Ready to be a nation-state: Unionist poll finds ‘Scots Back Cooperation Not Conflict’!
A prominent feature of Unionist messaging from ex-PM Gordon Brown is the importance of cooperation between Westminster and Holyrood. Indeed the basis of the pronouncements lapped up by the media (on 10 May) is an article published by his ’Our Scottish Future’ organisation entitled ‘Scots Back Cooperation Not Conflict’: it justifies the headline with survey evidence. When asked direct questions most folk, in terms, expressed a preference for cooperation rather than conflict between the governments in Edinburgh and London. Well, blow me down!
If asked a binary question between cooperation and conflict what would you answer? Cooperation or conflict with say Russia, China, Iran, Iceland, Vanuatu, your business partner, your next door neighbour, members of your family, etc., etc.? It’s probably not too hard to guess the common sense response most people in Scotland – indeed sensible people anywhere – would give in most circumstances. Yet somehow this result on Edinburgh/London relations seems to get bent into an indication of support for the Union.
Cooperation over EU membership
Of course we could ask Mr Brown why, in urging cooperation with Westminster, he appears to downplay the fact that Scotland voted to retain cooperation on economic, social and environmental matters with 27 countries in the EU. And does he forget that by opting to retain EU membership we would also have retained cooperation with 65 preferential trading partners – benefiting from being part of a truly ‘global EU’?
However, as we well remember, the wish of a majority in Scotland was over-ruled, first on EU membership and then again on the form of Brexit that followed. The whole Brexit process revealed a clear rejection by Westminster of meaningful cooperation. Based on a serious democratic test, not an opinion poll, we already knew that a majority of Scots back cooperation – within Europe. But without agency this matters for naught!
Independent nation states cooperate
Do the brains behind Our Scottish Future deny this ineluctable truth? Independent nation-states cooperate. It is perfectly possible – moreover it is desirable – that after Scotland achieves its independence it commits to enhancing mechanisms for cooperation with (what to call the country?) the Kingdom of South Britain and Northern Ireland (the KSB) on matters of common interest. Would the KSB not reciprocate?
The suspicion must be that for now the answer will be ‘no we won’t’ but after independence the response will change to ‘but of course, that’s the only sensible thing to do’!
Nordic Council model
The Nordic Council provides a cooperative model of what can be achieved, including between nation-states which are within and some outside the EU. The Council is the official body for formal inter-parliamentary cooperation between Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland. Formed in 1952, it has 87 elected members, politicians drawn from national parliaments and nominated by party groups.
The Council’s website states: “First and foremost, the Nordic Council’s politicians are driven by the desire to make the Nordic region one that people want to live and work in. This is also the primary objective of the ideas and proposals for co-operation that are borne out of the Nordic Council.” The scope of the Council’s work is broad: it has a budget which enables it to undertake activities to enhance cooperative objectives.
The nation-state of Scotland could/should participate pro-actively in an organisation such as this with its immediate neighbour and others. After all, as we know ‘Scots back cooperation’! But we also now know that meaningful cooperation – beneficial to all participating parties – will only come from equality of status which in turn is more likely to establish necessary mutual respect.
British-Irish Council model
The bare bones of a cooperation model already exists that could be built upon to facilitate cooperation between an independent Scotland, the KSB and others – the British-Irish Council (BIT).
The BIT is a Ministerial Council. Established as part of a multi-party agreement reached in 1998, it presently comprises representatives from the Irish Government; UK Government; Scottish Government; Northern Ireland Executive; Welsh Government; Isle of Man Government; Government of Jersey and Government of Guernsey.
We learn from its website that the formal purpose of the Council is: “to promote the harmonious and mutually beneficial development of the totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands… the BIC will exchange information, discuss, consult and use best endeavours to reach agreement on co-operation on matters of mutual interest within the competence of the relevant administrations”.
An independent Scotland could/should participate pro-actively as an independent nation-state in a Council that has – and takes seriously – such objectives! We should commit to learn from the Nordic Council model and others internationally: we should commit to enhance cooperation where beneficial between the independent nation-states across ‘these islands’! And why not? As we know, ‘Scots back cooperation’! Would the KSB not engage in enhancing cooperation too?
Cooperation across an external EU border
Another example of a cooperation mechanism between an independent nation-state (Ireland) within the EU and one outside the EU (the UK) operates across the land border on the island of Ireland. This is the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) established under the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. It aims to develop consultation, cooperation and action within the island of Ireland.
Across six Areas of Co-Operation, common policies and approaches are agreed in the Council and implemented separately in each jurisdiction. These areas are: transport, agriculture, education, environment, health, tourism.
After independence, Scotland could/should advocate a North South Ministerial Council with the Kingdom of South Britain in which representatives of two nation-state governments of equal status consult, cooperate and act to further mutually beneficial matters within the island of Great Britain. This is desirable and feasible not least because ‘Scots back cooperation’! Would the KSB not also engage cooperatively?
Cooperation and The Commonwealth
The Commonwealth describes itself presently as “a voluntary association of 54 independent and equal countries. It is home to 2.4 billion people, and includes both advanced economies and developing countries .,..” (It’s worth remembering that not all members of The Commonwealth have the British/English monarch as head of state.)
So would The Commonwealth accept an independent Scotland as a member of this cooperating family of independent countries? It’s hard to conceive of rejection if Scotland wished to join. And why would this matter? Well, The Commonwealth’s “members work together to promote prosperity, democracy and peace, amplify the voice of small states, and protect the environment.”
In his first major policy speech delivered on 2 December, 2016 as Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson’s theme was ‘Beyond Brexit: a Global Britain’. He referred both to free trade and specifically to cooperation over trade with countries in The Commonwealth, stating:
“… it is our historic post-Brexit function, as the PM has said, to be the leading agitators for free trade. Again confounding those who are willing to misread Brexit by seizing the moment to campaign for openness and open markets across the globe beginning with some of those dynamic commonwealth economies that are already queuing up to do free trade deals.”
Post-independence, Scotland’s government could/should commit to membership of The Commonwealth: Scotland could then cooperate to take advantage (if necessary) of the UK government’s prior statement of intent on free trade with Commonwealth countries! After all we know that ‘Scots back cooperation’! Would the KSB not welcome an independent Scotland as a member of The Commonwealth? And unlike with other members of The Commonwealth, would it refuse to work cooperatively with Scotland over trade?
This article of course just touches the surface of the range of needs and opportunities for cooperation with other nation-states facing an independent Scotland. These will be realised through many bilateral and multilateral mechanisms, And many will include cooperation with our immediate neighbour – some by necessity and some by choice.
Independent nation-states cooperate – the government of an independent Scotland will have the capability, the capacity and the desire to do so too. Its citizens will expect nothing less – we now know ‘Scots back cooperation not conflict’ after all!