Scotland the enemy?

The Scottish Government recently published their suggested outline of what will happen after a Yes vote in 2014’s referendum on Scottish independence.

The paper envisages that the Scottish and the UK Governments would, following a Yes vote, negotiate in a cordial and constructive manner. Given, after all, that Scotland and the remnant UK are going to be neighbours and should try to get on with each other, it’s a reasonable expectation that independence negotiations get things off on the right tone.

It’s strange, disappointing and not a little hurtful, therefore, to hear a few hints from what would be the other side of the table that suggest there is no intention to make things pleasant.

This article in the Scottish Review by a former civil servant suggests that Scotland could go into those negotiations at a significant disadvantage thanks to:

  • UK Government spies within the Scottish Government – who may be in place already.
  • Intelligence collusion between the UK and US governments to ensure a strong hand for the rUK.
  • A serious perceived lack of negotiating expertise within the Scottish Government.
  • The Scottish Government’s inability to access information it is entitled to within currently shared ministries, such as defence and the Treasury.

Added to this, are reports that the UK Home Secretary Theresa May has said that Scotland cannot make assumptions about access to UK intelligence post-independence.

Now, we can rule out one or two of these points as fantasist scaremongering – for instance, the idea that the USA would weigh in on the UK’s side in the negotiations is bizarre given it would have to be a friend and ally to both successor states. However, some points may technically be true: for instance, there is probably already much going on within the Scottish Government that the UK Government is aware of. Mind you, that’s going to be more due to publicly available documentation and ongoing, regular communication between the two governments on a range of things, rather than anything as conspiratorial as cloak and dagger stuff.

But the idea that Scotland needs to be told it will not be able to access UK intelligence post-independence is indicative of a hostile, aggressive tone that is unbecoming the dignity of the UK Government, and is unrepresentative of the mood of the people of England and Wales and Northern Ireland. It’s almost like Scotland is being made out to be an enemy in waiting, when actually it will be a close ally of the rUK and there will be the same close cultural and economic ties that there are at present. Is the UK Government betraying the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (never mind the people of Scotland) by trying to warn them that the Scots are some sort of bad guy not to be trusted diplomatically, politically or militarily?

Nobody is suggesting that an independent Scotland would or should have access to all the information produced by the rUK’s intelligence services. But if we dig just a little into the intelligence question, we can see there are at least four precedents that suggest that actually intelligence cooperation between the two countries would be very strong indeed.

First, the UK engages in a great deal of intelligence sharing with its friends and allies in the European Union. Whether on people trafficking or cross-border crime, the EU’s freedom of movement for goods, services and labour means that there is quite rightly plenty cooperation on intelligence about the abuses of those freedoms.

Secondly, the UK very closely cooperates with the Republic of Ireland on intelligence matters, not least relating to the movements and activities of some of Northern Ireland’s dodgier criminal and terrorist organisations. With a shared land border and busy shipping and air connections, it’s only logical. We can make the same assumptions about Scotland and the rUK.

Thirdly, the UK is a part of the UKUSA Agreement (or Five Eyes), which is a security and intelligence cooperation agreement involving the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. If the UK Government is willing to exchange intelligence on a certain level with little New Zealand on the other side of the world, it’s bizarre to think that it wouldn’t also want to do so with an independent Scotland. After all, that new Scotland will share a land border with the remnant UK and will possess a huge part of its former coastline and nautical territory. The rUK will want to, and frankly need to, cooperate on security and intelligence with Scotland – and vice versa.

Fourthly, there is already security cooperation between the UK and Scottish Governments. With crime and justice being a devolved matter, many elements of anti-terrorism and intelligence work already necessitate the sharing of information between different police forces, judicial systems and civil services. Adding two foreign offices, security services and armed forces into the mix doesn’t change the basic picture: jurisdictions exchanging information, according to domestic and international law, as and when needed and helpful.

Nobody in their right mind envisages that Scotland and the remnant UK will be anything other than really good friends, with cooperation at the diplomatic and political level adding to that already taking place in the social, economic and cultural spheres.

Yet the UK Government presently wants to ride roughshod over that, giving the impression that Scotland will be like a Cuba to the UK’s United States, or a West Berlin to the UK’s East Germany: a nasty, irritating thorn in the side, with whom friendly, cordial, normal relations are unthinkable.

Obviously members of the UK Government are entitled to raise concerns about independence, and obviously the negotiations should not be one-sided with Scotland getting all the assets and none of the liabilities. However, some of these concerns are based on lies and scare stories (as I’ve just demonstrated, it only takes someone who studied politics at undergraduate level over a decade ago to unpick them). Instead, the concerns should be based on constructive arguments about why Scotland is “better together” with the rest of the UK. As it is, people are left wondering just where those constructive arguments are.

The scare stories about intelligence and security tell us more about the UK Government’s paranoia, and nothing about the Scottish Government’s attitude, and indeed they misrepresent the attitude of the people on both sides of the Scottish border – all of whom will seek the very best of relations post-independence.

So two questions occur in conclusion:

1. Do “No” campaigners in Scotland really envisage that these arguments about Scotland somehow being “cut off” from intelligence cooperation are realistic, and that relations between the two countries in the realms of defence, foreign affairs and security will be poor? And what is the basis for that assumption?

2. What do people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland make of this portrayal of Scotland as some sort of “enemy at the gates”?

As ever, I’m open to constructive and thoughtful contributions.

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