The diplomatic dance

More than a few people will doubtless be disappointed that Nicola Sturgeon isn’t taking a harder line of a second independence referendum. But this is a delicate and complex situation with many interests involved. The First Minister is quite right to avoid linking the matter of Scotland’s independence too closely to the issue of our relationship with the EU. Playing down expectations regarding any special arrangement for Scotland as part of the UK is also very sensible. While there is considerable sympathy in Europe for Scotland’s predicament and some willingness to engage with the Scottish Government to explore options, we can be certain that European governments would very quickly back off if there was the possibility of being seen to be interfering in the internal affairs of the UK.

Contrast Sturgeon’s low-key approach with the brash, presumptuous rhetoric of British politicians who, almost from the moment the referendum result was known, have been talking as if they were in a position to demand a cushy deal for the UK as it quits the EU. Which approach do you suppose will be viewed most favourable by EU leaders?

There is no doubt whatever that we are heading for #indyref2. But, in order to keep open as many options as possible, the First Minister must avoid any sense that she is using the Brexit situation to engineer another independence vote. To keep the EU on board, she must demonstrate that she is willing to explore every avenue.

Most importantly of all, Sturgeon has to emphasise the fact that Scotland has a distinctive position. Without explicitly saying so, she must make EU leaders aware that the UK’s negotiators do not necessarily speak for Scotland. When the moment comes to declare another referendum it must be because the UK Government has created the circumstances which make it unavoidable.

This is a diplomatic dance. Every step and gesture is filled with meaning and fraught with the potential for treading on sensitive toes. Much as we might wish that Nicola Sturgeon would pick up the pace, she has to mindful of the other dancers.

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About Peter A Bell

Thinker. Listener. Talker. Reader. Writer. None of my attitudes are immutable. None of my conclusions are final. None of my opinions are humble.
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3 Responses to The diplomatic dance

  1. The Scottish government also needs time to draft a bill for Indyref2 and to work through other crucial issues for a campaign – currency, central bank – and have answers to oft-raised economic arguments thrown at us by the opposition. There was a long run-up period for Indyref1, so although the SG has done some of the work the situation has changed.

    The SG also needs time to work on decision makers who voted no previously with some of the same people involved with the SG campaign to stay in the EU. If these people through their involvement can be persuaded there is no credible option other than independence then the likelihood of a yes vote in Indyref2 is increased.

    So while we champ at the bit wanting action, the SG is laying the required foundations upon which a successful Indyref2 can be built.

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  2. If you are correct, then the FM could be accused of prioritising a long game to secure independence, above the one she claims, and the one for which she in fact has a mandate, which is to protect Scotland’s relationship with the EU.

    What I’d like to be made clear, by referendum, and soon, is that no limitation on the rights of Scottish citizens within the EU, or on EU citizens within Scotland will be permitted, including freedom of movement and of trade. In that respect, failure to comply with ECJ rulings or the withdrawal or expulsion of Scottish MEP’s from the European Parliament, are important triggers to Holyrood taking control of negotiations currently reserved to Westminster, as would be Article 50 if May were forced to invoke it.

    The authenticity and authority of a clear message from the Scottish people that Holyrood represents their sovereign will in these negotiations is what is required. This, presented to Brussels, as soon as possible, is more important in it’s political significance than it’s legal status as an instrument to dissolving or renegotiating the British Union; The point is that we need to create a clarity that the continuation of our Union with Europe has primacy and the negotiations with the British Union will be informed by it.

    Even if your sole aim is independence (and mine is not) leaving Westminster with the organ-grinding initiative, whilst Holyrood dance on tippy toes, could irreparably harm Scotland and it’s relationship with the EU. Possibly to the point that Independence would come too late and at too high a cost or risk, for most Scots to want to bear.

    If Theresa May can pull together some kind of solution that’s acceptable to Scotland, the rest of the UK and to the EU, then frankly, and putting my considerable prejudice to one side, she’d be a leader well worth following. I don’t however suggest we allow her the opportunity to either fumble this interminably into the next UK election, nor to extract the UK from Europe or European levels of humanity and decency, one law, deportation, or benefit claim at a time. I suggest the EU will also seek to avoid such protraction, and and an explicit rather than a tacit recognition of Scotland’s rights in this might help them considerably in avoiding it.

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    • Peter A Bell says:

      The Scottish Parliament represents the democratic will of Scotland’s people. The Scottish Government enacts that will.This needs no affirmation. In fact, it would be rather dangerous to suggest that it might require affirmation. We had an election. That provides all the affirmation that is needed.

      There is a problem with your idea of presenting Brussels with a “clear message from the Scottish people that Holyrood represents their sovereign will in these negotiations”. It’s that old problem of being impossible. Or, at least, meaningless. The UK is the member state. As far as the EU is concerned, the UK Government represents the interests of the entire UK. It cannot be otherwise. Not in any formal way, as you suggest. Nicola Sturgeon is taking precisely the right approach – as well as the only feasible one – by developing informal lines of communication and forms of influence.

      The FM can always be accused of pretty much anything. And probably will be. But the issues of independence and Scotland’s relationship with the EU are inextricably linked anyway – for the simple reason that the former may be the only way of achieving the latter. Sturgeon has been honest and forthright enough to acknowledge this. Having done so, it is actually easier for her to set the independence issue aside and make a genuine effort to explore the potential for a UK solution that would be acceptable to Scotland. She has the assurance of knowing that no such solution is even imaginable, far less achievable. So it will all come down to independence without any need for her to be “prioritising” it above the immediate imperative of protecting Scotland’s relationship with the EU.

      Don’t underestimate Sturgeon and her team. Those who do that tend to end up with egg all over their faces.

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