Devolution has been a tremendous catalyst for enabling Scotland to reimagine itself. It has facilitated the flowering of a new political narrative of and for Scotland. It has allowed Scots to elect parliamentarians empowered to create legislation which reflects Scotland’s distinct characteristics, values and cultures. The yields have been remarkable.
The first Scottish Parliamentary elections in 1999 saw the election to office of the UK’s first ever Green parliamentarian. The Scottish Labour and Liberal Democrat parties quickly tasked themselves with reinvigorating Scottish Gaelic, a commendable project which has had great success. Scotland’s ties with Malawi have been forged anew, relations with the Scottish diaspora in the United States reinvigorated.
Between them, the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Green Party have brought Scotland’s concerns over nuclear weapons into the very heart of Scottish Government; in doing so, nuclear weapons protest movements across the world now have their eyes fixed upon Scotland. In 2009, the Scottish Government released a Libyan man it had been holding on international terrorism charges, a decision which sparked widespread international debate. In 2011, an openly gay woman was elected to lead the Scottish Conservative Party, a possibility which currently seems most unlikely in the UK Conservative Party. That same year, Scots voted for a party pledging to organise a referendum giving Scots the chance to vote for an independent Scotland. We await the outcome of that vote with great interest.
When casting an eye across the years since 1999, it is clear that devolution has allowed Scotland’s distinctive culture to manifest itself in the political arena. What has emerged during this period has often been remarkable, and the many successes we can look to have undoubtedly encouraged a more ambitious sense of what might be possible for Scotland. The Scots of 2013 look at their country and its potential through a different prism to that of Scots twenty years ago. We owe much to the introspection afforded by devolution.
Progress in developing a greater outward perspective has been somewhat less impressive during this period. In terms of how it regards and discusses the international arena, the Scottish landscape has remained disappointingly static. Scotland remains bereft of an independent international politics research institute or a global affairs magazine which publishes regularly and which seeks to analyse international events through a distinctly Scottish prism. This is a striking, and rather sorry, absence.
I am writing as the Director of a new think-tank which seeks to fill this gap. Scottish Global Forum is an independent research institute – unaffiliated to any political party, ideology, or educational establishment – whose remit is to analyse and opine on international politics, with a particular focus on issues which have significance to Scotland.
Scottish Global Forum (henceforth SGF) is committed to providing authoritative analysis not only of Scotland’s domestic politics, economics and security, but also of international issues which have relevance to Scotland and Scottish interests. To this end, we are committed to offering quality analysis of issues such as humanitarian operations and peacekeeping, Transatlantic and North Atlantic relations, European Union politics, nuclear disarmament, environmental protection and democracy promotion, and to do so in a way which is more cognisant of the Scottish sensibility and outlook.
SGF’s strength lies in the calibre of the people who work with us. We are fortunate to be supported by a variety of individuals from the worlds of politics, academia, journalism, the arts, and the NGO sector, all of whom are accomplished in their fields. The Institute Fellows attached to SGF will bolster both the quality and capacity of our research; their work will ensure that SGF’s political voice is one to be respected.
Equally important, our Advisory Board will play a key role not only in overseeing the activities and expenditures of SGF but also in providing advice on our focus and direction. Peopled by an eclectic array of professionals, the SGF Advisory Board is led by Mr Stephen Gethins, a renowned political advisor who has worked at the highest levels of government and who has coordinated NGO projects across the world. We are confident that the strategic direction of SGF is in experienced and accomplished hands.
An informed international outlook
SGF is well-placed to offer excellent analysis of international politics. In academics such as Professor Alyson Bailes (University of Iceland), Dr Colin Fleming (University of Edinburgh), Professor Peter Jackson (University of Glasgow), Dr Christian Kaunert and Dr Sarah Leonard (University of Dundee), Dr Norrie MacQueen (University of St Andrews) and Dr Brandon Valeriano (University of Glasgow), we have an excellent collection of affiliated scholars who are conducting top-level research in areas such as Nordic statecraft, military provision, intelligence and security, European Union politics, UN peacekeeping, and democratisation. Their willingness to write for SGF will ensure both the quality and appeal of our output.
In David Pratt, we have a multi-award winning foreign affairs correspondent who frequently works at the frontline of the world’s trouble-spots and who will be publishing his dispatches regularly on the SGF website. David has recently returned from assignment in East Africa and he will shortly be leaving the UK to report from the Lebanese-Syrian border.
As Director of SGF I take great pleasure in the fact that one of the UK’s foremost foreign affairs journalists has chosen to involve himself as a key member of our institute. Not only is David’s involvement a ringing endorsement of the SGF project; it also ensures that by sharing his reportage with us, SGF will be publishing first-hand accounts from conflict-zones across the world.
Through our extensive network of contacts, SGF has also secured the involvement of a variety of other individuals who are willing to submit articles and blog pieces for publication on our website. Many of those individuals are conducting academic research or are professionally involved in sectors which come under the focus of SGF such as energy politics, regionalism, international development and maritime affairs.
In the next week, we will be releasing a significant report on the security and defence of an independent Scotland. Subsequently, we will be releasing articles and blog pieces examining issues such as intelligence and spying, NATO, and nuclear disarmament. In keeping with our aim to act as a facilitator of political research and dialogue, we actively welcome article and blog submissions from politically informed individuals and we will regularly be soliciting contributions from individuals who demonstrate proficiencies in fields that we wish to publish in.
Scotland’s constitutional future
In terms of our domestic focus, we know that Scotland’s political narrative is currently dominated by the issue of independence. SGF welcomes the opportunity of engaging with this issue and we will strive to interrogate both sides of the debate.
As an institution, SGF is impartial on the issue of Scottish independence, a stance which we hope is evidenced by the ideological spread of our affiliates. Across our Advisory Board and our Institute Fellows, SGF is peopled by individuals who support independence, who oppose it, and who are impartial on the subject. We hope that this variety will be expressed in our output and that the varied views of the articles we publish on this area will cement our standing as an institute whose analysis of Scotland’s great debate can be trusted. It is my hope that in the months to come, politicians, policy practitioners and commentators on both sides of the debate will respond positively to offers to publish through SGF.
This inclusionary approach to the question of Scottish independence reflects the default intellectual position of SGF on this issue: namely, that ahead of the referendum, both sides of the debate should seek as much as possible to offer an honest, informed and positive vision of post-referendum Scotland, regardless the result.
Whether one supports it or not, Scots may vote for independence in 2014. If they do, it would be remiss of us to have reached that point not having given serious thought as to what should follow. One of the hallmarks of wise and responsible politics is that thorough attention is given – as far as is possible – to every foreseeable eventuality. This principle surely applies as readily to the possibility of Scottish independence as it does to defence planning, economic projections, education policy and infrastructure development. Planning for possible outcomes is an essential element of judicious politics. Not supporting those outcomes is no excuse for not contemplating their possibility and implications.
An equally substantial effort should be dedicated to considering the ramifications of a ‘No’ vote in September of 2014. SGF is equally committed to facilitating analysis and debate of what this outcome might entail.
A ‘No’ vote will herald an array of intriguing possibilities for Scotland, and perhaps a more vigorous effort – on both sides of the Scottish-English border – to see how governance of a relatively diverse state such as the UK might be adapted in order to better meet the differing needs and demands of its component parts. Whilst the details of so-called ‘devo-max’ remain undefined, it is the assumption of many Scots that post-referendum Scotland will be endowed with further legislative capacity. Precisely what this capacity might be, and what benefits it might yield for Scotland, merit serious attention.
A vote by Scots to stay within the UK would not mark an end to the challenges of governing the UK. Nor would such a vote quash the aspirations and disgruntlements which have led Scotland to the cusp of an independence referendum in the first place. A ‘No’ vote would thus pave the way for a fascinating period in UK and Scottish politics, one which would see hugely important questions loom large. Given the assumption that even with devo-max, many key issues would continue to be reserved to London, it is intriguing to consider how far a post-‘No’ Scotland would have the teeth to address issues which are currently beyond its constitutional power.
There has been much talk of a written Scottish constitution but this talk has invariably assumed a constitution for an independent Scotland. Might it be possible for Scotland to construct a constitution for itself if it remains a part of the UK? The federal arrangements of the United States certainly facilitate a relatively fluid multi-constitutional arrangement: might this work within the UK context? If so, what would be possible from a Scottish perspective? What ideals, powers and prohibitions could Scotland realistically enshrine in such a document within the context of a constitutional arrangement in which key powers were still reserved to Westminster?
The UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) is another big issue which lingers intriguingly over the horizon. After a ‘No’ vote, and in the event that a UK referendum on EU membership was mandated, where would Scotland stand within the context of a debate which has largely been driven by Euro-sceptics in the main population centre in central and southern England? If the outcome of this referendum was a vote to leave the EU, would there be any mechanism by which Scotland might maintain some kind of meaningful relationship with the EU even although the UK had surrendered its membership?
These are just some of the intriguing questions which might loom large in the aftermath of a Scottish rejection of independence. These issues would demand analysis and SGF would look to interrogate them as fully as possible.
Scotland’s political future is incredibly exciting to contemplate, regardless the result of the 2014 referendum. Ahead of the referendum and after it, SGF will continue to offer authoritative analysis on the many key issues, not just for politically interested citizens across the UK, but also for the many international observers who have taken a strong interest in Scotland’s current direction of travel.
An important role to play
I am tremendously excited at the prospect of SGF emerging as a unique and authoritative presence on Scotland’s intellectual landscape. The issues to scrutinise are many. Exciting change is afoot for Scotland and for its relationship with the UK. Beyond the UK, it is certain that conflict, terrorism, shifting state relations, economic fluctuations and environmental concerns will continue to focus international attention. On both the domestic and the international fronts, SGF will strive to provide policy-relevant analysis for political and civic elites, and to provide citizens with clear, understandable analysis.
It is our intention to emerge as a significant voice in the debates over Scotland’s strengths, choices and place in the world. We embrace every opportunity for discussion and we welcome individuals and organisations to join us in our work.
Dr John MacDonald