Foreign Affairs CommitteeSupplementary written evidence from Catarina Tully, Director FromOverHere

Cat Tully is Director of FromOverHere, a consultancy providing strategy and foreign policy advice. Its mission is to support organisations—particularly governments—navigate a complex world. She was formerly Strategy Project Director at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office until August 2010. She is co-founder of the School of International Futures and an Honorary Fellow of the Strategy and Security Institute at Exeter University.

1. Further to my oral evidence to the Committee on 15 January, I would like to elaborate two points of relevance to the Committee’s inquiry. First, the implications of Scottish independence for UK’s influence, status and soft power. Second, how a newly independent small nation-state, like an independent Scotland, might go about building its foreign policy capabilities. The main reason for this written intervention is to emphasise that there are real soft power advantages to both sides in being seen to explore innovative solutions around sub-national involvement in foreign policymaking. In particular, the UK’s approach to engaging in the dialogue around independence is an asset that could be made more of.

R-UK Influence, Status and Soft Power

2. In the case of Scottish independence, the UK would lose approximately: 5m people (8%) population; 8–10% of the economy in GDP terms (depending on how much of the oil reserves are accrued to Scotland); 30% landmass; the vast majority of its oil and gas reserves (excluding new energy sources that may become available through eg fracking); and a proportion of tax revenues into the public purse. Despite this, there are persuasive reasons for saying that the UK’s influence and status would not be significantly affected:

2.1The UK doesn’t really drop in global top ranking (reflecting GDP, military spend, global leadership and diplomatic reach, soft power, though it does possibly drop from 7th to 8th largest economy). It is very likely—for the reasons of stasis and succession discussed in other submissions—that there would be little impact on Remainder of the UK (R-UK) membership of International Organisations nor would there be any impact on UN Security Council membership in the short-term.

2.2British international influence in no small part comes not from its size but from the persuasiveness and forcefulness of its diplomatic service. The UK has international influence because of its pragmatic approach, role of honest broker, and is respected in the EU, UN and other multilateral or regional bodies due to the coherence and effectiveness of its diplomacy.

2.3This assessment is dependent on R-UK maintaining spend/commitments on foreign/defence/security policy capabilities at current levels. Anything other than doing so would cause major disruptions for the R-UK, Scotland and the region. There would be two good reasons to keep this spending level despite the drop in GDP: the R-UK may face potential competition from Scotland in certain areas (on economic investment and areas of policy difference eg energy and immigration). And the R-UK would do well to reassure external allies that its role/capabilities have not changed as a result of Scottish independence.1

3. However, there are certain conditions which might result in a significant impact on R-UK influence and power, in particular if certain conditions and scenarios play out:

3.1If the atmospherics of wider EU-UK relationship turn sour, how will Scottish independence be framed within this context? Or, if there is anything less than an amicable separation between R-UK and Scotland, will the R-UK’s standing with wider Europe, the US and emerging economies be affected? Given the timings of a potential EU referendum in 2017, some rather “wicked” scenarios are plausible—with R-UK committed to leaving or loosening its relationship with the EU, and Scotland to staying in.2

3.2If other countries see this as the beginning of a process, with uncertainty about where the unraveling of the former United Kingdom will stop, including Northern Ireland and Wales.

3.3If the R-UK turns “inwards”, with an associated and evident drop-off in international leadership at international institutions.

3.4If the UK/R-UK is seen to be exporting a domestic problem internationally, embedding conflict at the heart of NATO or the EU.

4. There are similar dynamics at work more specifically on the impact on the R-UK’s Soft Power. Soft power is the ability to attract other actors to your rules, view of the world and approach to global policy issues. The GfK/Anholt branding survey shows that the UK has one of the very few powerful, well-rounded global reputations. It is seen as a rule-maintainer not setter. The UK’s experienced broker role is respected externally and considered to add significant value in terms of making global governance work better, particularly in international institutions. The Monocle Soft Power audit supports this view—placing the UK at the top of this year’s scale. Soft power is resilient and relatively slow to change. The resonance of the different bonds, images, symbols and characteristics that make up the UK as an immediately recognisable entity are thick enough to withstand an independent Scotland appropriating some of the concepts. There is no reason to think that competition between the R-UK and Scotland would a zero-sum game on soft power—and in fact there could be returns to cooperation (eg use of English, culture, tourism).

5. However: if soft power is about the power of attraction towards your world-view, it is at first glance difficult to see fragmentation as anything other than a negative judgement on the UK. Outsiders will ask whether there was good reason for Scots not wanting to be part of the Union? Nothing speaks louder than citizens voting with their feet. This phenomenon—in the absence of clear explanations—may well open up questions about what was wrong with the political construct formerly known as the United Kingdom. This is quite aside from the to-be-expected response of countries like Venezuela, Iran and Argentina who have interest in putting into question the UK’s authority and legitimacy.

6. In summary, the implications of Scottish independence on the gamut of R-UK hard/soft/smart power are heavily mediated by the perceptions of other member-states and their citizens. Personal anecdotal evidence from across North America and Europe indicates that other countries are finding it difficult to assess their own response to independence since they are not getting much response from Whitehall. They are uncertain about what the Scottish Referendum means and what Scottish independence might mean. Herein lies an opportunity for the UK and Scotland both to engage and reassure partners’ concerns while balancing their own quite separate respective agendas and build their respective soft power credibilities—whatever the outcome of the referendum:

6.1The Scottish government specifically could further share its case for independence, why they propose it and what they want to get out of it. Given that foreign policy is in large part about identity, it would be helpful to hear more information from the SNP about proposed alliances and relations with other countries, eg whether an independent Scotland’s posture would be principally Atlanticist, Scandinavian, Continental, or a combination of the above. More clarity may be helpful around the intended future defence posture—in particular around reassuring burden-sharing commitments around NATO and EU security capabilities. And specifically for European partners, any major departures from (or interests in leading) the EU Foreign policy aquis.3

6.2The UK could reassure allies about future levels of R-UK defence and foreign policy spending or at least capability.

6.3But the real win here—admittedly unorthodox and untraditional, as befits this rather historically and politically exceptional glidepath to potential state independence—is for the UK and SNP governments to work together now to preempt external allies’ concerns about the uncertainty that would arise should Scottish-R-UK cooperation break down. This requires some reassurance that the UK and Scottish Governments and civil servants are committed to maintaining a cooperative stance throughout the process of negotiation—working together, planning together, filtering out unexpected surprises. The United Kingdom has found itself in a rather unique position constitutionally and politically—and chosen to be so. Therefore this is the time for sensible—if out of the ordinary—responses. For example, a joint delegation from both the UK/Scottish Governments could visit EU member states before the start of the campaign. This would give the clear message that although each party has a very different posture and assessment of the probability of independence—they have a common interest in as smooth a process as possible.

7. There is a second opportunity—directly for the UK government. There are good reasons for the UK Government’s current strong line that it will not do contingency planning, prepare for independence or pre-negotiate before the referendum. But it may be valuable to have wiggle room on this posture:

7.1It would be helpful for an arms-length institutions—like a thinktank—to assess the facts and figures in the foreign and development sphere, including identifying Scotland’s current contributions to UK foreign policy apparatus and the likely claw-back under an independent scenario. Then within this envelope, outline possible scenarios, cost-effective options and implications, similar to the RUSI paper on Defence.4

7.2It is sensible to manage proactively the risk inherent in the very different policy-making cultures between the Scottish government and the UK government. The FCO is both responsive and excellent at delivery, yet operates in a highly tactical and last-minute mode. Moreover, the foreign policy apparatus within Whitehall is heavily silo-ed and relatively uncoordinated despite the increased pressure for coordination from the National Security Council. The SNP government comparatively is more strategic, focused on the longer-term, with a coherent logical-framework—and domestic policy—shaped experience.5 This difference raises the stakes and increases the probability of miscommunications/signaling during critical negotiating times. This lack of understanding could be addressed through a well-established mechanism. A modified equivalent of standard processes during purdah could be used. Eg, could a small team from the FCO be seconded during the campaign to the Scottish government to support and build capability and knowledge of the Whitehall apparatus on foreign policy? Again, regardless of the referendum outcome, this exchange would be a positive move.

7.3Finally, there is a soft power premium to the UK in proactively framing the debate about the referendum with external partners. This promises a beneficial return to the UK irrespective of the results of the actual vote:

7.3.1As discussed at the evidence session, Scottish independence movement can be set within a wider context—drivers such as demography, values, economy, technology, interconnectedness, and complex resource systems, are leading to a sense of disillusionment with traditional forms of governance in both democracies and authoritarian regimes. Citizens of the 21st century, with multiple identities including sub-national ones, are calling for more democracy and local autonomy. The absolute and indivisible nature of the sovereignty of the nation-state is being challenged. This trend is likely to increase and is a feature nation-states need to increasingly engage and negotiate new solutions with their citizens (see Switzerland, Portugal, Quebec, Belgium, the European Union, etc). The Scottish independence debate can be seen not as a sui generis case, but instead, a phenomenon of an international trend that will increasingly be the norm. This has two implications. First, in the situation of a “no” vote, the Scottish independence debate will continue. It will not be the end, but the continuation of an ongoing dialogue between the UK government in Whitehall and part of its citizenry. This is likely to result in more Scottish influence in some form or other over parts of UK foreign, defence, security and development policy. This is why it is in Whitehall’s interest to play a long game and build capability, relationships and knowledge in Scotland.

Second: The Edinburgh Agreement surprised other countries in its pragmatic, sensible and cooperative approach to these pressures for fragmentation: “a typically English gentleman’s agreement” is the kind of comment I have picked up.6 This is not necessarily a message these countries (facing their own internal independence or secession pressures) want to hear. But there is a democratic logic to the UK’s open approach, and the UK should take the credit for taking such a response. Its response can be positioned as a positive example of how nation-state central governments can constructively engage with different regional claims within their borders in a positive way. It shows an alternative approach to engagement instead of being threatened, and responding and engaging with alternative voices and claims, instead of repressing debate. The UK can claim to be an standard-setter of good governance in the face of these 21st century challenges to the nation-state.

7.3.2The very process of imagining the process of separation forces an explicit exposition and evaluation of the benefits of interdependency between the UK and Scotland. This can positively reinforce the perceived value of those ties among current UK citizens. One concern is to ensure that the analysis done by Whitehall about the “Benefits of the UK” actually land and become part of the conversation among citizens instead of remaining an intellectual and elite exercise at the centre. The ensuing social and political debate could be a positive one that reflects well on the UK internationally.

7.3.3In summary, if managed well, there is an overall beneficial outcome to the UK and Scotland irrespective of the actual referendum result. The brainpower deployed and opening up of policy discussions can be a positive contribution to an updated view of the UK’s place in the world. New ideas can be fomented about what 21st century statecraft in an interdependent world looks like as well, as what is preferable and possible in terms of connecting citizens to foreign policy goals and objectives. But also internally within Whitehall, it is an opportunity to rethink and innovate around foreign policy apparatus, structures and purpose.

Establishing Foreign Policy Capabilities from Scratch

8. The SNP appear to have made an implicit calculation that there is a net foreign policy gain to independence for Scotland. This is despite moving from being part of the 3rd largest economy in Europe to the joint 17th. The implicit calculation maybe that what Scotland loses in scale and hard power, it gains by: over a billion pound saving on defence; being able to focus on a narrower set of national objectives; using foreign policy capabilities more efficiently; using soft power more effectively; and—implicitly—stronger regional relationships. This is a typical small power diplomatic strategy: narrowly focused on specific interests and bound closely to its regional allies.

9. In the context of few resources which do not benefit from many economies of scale, Scottish foreign policy capability must be highly targeted, strategic and very effective. I imagine that the Scottish Government would perform well on this score given its past history in developing an effective and strategic approach to domestic policy.

10. The steps taken to establish a foreign policy capability from scratch could be as follows:

10.1Decide Scotland’s desired foreign policy objectives. What are the key national interests, priorities and outcomes? What is the national view of the world, the role of the country in it, reflecting its national values and theory of change? Choose only a few issues internationally that are global in scope.

10.2Identify the key capabilities Scotland possesses and the key alliances it needs.

10.2.1At this stage—identify where Scotland accepts the European foreign policy acquis on global or regional issues; on what issues does it decide to delegate negotiations at UN conventions to a partner; in which countries does it need an embassy or consular presence and where can consular/trade requirements be met through others, eg formal cooperation with the R-UK/External Action Service/shared premises agreement/etc? This will give a steer for where a specific Scottish presence is needed, what skills are needed and how much the Scottish diplomatic capability will be reliant on the R-UK.

10.2.2On the basis of this assessment of required footprint/capabilities, negotiate the division of resources and future mutual arrangements with the FCO.

10.3Identify the nature and shape of the Scottish structures needed to deliver the Scottish foreign policy agenda. Finally, clarify the role of government in this, including the architecture—shape of ministries, type of diplomatic service, etc.

10.4Attract a core of excellent negotiators and knowledgeable diplomats as soon as possible—ie from now on.

11. Some further points:

11.1A mini-FCO replicated in Scotland would almost certainly not be the best structure. I have argued elsewhere that there is a minimalist and maximalist functions of a foreign ministry. The minimalist version is an agency/platform to act as the government abroad. The maximalist version to drive the strategic relationship with other countries/international organisations and to pull together the strategic overview of a country’s place in the world. The span of these functions should be delivered and owned by the machinery that is most appropriate for Scotland.

11.2There are advantages in apparent disadvantages of a lack of scale and experience:

11.2.1A lack of scale will drive a holistic and coherent approach that joins up foreign and domestic concerns—the lack of machinery and headcount means silos don’t arise, facilitating policy trade-offs and prioritisation. In the Scottish Government’s case, this is reinforced by what appears to be an explicit and conscious cultural preference for strategy and a focus on holistic, analytical and future-focused approaches to government outcomes.7

11.2.2The lack of experience means there are less legacy issues, both structural and intellectual. Being free from inherited perceptions and structures can be very valuable in a changing world. This can translate into huge gains in efficiencies and impact.

11.3All this could well mean that a new independent Scottish Government finds it easier than the UK to develop and pursue a clear national strategy and strategic narrative. The supporting government capabilities and apparatus can promote Scotland’s place in the world by making full and coherent use of the range of national assets including investment, education, culture, infrastructure and energy, as well as military and diplomatic capabilities.

March 2013

1 There is good reason to wonder whether this is sustainable in the long-run: effectively committing to a % increase in GDP spent on foreign and defence policy at times of straitened economic conditions. This is only one driver, however, of a multitude of drivers that are arguably requiring a fundamental rethink of the UK’s national strategy, posture, capabilities and role in the world. Given the magnitude of the economic, technological and social trends that the UK needs to square (including cost of nuclear power, development/cost of military technology, changing shape of warfare, social media, cyberthreats), this is one issue among many.

2 These scenarios may be worth fleshing out: a strong signal over the next 18 months from London (from both the press and political elite) that the UK is moving on a direct path out of Europe may be the one signal that balances out current Scottish nervousness about the uncertainties around the shape of Scottish EU membership post-independence.

3 While recognising there are domestic and campaigning constraints to sharing information on these issues.

4 “‘A’ the Blue Bonnets: Defending an Independent Scotland” RUSI, 2012.

5 Comes from both experience, preference and resource constraints (see para 11.2.1).

6 Perhaps reflecting international views of British attributes like fair play—as well as eccentricity.

7 As shown in the policy papers “Scotland Performs” and the “Economic strategy”.

Prepared 29th April 2013