Edinburgh’s strategy for collaboration with the continent is a work in progressby Kirsty Hughes / February 25, 2020 / Leave a comment
On Brexit day, the Scottish government produced a jazzy new report offering its perspective on the European Union’s strategic agenda over the next five years. The report declared its hope that the EU will promote: democratic, progressive values in the world; well-being; innovation; and that it will rise fully to the challenges of the climate emergency. The report also succinctly summarised some of Scotland’s actions in these four broad priority areas.
Few would disagree with this within the EU—and the Scottish government’s stated vision sits easily within the EU’s own five-year agenda. As a piece of pro-European, Scottish promotion on Brexit day, it succeeded in setting a determinedly different picture of a pro-European Scotland compared to the rest of the UK.
But does the Scottish government really have a European strategy—and, if so, what is it for? Foreign policy, after all, is not devolved—it belongs to the UK government. But that doesn’t bar the Scottish government from developing international and European relations, not least in devolved areas ranging from the environment, agriculture, and fisheries to sport, education and the arts.
In a recent Scottish government reshuffle, Mike Russell added Europe and external affairs to his existing brief of cabinet secretary for constitutional affairs, a brief which already subsumed Brexit within it. And Holyrood has a Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee.
That’s all fine as far as it goes. But problems are easy to spot, not least post-Brexit. The upcoming UK-EU talks on the future relationship are going to further expose sharp differences between Edinburgh and Westminster, including over having a level-playing field on issues such as the environment and, too, in trying to come to a deal on fisheries—neuralgic in Scotland as elsewhere.
There are consultative structures for officials and ministers in the UK government and the three devolved administrations to talk to each other, including on the UK-EU talks. But these have functioned mostly rather badly since the Brexit vote—both under Theresa May and Boris Johnson, who has made things worse and more politicised. No one is holding their breath for the Scottish government to have serious influence on the UK-EU talks—or indeed on trade talks with the US and other countries.
Yet despite this unpromising context, the Scottish government does actually have a raft of policies…