The crisis in Ukraine gives cause to lift our eyes to the global chess match currently taking place between the great powers. Up for grabs? The kind of world we live in. A world which champions progressive values or smothers them.
If you are an outward looking person who believes in freedom, respect, equality and many other virtuous values, what countries foreign policy do you think would best uphold them? The UK? Or an independent Scotland?
Considering polling roughly puts Scotland in a constitutional stalemate, it is a question well worth asking. It is easy to criticise the UK’s foreign policy record. There exists centuries of records and thus mistakes and miscalculations, of which Scots played our part.
The theoretical independent Scotland is unburdened by reality and choice, therefore it is blemish free.
Weaken Nato, weaken our values
It suits the SNP to be opaque on the details of Scottish independence. Because providing details would mean having to make decisions and decisions risk alienating supporters. However, as Alex Massie recently wrote in The Times, the SNP have begun to “grow up” on the foreign policy front. They support an independent Scotland joining Nato and Stewart McDonald, the party’s defence spokesman, has said Scotland should seek to become an expert in military medicine – a tacit admission that the SNP’s policy of removing Trident from Scotland would have consequences.
Whatever the SNP leadership’s position, the fact is an independent Scotland joining Nato remains deeply contentious amongst its own politically diverse membership. The Scottish Greens, who are in government and campaign for independence, oppose Scotland joining Nato, with Ross Greer saying that an independent Scotland should “steer clear” of it. As we have seen over the last few years, if someone repeatedly shows you who they are then it is best to believe them.
It is hard to balance the SNP’s submerged opposition to Nato and the Scottish Green’s outright refusal to join with a progressive foreign policy. Nato is the lynchpin of Western security, and as a consequence, Western values. Democracy, freedom, human rights. To weaken Nato -as becoming independent would- is to weaken our values. Anyone who takes these values for granted and does not think that they are under threat in this rapidly changing world has not been paying attention.
The Nuclear Question
The Scottish Government’s insistence on nuclear weapons being removed from Scotland also overshadows any contribution a separate Scotland could make to Nato. Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde (Faslane), the home of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, is of vital importance due to its deep waters, hosts NATO’s Submarine Rescue System and provides quick access to the GIUK gap; a stretch of water that forms a natural chokepoint and is a gateway to the North Atlantic Ocean. An independent Scotland that refuses to host nuclear armed submarines would be an incredible loss to Nato that no amount of military medicine expertise would ever make up for. It’s geography, stupid.
It’s worth pondering why there is such a blanket refusal from both of Scotland’s governing parties to host nuclear weapons. They already exist. You can’t un-invent technology. Even Germany, who strongly oppose everything nuclear, host American nuclear weapons in their country. Seeking the global elimination of nuclear weapons is a very worthy goal, but to pursue it at the cost of Western security whilst the Russian bear sniffs hungrily at Ukraine is prioritising ideological purity at the expense of common sense.
Rather than, in effect, virtue signalling by removing nuclear weapons from Scotland whilst wishing to be shielded by others, the true progressive and only realistic path to nuclear disarmament is through deeper international cooperation, of which the weight of the UK is a stronger voice than a separate Scotland. Des Browne, a Scot, former MP for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and former defence secretary, exemplifies this best through his work at the Nuclear Threat Initiative – a global agency which aims to reduce nuclear threats. Browne is dealing with the world as it is, rather than the flawed and insular “we’ve done our part” attitude of the Scottish government.
Despite the self professed internationalism of the SNP and wider Yes movement, there actually exists a curious desire for isolationism. A desire to draw the curtains when faced with tough decisions; to rest, to wait and let others do the heavy lifting to ensure values we claim to represent survive and are enforced, lest we mucky ourselves. I do not recognise that as a progressive foreign policy.
The UK remains our best opportunity to contribute to the world
The UK isn’t perfect. We have a terrible government and the decision to withdraw from the European Union is an ongoing disaster. Foreign aid cuts are a moral mistake. Yet these things can and hopefully will be changed. For those of us who believe in our responsibility as global citizens, the UK represents our best vehicle for influencing progressive change in the world. We are a G7 nation. A permanent member of the UN Security Council. A member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. We are a vital force in Nato.
These things, often dismissed out of hand or regarded naively as relics of “imperialism” matter a great deal. To abandon them wouldn’t be progressive. It would reduce our standing in the world, damage the West and embolden those who oppose our values – with very human consequences.
Despite what some politicians tell us, we are more than whoever is currently residing in Downing Street. The UK is those serving on Royal Navy ships on faraway seas tackling piracy, drugs and modern slavery. It is MI6 intelligence agents uncovering a plot by Russia to oust the Ukrainian government. It is the civil servant in East Kilbride getting Britain’s foreign aid to the world poorest.
The UK is and will remain a force for global good.
Believe me, I understand the last few years have been tough for those of us who dismay at Conservative governments and their policies. I understand the appeal of ditching the whole damn thing with one blissful X on a ballot paper. The challenge for Scottish progressives is to look beyond our rightful contempt of the current Westminster government and see the bigger causes. Joe Biden framed the last presidential election as “a battle for the soul of America”. Right now, there is a battle for the soul of the world. Between those who share our values and those who would crush them. For those of us who believe that every human life is of equal value, who realise democracy is a precious and precarious thing and who cherish freedom, it is the combined cooperation, conviction and influence of the UK which is best placed to deliver on those fragile promises.