Foreign policy considerations for the UK and Scotland in the event of Scotland becoming an independent country - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Who would inherit what?

1.  Despite some proclamations to the contrary, it is not in the gift of either Scottish or UK politicians to determine unilaterally which state would inherit particular international rights and obligations in the event of Scottish independence. A process which afforded both the RUK and Scotland co-equal status may at first glance seem to have the benefit of equity, but evidence suggests that in practice it would be likely to lead to a degree of legal uncertainty that the international community would not tolerate. (Paragraph 25)

2.  There is an overwhelming body of evidence that endorses the UK Government's view that the RUK would be considered by the international community to be the continuing state and that it would inherit the vast majority of the UK's treaty obligations, while Scotland would essentially start afresh at an international level. (Paragraph 26)

3.  We conclude that the RUK would retain the UK's permanent seat in the UN Security Council. If an independent Scotland supported the RUK's position as the continuing state, Scotland's application for UN membership would in all likelihood be swift and unproblematic. (Paragraph 35)

4.  The idea that Scotland would inherit automatically NATO membership in the event of independence, with access to its collective security umbrella, is an overly optimistic assertion which does not fully take account of international law or NATO's membership rules. We conclude that while the RUK would continue to be a member of NATO, Scotland could expect to face robust negotiations and would not necessarily be in a position unilaterally to shape its membership terms in line with its domestic political commitments on nuclear weapons. (Paragraph 38)

EU Membership

5.  There may be pragmatic reasons for supporting some form of fast track process for Scotland's accession but this does not mean that it would be straightforward or indeed automatically conducted from within the EU, and Scotland may have to make trade-offs to secure the unanimous support that it would require. The impression given by the Scottish Government that treaty change would be a mere technicality seems to us to misjudge the issue and underestimate the unease that exists within the EU Member States and EU institutions about Scottish independence. We do not doubt that Scotland, as an independent country could play a valuable role in Europe, but it is not enough for the Scottish Government to hope, assume and assert that its arguments for a fast-track accession will find unanimous favour. It must also acknowledge that irrespective of the substantive merits of its membership claim, Scotland could still find itself competing against a variety of European political agendas that would make its path to the EU far from straightforward or automatic. (Paragraph 57)

6.  The Scottish Government argues that in the interests of continuity, Scotland should retain the UK's EU opt-outs, and that new ones could be added, if it becomes an independent EU member. However, it is one thing arguing for a position and another securing it. The fact that the Scottish Government has confidently done the first does not mean it will be able to do the latter, given the existence of strong forces in whose interests it would be to reject such a claim. If it continues to pursue this policy approach, there is a likelihood that the Scottish Government will undercut its attempts to position itself as a constructive and helpful European partner and therefore may not receive the unanimous support of EU Member States it would require. (Paragraph 64)

International influence

7.  Assuming that the RUK could largely maintain its hard power capabilities following Scottish independence, there is no reason to suggest that its influence in international organisations and institutions would change, at least in the short term. However, any resulting nuclear disarmament of the RUK would lead to obvious hard power losses which would have a profound impact on the RUK's future foreign policy posture. (Paragraph 73)

8.  It is difficult to measure the impact on the RUK's international standing and influence in the event of Scotland becoming an independent country but we conclude that some degree of reputational damage is inevitable. We recommend that ahead of the referendum, the FCO does more, when appropriate, to engage with international partners in order to highlight the UK's commitment to a consensual and broad-based engagement on the Scottish referendum, with a view to minimising the risk of damage to the UK's reputation. (Paragraph 74)

9.  We are concerned that any budgetary cuts imposed by the Treasury on the RUK's diplomatic service as a result of independence would cut into the bone of existing FCO operations. This would be magnified by the costs involved in setting up a new representation in Scotland which would inevitably divert already scarce FCO resources away from existing commitments. (Paragraph 77)

10.  There is a danger that the RUK's influence within the EU could decline in the event of Scotland becoming an independent country although it is currently impossible to predict the extent of the damage that may arise, not least because this could also be affected by the consequences of the ongoing debate over the UK's future relationship with the EU. (Paragraph 83)

11.  There is no reason in principle why Scotland could not set up a fully functioning and successful diplomatic service if it became an independent country but, in the absence of a coherent and costed diplomatic vision, Scottish voters should be under no illusion about the significant resources that would be required to fulfil the Scottish Government's aim of replicating the quality of the business and consular support currently provided by the FCO and UKTI. (Paragraph 98)

12.  It takes more than good will and soft power to seal deals internationally and Scotland would be starting from scratch in this regard, a fact that would not be lost on the many Scottish businesses that currently benefit from the FCO's support and the many Scottish nationals who use the FCO's consular services. (Paragraph 98)

13.  As far as the EU is concerned, a direct Scottish voice would not necessarily equate to more influence; influence is an upshot of many state attributes, not an automatic by-product of sovereignty. While an independent Scotland could have a more distinct voice than it does now, that does not mean that it would be able to alter unilaterally the content of policies to its own ends. It could be more effective for the Scottish Government to seek to re-visit existing arrangements on foreign policy in order to explore whether, working within the parameters of the current devolution settlement, Scottish interests could be given a more direct voice on certain issues. We recommend that in its response to this report the FCO outlines its views on this matter. (Paragraph 105)

The RUK-Scotland bilateral relationship

14.  The Scottish Government's commitment to removing the UK's nuclear deterrent from Scotland would, if delivered, have far-reaching bilateral, foreign, security and budgetary consequences for both states. It is also likely to have a significant effect on the willingness of the UK to co-operate on other issues upon which Scotland may need assistance, as well as influencing its overall position on the independence settlement. Any resulting disarmament by the RUK would be received badly by the UK's key allies and could create problems for Scotland with other NATO and EU Members as it forged a path as a new state. While the Scottish Government's commitment to removing nuclear weapons is not in question, international factors may constrain its ability to realise its goal and could mean that Scotland might not be nuclear-free for another generation. (Paragraph 121)

15.  It remains unclear how much support the RUK might be willing or indeed able to give in the field of intelligence and security and what impact this might have on its other foreign policy priorities, budgets and resources. (Paragraph 134)

16.  By the Scottish Government's own assessment, in the event of independence Scotland would need both internal and external security and intelligence capabilities to deal with the many diverse potential threats it believes it could face. Yet Scotland has no external intelligence infrastructure to build upon. With just over a year to go before the referendum takes place, it is not at all clear that the Scottish Government has a costed and coherent vision of the security and intelligence infrastructure it needs to put in place to protect Scottish citizens, businesses and economic interests. (Paragraph 137)

17.   There appears to be a working presumption on the part of the Scottish Government that the RUK would fill the intelligence shortfall that would emerge at least in the short term, but possibly over a longer time frame too. The basis for this position is not at all clear. Scotland would undoubtedly remain of strategic interest to the RUK and in the vast majority of cases it is likely that it would be in the RUK's interests to assist Scotland. However, it is crucial that Scots are aware that the RUK's intelligence and security help would be discretionary, based on self-interest and could not be taken for granted, particularly where the RUK faced competing interests or priorities. (Paragraph 137)

18.  With the information currently available to us, Scotland's foreign policy would in many key, practical respects, be very similar to that currently pursued by the UK but without access to the many benefits that derive from being part of it.
(Paragraph 140)

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Prepared 1 May 2013