military air stations in western Europe, protecting the skies and seas of the vital north Atlantic. Indeed Scotland’s proximity to the Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap is of strategic importance to the UK and its NATO allies.

"This is why RAF Lossiemouth aircraft work daily with the NATO alliance to patrol and protect this region – is the SNP really suggesting that its sole contribution to this vital international security work is to merely hawk out its and ports and runways to bigger and stronger NATO nations?

“Finally, the SNP’s plans would recklessly endanger the 10,200 Defence industry jobs in Scotland, by turning their closest friend into their biggest competitor. The SNP’s feeble plans for an emasculated Scottish Defence Force would need cheaper, less capable equipment, less often. The SNP has also said previously that it would reduce the number of MOD civil servants in Scotland from 4,000 today to around 700.

"Quite simply, the SNP’s pipedream cannot support the thousands of high tech, high quality, well paid jobs in the Scottish Defence sector that we see it benefitting from today.”

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