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Your Scotland, Your Voice: A National Conversation




8.1 A defining feature of an independent state is its voice on the world stage: in a wider international organisation, such as the European Union or the United Nations; or in bilateral discussions with other nations, neighbours and trading partners. Influencing others, representing the views and interests of its people, is a key aim of governments across the world in this global and interdependent age.

8.2 Scotland's international relations have three principal dimensions:

  • relations with the European Union
  • relations with the wider international community and other international organisations
  • relations with the rest of the United Kingdom

Given the European Union's role in many areas of government, Scotland needs adequate representation within the European Union to negotiate directly for its own interests. Scotland already has a distinct, if limited, voice on the international stage, both as a nation in its own right and as part of the United Kingdom. Scotland has close ties with the rest of the United Kingdom, from geography, from social and historical bonds, and through institutions, such as the monarchy, and would maintain these on independence.


Current position

8.3 As a nation within the United Kingdom, Scotland has maintained an international profile. People from across the globe have connections to Scotland; Scottish culture, manufacturing and produce are well-known throughout the world; and events such as Scotland Week and Homecoming 2009 place Scotland, its heritage and its contribution to the modern world on the global stage. Since devolution, Scotland has developed a more formal international role, for example contributing to international development, particularly in Africa.

8.4 Under the current constitutional settlement, foreign affairs are reserved to the United Kingdom for formal international purposes, for example membership of the European Union. Scottish Ministers can make representations on issues of particular interest to Scotland only through the United Kingdom delegation. They can attend meetings only with the agreement of the United Kingdom Government, and must adhere to the agreed United Kingdom position. Similar arrangements apply to other international negotiations which affect devolved matters, such the Copenhagen conference on climate change and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.


External relations recommendations of the Commission on Scottish Devolution

8.5 The Commission recognised the importance of the European Union to Scotland, and made several recommendations to strengthen the role of Scottish Ministers in formulating the United Kingdom's position, both generally and where particular Scottish interests are involved. The Commission also recommended that there should be a presumption that Scottish Ministers should be part of the United Kingdom delegation when devolved issues are being discussed, and, similarly, that there should be a presumption, when practicable, that Scottish Ministers should be able to speak in support of the United Kingdom position.

8.6 These recommendations potentially strengthen the opportunity to reflect Scottish concerns in Europe. However, Scottish Ministers would still require the agreement of the United Kingdom Government to be able to speak, and would not be able to deviate from the United Kingdom position.

8.7 The Commission also made a number of recommendations designed to improve relations between the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government within devolution. These included strengthening the Joint Ministerial Committee in various ways, such as increasing the frequency of its meetings and increasing parliamentary scrutiny of its proceedings. The Commission also made several recommendations to improve the relationship between the Scottish Parliament and the United Kingdom Parliament. These included more formal channels of communication, particularly where legislation involves both devolved and reserved matters, and the appearance of the First Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland before relevant committees in the United Kingdom Parliament and the Scottish Parliament respectively. 116

8.8 Some of these recommendations could improve the relationship between the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government, particularly those that would genuinely improve the effectiveness of the Joint Ministerial Committee. It should be noted, however, that any improvements to the relationship between the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government should ensure that Ministers are held properly accountable to their own Parliament for the exercise of their respective responsibilities.

Full devolution

8.9 Scotland could not play a full role in international affairs without independence. However, experience from other countries shows that, even within the current arrangements, Scotland's international role could be enhanced.

8.10 Devolved governments from both Belgium and Spain have a right to attend meetings of the European Union Council of Ministers when matters within their responsibilities are being considered. Similarly, representatives of the German regions - sitting in the upper chamber of the German parliament - have a key role in determining the German position for European Union discussions of matters within their sole competence.

8.11 Full devolution could give similar rights of attendance at Council of Ministers meetings to Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Ministers, instead of having to rely on the goodwill of the United Kingdom Government. Where devolved interests predominate, a Scottish Minister could speak for the United Kingdom as a whole. This principle applies to other international conferences and meetings, for instance Scotland could also have a right of attendance at the International Climate Change Negotiations in Copenhagen.


Scotland in Europe

8.12 An independent Scotland would continue membership of the European Union, fulfilling the responsibilities which membership brings, and maintaining its political, economic and social links to Europe. As a nation within the United Kingdom, Scotland is already actively involved in, and influencing, the European Union, is governed by European Union law, and is responsible for transposing European Union law into Scots law for devolved subjects. However, as part of the United Kingdom, Scotland is less fully involved in European Union policy-making. Scotland derives a range of benefits from being part of the European Union, including access to the largest single market in the world. Full membership of the European Union would allow Scotland to participate fully in European affairs, and ensure that Scottish interests were represented. Settling the details of European Union membership would take place in parallel to independence negotiations with the United Kingdom Government, and would cover areas such as number of MEPs and weight in the Council of Ministers.

8.13 Scotland would represent its own national interests within the European Union, in the same way as other member states, 117 influencing directly the overall direction of European Union policy, as well as raising Scotland's profile as a responsible and active European nation.

8.14 As a full member of the European Union, Scotland would have greater representation across the European Union's various institutions and bodies. Within the United Kingdom, Scotland has six MEPs, but independent countries of a comparable size to Scotland, such as Denmark, have thirteen MEPs as representation is calculated so that there are proportionally fewer MEPs for larger member states than for smaller ones. An increase in the number of Scottish MEPs would widen the range of committees on which they could serve, further increasing Scotland's influence. Scottish Government Ministers would sit on the Council of the European Union, the organisation's principal decision-making body.

8.15 An independent Scotland would also have greater representation on other European Union bodies, including the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. As a full member, Scotland would be eligible to serve as President of the Council of the European Union, which rotates on a six-monthly basis between all members. Scotland would have a strong and consistent voice in Europe to argue for its own national interests, as well as representing Scottish views on wider European Union matters.

8.16 In an increasingly globalised world, membership of organisations such as the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the World Health Organisation, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Trade Organisation would cement Scotland's place in the international community. Through these organisations, Scotland could promote its national interests globally, representing the views and interests of its people, and engaging with other states as an equal partner. Scotland would also play a full role in considering and addressing issues like peace and war, reconciliation and climate change. As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland already has links to such organisations, but is not a full member of most. Independence would enable Scotland to play a full role in each of these organisations, with the same rights and responsibilities as all other full members.

8.17 As part of the global community, an independent Scotland would establish a diplomatic service, as well as a government department to deal with international affairs. 118 Scotland has already established its own offices in certain strategic overseas locations (Brussels, Washington DC and Beijing) to represent key interests. Through Scottish Development International, which promotes Scottish international trade and inward investment, Scotland also has a presence in 21 other locations. Scotland would be well-placed to build a strong diplomatic service, promoting Scottish political and economic interests, as well as Scottish culture, and offering protection to Scottish citizens. This would be an important element of Scotland's full role in the international community.

Scotland and the United Kingdom

8.18 On independence, relations between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom would be conducted on an equal footing between two sovereign governments. This should lead to an improved relationship between the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government, which is sometimes strained by the devolution settlement, particularly around areas of contention. While areas of difference would exist - as is common between neighbouring nations - independence would remove ambiguities and disagreements over areas of responsibility, allowing the development of a stronger partnership between the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government.

8.19 Independence would require intergovernmental machinery to manage a new relationship and to gain maximum benefit from the Scotland-United Kingdom partnership. Existing structures, such as the Joint Ministerial Committee, should serve as a useful model. Other existing bodies, such as the British-Irish Council, would remain relevant after independence (see Box 13).

8.20 A new partnership between the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government would support cross-border institutions and bodies which continue to exist after independence. There would also be benefits to Scotland and the United Kingdom retaining a strong political relationship when dealing with the European Union.

8.21 As equal sovereign states, Scotland and the United Kingdom would be able to work together in a strong partnership on areas of mutual interest and advantage. An intergovernmental mechanism should be created to help manage this relationship. This would help ensure that areas of common interests were reflected and advanced in European Union decision-making.


The British-Irish Council currently consists of: two sovereign states - the UK and Ireland; the three devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and the three Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. Arising out of the Agreements underpinning the peace process in Northern Ireland, the Council is a forum for finding and progressing areas of collaboration between all the member administrations to develop policy solutions to common challenges. Each Member Administration has an equal voice at the Council, and decisions are taken by consensus. It would therefore make no difference to the Council's composition or operation if Scotland were to become a sovereign state. It would continue as a valuable means of exchanging experience and opinions, and agreeing future work to benefit all the administrations represented. The Council provides a good model for positive inter-governmental relationships in which mutual respect is paramount, and Scotland will continue to support its consolidation. The next stage of this is to secure a standing Secretariat, which can then provide the Council with a secure base for its further development.

Who will qualify for
citizenship of Scotland
should/when it
becomes independent?

(Written response to the National Conversation, August 2007)

8.22 Citizenship in an independent Scotland will be based upon an inclusive model. Many people in Scotland have ties to the rest of the United Kingdom, including familial, social and economic connections. An independent Scotland could recognise the complex shared history of Scotland and the United Kingdom by offering shared or dual citizenship. As a member of the European Union, Scottish citizens would have free access across Europe.

Scotland's defence, security and resilience

8.23 Scotland is currently unusual as a nation in that it does not have responsibility for matters of national defence. The Scottish Government, unlike those in other nations, is unable to determine the levels of spending on defence, or indeed how much of that spending occurs in Scotland; it is unable to decide on whether our young men and women are sent to participate in conflicts such as the Iraq war; and Scotland is unable to decide whether or not nuclear weapons are based on our territory. That is the defence status quo for Scotland, with these issues and others decided outwith Scotland.

8.24 A central function of government is to ensure the security of its citizens and to protect them, their property and way of life against threats. Governments also plan and act to ensure that society can withstand and react to major emergencies, whether natural or man-made.

8.25 Working to ensure the security of its citizens and protect their prosperity and way of life against internal and external threats is a normal and natural function of government and one carried out effectively by every other nation state in the European Union. Other partner nations have the full range of responsibilities including defence, security and resilience, each of which plays an interlocking part in ensuring the security of citizens.

8.26 The security of any state can be threatened by hostile states, terrorism and serious organised crime. Security is also affected by technological change, climate change, migration, competition for resources and international poverty. Societies also need to be resilient to other risks, such as extreme weather, pandemic disease, utilities failure, and industrial action.

8.27 These challenges require a range of responses: traditional policing of serious crime; the use of intelligence and technology to assess threats; planning for recovery from serious incidents; and appropriate military capabilities and partnerships. Such practical measures should be complemented by core values, such as respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Current position

8.28 National security and defence are currently reserved, as are emergency powers. 119 Other aspects of security and resilience planning, such as policing and local authority contingency planning, are devolved. In practice, there is considerable overlap in these functions. For example, although national security is reserved, Scottish Police forces, funded by and answerable to the Scottish Parliament, implement many aspects of counter-terrorism strategy in Scotland. In the event of a catastrophic emergency in Scotland, the United Kingdom Government would be able to impose emergency regulations and a regional emergency co-ordinator under reserved emergency powers but the planning would rely on devolved agencies such as local authorities and NHS health boards.

8.29 Almost all decisions about defence and security are taken by the United Kingdom Government, with no formal role or consultation with the Scottish Government or Parliament. Most prominently, decisions about the deployment of United Kingdom Armed Forces, for example to Afghanistan or Iraq, are solely for the United Kingdom Government. Decisions about defence procurement and defence facilities within the United Kingdom can have a significant impact on Scotland's economy. Neither the Scottish Parliament nor Government has any formal role in these considerations and there is no requirement for them to be consulted or even informed. The decision remains entirely within the United Kingdom Government, as do decisions on testing depleted uranium weapon systems in Scotland, and basing the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent on the Clyde.

Commission on Scottish Devolution

8.30 The Commission concluded that national defence and security are irreducible functions of the State. 120 The Commission was of the view that all parts of the United Kingdom must remain joined together for defence and national security and there should be "no risk of a lack of clarity" over responsibility.

8.31 The Commission did not discuss the existing relationship between defence, security and resilience, nor the current overlap of reserved and devolved policy responsibility, funding and agencies. It noted, in the context of Inter-Governmental relations, that existing arrangements for coordination in emergencies were well developed and had been tested most recently in the outbreak of the Influenza A virus (sub-type H1N1). However, the Commission noted that these were pragmatic arrangements and that Ministers from devolved administrations participated by invitation of the United Kingdom Government. 121 The Commission made no recommendations to put these arrangements on a more formal footing for future clarity.

Full devolution

8.32 National security and defence are seen as central to the functions of a nation-state, and therefore difficult to devolve to Scotland within the United Kingdom. 122 The experience of other countries suggests that defence policy would almost certainly remain reserved to the United Kingdom Government. However, there are improvements to the overall arrangements for defence, security and resilience that could be made to enhance the effectiveness of current arrangements.

8.33 The reservation of emergency powers could be removed, to emphasise the need for the United Kingdom and devolved administrations to work together in emergencies. In practice, the Scottish Parliament and Government would have a role in the exercise of the emergency powers, particularly in devolved areas. To recognise this, the ability to make regulations could be exercisable by either Scottish or United Kingdom Ministers as appropriate, on the model of shared and community law powers under the Scotland Act. 123

8.34 Scottish Ministers could be given a more formal role on significant decisions affecting Scotland, for example the closure of a military base, particularly where these decisions have significant economic impact, or the units support civil authorities in Scotland (such as search and rescue detachments and bomb disposal units). Scottish Ministers could be consulted on such proposals, and disagreements could be taken to an inter-Governmental machinery, perhaps the Joint Ministerial Committee.

8.35 Taking the country to war is the most serious decision the United Kingdom Government can take. Under current proposals the United Kingdom Parliament would gain a formal role in decisions to deploy United Kingdom Armed Forces overseas. 124 Extending this principle and consulting the other national Parliaments and assemblies would recognise the supreme importance of such a decision to the United Kingdom, and its constituent nations.


8.36 Independence would give Scotland full responsibility for matters of defence, security and resilience, like other nations. Independence would allow Scotland to decide an approach to these issues that best fits the national interest, based on internationally accepted objectives for defence and security policy:

  • to uphold national sovereignty and secure the territorial integrity of the country
  • to secure internal security in the face of threats and risks
  • in partnership with other nations, to help to prevent and resolve conflicts and war anywhere in the world
  • in partnership with other nations, to further peaceful development in the world with due respect for human rights

8.37 There are a number of key tasks that similar nations undertake to support these key objectives:

  • securing territorial integrity
  • working with other nations to ensure regional security
  • developing partnerships with other nations to support peace, build confidence and stability in other parts of Europe and the world
  • supporting agencies responsible for civil emergencies and security
  • responding to domestic and overseas threats to security
  • ensuring the nation is prepared to deal with any domestic emergency
  • ensuring appropriate and responsible care for veterans

There would be a range of choices to be made for Scotland's independent defence and security policy, including the size and cost of Scotland's defence capability, international defence alliances and its general approach to defence and international affairs.

What defence strategy would an
independent Scotland adopt?

(Jedburgh National Conversation event, 29 April 2009)

8.38 For example, Scotland could focus primarily on securing its territory, compared to the United Kingdom approach of also having the capacity to conduct overseas wars. It could support United Nations peace keeping operations and international disaster relief with specialist units, such as medical or engineering corps as well as providing expert civilian and military training support. It could continue to contribute to peace enforcement operations, like those in the Balkans, and actively participate in the European Security and Defence Policy of the European Union.

8.39 Each of these defence options has opportunities and costs (although current United Kingdom Government defence spending in Scotland is proportionately lower than in the rest on the United Kingdom - see Box 14), and there are different models from similar countries in Europe, and beyond. Given the importance and complexity of the issues involved, an independent Scotland would require a strategic defence review to formulate and propose national priorities for defence, and the longer term objectives and structure of Scotland's armed forces. Similar defence reviews have taken place at a United Kingdom level.

8.40 On accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, an independent Scotland would become a Non-Nuclear Weapons State, taking on the commitments of the treaty to work for nuclear non-proliferation and promote a nuclear weapon-free world. The United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent would not continue to be based in an independent Scotland and a Scottish Government would need to work in partnership with the rest of the United Kingdom to ensure an appropriate transition and relocation.

8.41 An integrated approach to defence, security and resilience would allow an independent Scotland to protect its own citizens, while further developing the expertise and capability to play a full part in international efforts to address terrorism, and other threats, and respond to natural and man made disasters, continuing the prominent global role that Scots have played over many years.


8.42 An independent Scotland would have choices regarding its membership of international alliances. For example, countries such as Norway and Denmark are members of NATO whereas countries such as Finland and Ireland are not. Scotland, and this is the stance favoured by the SNP, could co-operate with international alliances such as NATO through its Partnership for Peace programme while not being a member.

8.43 Whatever the outcome of a strategic defence review, an independent Scotland's closest allies would remain its current partners in the United Kingdom. Continued defence co-operation on training, basing and procurement arrangements would benefit both Scotland and the other nations of the United Kingdom.


1. The United Kingdom currently spends a higher proportion of GDP on defence than almost any other European country (2.4%) 125 although the level of United Kingdom Government defence spending which takes place Scotland is lower. This expenditure is used to achieve global reach, and conduct overseas deployment (such as Iraq and Afghanistan) as well as maintaining the nuclear deterrent.

2. An independent Scotland, following defence models similar to other European countries, could choose to focus on non-nuclear domestic defence and security and specific overseas peace-keeping operations. Scottish-based defence industries could benefit from any joint procurement arrangement with the rest of the United Kingdom, as well as wider export opportunities.

3. Defence spending is intended to benefit the whole of the United Kingdom, through providing security and stability, but defence spending also has a positive economic impact on the regions and countries where it takes place. For example, military procurement and defence facilities directly support employment, and the wider economy, in the regions they are based. However, Scotland receives a proportionally lower direct economic benefit from United Kingdom Government defence spending than it might expect. Actual direct Ministry of Defence expenditure in Scotland over the five years to 2006/07 was some £4.3 billion less than the population based apportionment of defence spending to Scotland over the same period. 126

4. Ministry of Defence employment in Scotland has fallen from 24,200 in 1997 to 17,900 in 2009, a proportionately larger fall than across the Ministry's activities outside Scotland. Consequently, Scotland's share of Ministry of Defence personnel has fallen from 7.0% to 6.5% over this period. The number of jobs supported by Ministry of Defence expenditure in Scotland has also fallen in recent years. In 2007/08 Ministry of Defence expenditure supported 6,000 jobs in the Scottish economy, down from 10,000 in 2003/04. 127


8.44 Only independence would give Scotland a full voice in international organisations, especially the European Union, and responsibility for its own security and defence policy. This voice would represent Scottish interests, and ensure that Scotland fulfilled its potential to contribute to debates on economic matters, energy, fisheries, the environment and on matters of peace and war.

How will an independent Scottish
Government relate to other governments
(and organisations) across the current
United Kingdom?

(Dundee Summer Cabinet, 30 June 2009)