THE SNP'S independence argument has quietly made room for a commitment to “create a partnership of equals - a social union to replace the current political union.1” An independent Scotland with the status quo of the UK's social relationship in tow: is that not having one’s cake and eating it?
First, we must take ‘social’ with a pinch of salt. The SNP presume the UK will even want to be ‘social’ with the side of family that just stormed out the house.
As they engage in foreign relations for the first time in 300 years, Scotland and the remaining UK could come to have very different feelings toward the other if their national interests diverge. This was the situation, for example, in the period between the Union of the Crowns in 1603 and the Act of Union in 1707, the status to which we would in effect be returning.
While the deconstruction of the United Kingdom may occur peacefully, there is no certainty that peace in our time will follow between Scotland and the UK. This may sound extreme, but breaking up the UK while arguing that 300 years of developing underpinning values will be enough to secure peace is rather naive of the SNP. From history we see as many peaceful as violent relationships between previously integrated nations neighbouring each other. For every Czech Republic and Slovakia there’s a Pakistan and India. Proximity and a common language are not always enough to guarantee peace.
In Europe we see this argument in practice. It has yet to be proven that Europe can be at peace without a framework like the European Union, or one dominant country curtailing the ambitions of others. If there is no political framework instituting commonality between Scotland and England, competing national interests may become very aggressively pursued, if the SNP’s poor track record on foreign affairs thus far is anything to go by. An independent Scotland with sovereignty over foreign affairs is likely to set us and the rest of the UK on two irreconcilable paths. To assume established associations will last forever is to misunderstand the fleeting nature of friendships in international politics.
Nations, like humans, construct identities in juxtaposition to what they find agreeable or intolerant on an action-reaction basis. No other policy shapes national attitudes as effectively as Britain’s engagement with the world. All other policy decisions, including those available to devolved administrations, are predicated on what is happening in the wider world and how the British people feel about it. We only have to look at the War on Terror, Iraq, the 7/7 Bombings, perceived subservience to U.S interests and even the EU to see an alignment of public attitudes to foreign affairs across the UK.
This is not new - since 1707 the imperial enterprise and our conflicts abroad have always reinforced the idea of a distinct Scotland within Great Britain, a united voice in a shifting world.
Today, while public access to other cultures and ideas is ever present in the digital age, the emblem of official international interaction remains the UK Government. Whether it invokes the support or disagreement of the public, by its actions the UK Government is the trendsetter in how we see ourselves in relation to other countries.
Foreign Affairs is thus an appropriately reserved matter as defined in the Scotland Act 1998. Condemning this arrangement with Scottish independence would leave little room for a friendship between former UK nations as they form their own national interests, particular ways of viewing the world and thus divergent national identities.
A taste of the future already exists under the SNP as they undertake sleight-of-hand foreign policy decisions if only to emphasis how ‘un-English’ the Scots are. The release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in 2009 prompted international condemnation; the SNP’s U-turn on NATO; its hapless defence proposals, confusion over the currency and EU membership, the shameful refusal by the Scottish Government to acknowledge the Dalai Lama’s recent visit and the blind eye to Chinese human rights abuses while soliciting investment: they all display a dangerous politicisation of security and naiveté toward the wider world. Just how, exactly, do these examples demonstrate the SNP’s fitness to handle foreign affairs?
The SNP must learn that to be full of good intentions to other nations does not guarantee reciprocation. A ‘social union’ exists by framework, not by ignoring the demands of international politics.