Labor MSP: The Scottish Parliament needs foreign policy powers. here’s why

LFF publishes an exclusive excerpt from a new Labor left publication on Scottish independence.

Katy Clark is Labor MSP for the West of Scotland region. This article is an excerpt from “Scottish Independence: There is a third option” by the Red Paper Collective, published next week.

An important factor supporting constitutional change in Scotland has been dissatisfaction with aspects of Westminster foreign affairs and defense policy. But at present, the Scottish Parliament has little role in international politics.

However, it regularly discusses international issues and votes on motions relating to a wide range of foreign affairs and defense matters.

The Scottish government is anti-nuclear but not anti-NATO. There is a widespread view in Scotland that Parliament should support humanitarian projects and in Parliament that current aid cuts are unacceptable. There is no consensus to support a principled position against Western military intervention or a broader analysis of the role of the West or the emphasis on the extent to which the Scotland seeks to break with this regulation.

The Scottish government also has a small international budget. It undertakes work concerning several countries, and on specific issues such as drinking water, women and girls. Unlike the German Lander, it does not have the right to conclude international treaties. Whatever position the Scottish Parliament or the Scottish Government takes, they have no direct contribution to any aspect of British foreign policy.

Of course, the view of many politicians south of the border is that the independence camp failed in the 2014 referendum, and the UK government and UK institutions therefore have the right to continue to make decisions regardless of where they stand. seen in Scotland. Many will oppose the independence of Scotland and will also adopt this point of view. They may think that the claim that the Scottish Parliament should have a role in international politics is ludicrous and will not support the idea that the Scottish Parliament should have powers in defense or foreign affairs.

This fundamentally ignores the outcome of the 2014 referendum. The debate leading up to the vote clearly showed dissatisfaction with the status quo and the desire for major constitutional change in Scotland, not only among those who voted yes but also among those who voted no. The campaign argued that it was possible to get the best of both worlds, with decisions affecting Scotland being made in Scotland against the backdrop of a strong UK. This “strong Scotland within a strong UK” had militaristic overtures to some.

Many No activists argued that the union was a partner relationship. The obvious counter-argument to this remains that England’s larger population means that without constitutional locks parliamentary arithmetic in the House of Commons will generally mean Scottish representation can be outvoted.

Likewise, the 2016 Brexit referendum had no constitutional lock forcing every nation in the UK to agree to leave the European Union. So while the majority of voters in England and Wales voted to leave the European Union, those in Scotland and Northern Ireland did not. The Brexit decision therefore reignited the ongoing constitutional debate in Scotland, with Scotland joining the EU becoming a central feature of the SNP’s post-independence prospectus.

Opposition to the Thatcher government ensured that the Tories failed to get a single MP elected to Scotland in the 1997 general election. This highlighted what had been a growing disconnect between Scotland and the ‘England. From this perspective, it is now perfectly legitimate to determine how political structures can be further modified.

The armaments industry in Scotland

There is a significant defense and arms manufacturing sector in Scotland which has a huge positive impact on employment and the economy in many parts of the country and for many communities. There are also many military systems sites in Scotland, including conventional and nuclear systems, as well as complex weapons bases. There are munitions factories producing weapons both for the British military and for countries with serious human rights records. Large tracts of land also belong to the Ministry of Defense.

Decision-making for most aspects of this sector is currently at UK level. Some political decisions taken – for example, arms sales to Saudi Arabia – are controversial. However, many more of these great political actions won the support of the majority of Scottish politicians when they were taken i.e. the war in Afghanistan and the intervention in Libya.

Despite their declared anti-nuclear policy, the SNP remains attached to NATO, which regards nuclear weapons as an “essential component” of its “global deterrence and defense capabilities”. The party is not fundamentally opposed to Western intervention but to the perceived, and sometimes real, imposition of military solutions by the British government without a say.


That said, there are times when British policy clearly does not conform to the majority opinion of the elected representatives of the Scottish people in Westminster or Holyrood. Faslane, where the Trident nuclear weapons system is based, is arguably both Scotland’s most publicized and controversial military installation. The House of Commons has been required to vote to proceed with the Trident Replacement System at different stages, but there are elements of the UK state as it currently stands that are almost impossible to reject under parliamentary arrangements.

Opinion polls carried out in Scotland since the 1950s have consistently shown that most citizens are opposed to the possession of nuclear weapons and the citation of nuclear weapon systems in Scotland. This has been reflected in the positions taken by Scottish politicians over the generations. The majority of Scottish MPs in Westminster voted against renewing the Trident nuclear weapons program in 2007 and since, reflecting the balance of views in Scotland.

While it is true that there are policy areas where the majority views of UK political representatives align, lightning rod issues like the Trident and unpopular wars like Iraq have effectively recruited sergeants to the cause of independence.

This is where there are these differences that attention needs to be paid. The principle of union among nations must be based on the consent of each nation. It is perfectly possible that there is a constitutional settlement which requires the specific consent of the affected nation with respect to certain decisions. North of the border, this could require that defense policy decisions that specifically affect Scotland – including major decisions on the Trident nuclear weapons system – also require the consent of the Scottish Parliament or the MP bloc of Westminster representing the Scottish constituencies in the House. of the communes.

The 1997 Labor government created the Arms Export Control Committees to oversee, review and review the human rights implications of arms exports. A similar body could be created to perform such a function for arms exported from Scotland and the Scottish Parliament could be empowered to set policy on arms export policy. Sensitive intelligence and foreign office intelligence could be provided to the committee in the same way it currently does to committees of the House of Commons.

Powers of war

In recent years, there has been a campaign for a UK-wide War Powers Act, which has yet to be enacted. This would require the House of Commons to vote in favor of military action in certain circumstances and, therefore, provide a democratic mandate and oversight of significant military interventions. There would be specific provisions for emergency situations such as responding to armed attacks.

Although there is currently no legislative provision requiring a vote in Parliament for military interventions and war, in all recent significant military interventions UK governments have made such decisions in the House of Commons. On occasion, MPs have even stopped military actions, as in Syria in 2013. Legislation could allow the Scottish Parliament to be required to approve such military actions in a framework similar to this powers of war.

The Scottish Parliament has considerable leeway to play a greater role in shaping foreign policy and democratic oversight in the UK to ensure that controversial projects are not forced on Scotland against the will of the people Scottish. This should not be seen as a technical solution, but as a change of course in the way decisions are made and how we embed democratic accountability in decisions that have always been the prerogative of the Crown.

The debate taking place in Scotland could be the lever to infuse democracy into this murky area. Aside from Brexit perhaps, the Scottish government itself tends to raise these issues in the context of independence rather than with the aim of building a meaningful anti-nuclear alliance. This requires not only more constitutional powers, but strong social movements on the ground and politicians putting it on the agenda at all levels.

Pauline Bryan and Katy Clark will speak at Where next for Socialists in Scotland? Alongside Jonathon Shafi and Rory MacLean as part of the World Transformed which takes place during the Labor Conference in Brighton.

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