I’m a Scottish Internationalist

I was interviewing Sir Christopher Meyer some years back, the man who used to be our Ambassador in Washington. There was a row about how many British troops were being sent into some new conflict zone or other and people on the Left were asking why did we always comply with American requests for troops when were already badly stretched.


I challenged him on how Britain saw itself as some kind of world leader tucked in behind the US and suggested to him that we sometimes instead took the Denmark option of taking part in joint operations with a token force and retaining our right to opt out if we wanted to. He let out a shocked laugh, like Sir Humphrey recognising one of the Minister’s follies, and scoffed … “with due respect to little Denmark, I don’t think they have quite the role of Britain…”

Oh dear me, no. That was well off script, the idea that mighty Britannia would become just one of many equal nations helping out an intervention by giving a commensurate number of troops and support. It was the UK’s job to be the leader, upfront in the cockpit with the big boys. You could see how it was a mindset, one of those self-justifying acts that made everybody in London and our people in Washington feel engaged and important even as another batch of hard-pressed and under-equipped soldiers put boots on the ground. I despair at the endless generosity of the British government in making available our armed forces for international action. There are times when action is sanctioned by the UN and, yes, by NATO that it is a duty and probably the right thing. But you have to say there is a kind of mad desperation in the UK for all things military and getting our boys into yet another foreign ruck. I asked a British officer about our presence in Northern Ireland and he said it was good training. The Troubles had to be dealt with of course but they were also a great way of training service personnel. “There’s nothing like the real thing for preparing troops for action…”


It now appears that Britain’s downward spiral in the world is accelerating as vainglorious politicians pretend the country can police the globe, have world-class weaponry, maintain a nuclear deterrent and cut costs. Have a read at this piece to discover some of the latest American thinking on Weapon-mad Britain – http://www.newstatesman.com/voices/2013/04/america-tells-britain-pick-replace-trident-or-be-real-military-partner – and these are the allies Britain is trying to please!

The terrible irony of course is that Labour is also sold on this demonic idea of British internationalism. Jim Murphy is clear that we must retain Trident and Johann Lamont’s statement to the STUC actually backs its replacement with a new generation of death weapons. This at the very time even the British military establishment is pondering it value, it is questioned in the right wing press – the Telegraph and the Evening Standard – and even the Americans who supply it think it’s time is up.

Britain provides help in all sorts of ways around the world and within what I think is an outdated approach it remains an active player in the realms of aid and support beyond our military interventions. But I fear the British enthusiasm for bigging up and posing as world leaders while also being afraid to take a line not supported by Washington has left us open to doubts about our intentions in some areas and questions about our credibility at home.

How very different this all could be under independence. For a start, we can decide when to send our forces abroad, how many and on what terms. As a new state we can be open to all countries.  We emerge with virtually no baggage on the world scene, we have a history of friendly relations and exploration and, despite the Meyer sneers, copied by the No campaign, we are well regarded internationally. What an opportunity to create whole new image for Scotland, building on the work of SCIAF and the Kirk’s World Mission, to take our expertise to developing countries and build stronger bilateral connections. Can small countries make a difference…of course. Remember the Oslo Accords in the 90’s brokered by Norway? Conflict resolution is a respected area of diplomacy…why not a specialised centre in Scotland? We have historical links to the Holy Land and to Bethlehem, could a Scottish initiative help to break deadlock there?


As an independent nation, stripped of London’s influence, we can determine what our international priorities are. And they may be surprising. Scotland made one of the greatest public declarations of compassion a country can make when, in 2009, the Scottish government freed Abdelbasset al-Megrahi. You may disagree that he should ever have been released but I doubt if you can disagree that it was a decision that defied the major powers, notably America, and sent a message of love and forgiveness around the world. It is the single decision of the devolved government which gives me the greatest pride.

We shouldn’t forget either that internationalism has always been part of our character, from explorers, traders, mercenaries, teachers and missionaries to the constant exchange of people and ideas. During the Cold War, a connection was maintained between the UK and Soviet Russia with regular meetings based on Edinburgh University in which leading academics and experts gathered to exchange information. Did any of it make its way back to London and Moscow? What do you think?

Our global footprint as a force for good is one of the most exciting prospects for our new country but we will have to be a new country first. We can’t operate globally without statehood. Even when we’ve tried, the British machine has done its best to stop us. Did they initially welcome Jack McConnell’s Malawi plans, did they welcome a Scottish representative in the British Embassy in Washington, did they make it easy for Scottish officials to travel to Brussels on joint missions?

All international relations are based, funnily enough, on nations. To be a nation or to claim nationhood is the natural progression for any country and from there it forms its  international arrangements.

The most memorable parts of my life as a journalist were travelling and meeting people just as fervent about their country as I was but equally keen to share and discuss from the West Bank to China from Russia to the USA. In the same way, Scotland needs to get out there into the world on its own terms and make its own friends, without the colonial militaristic trappings of a fading Britain.

Each country has its own national interests and its nationalism. It is when they reach out to others in the spirit of cooperation that they can change the world through internationalism. That could very soon be Scotland’s role.

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24 thoughts on “I’m a Scottish Internationalist

  1. A usual you encapsulate what I think ,but in a super,logical way
    I hope our aspirations are achieved in September,
    And vote you as a government advisor at least

  2. Another thing we are already doing as a small nation-to-be is to demonstrate how the much-abused ‘self determination of peoples’ can actually be achieved – without (excessive) rancour; with engaged debate among all the people who live here; without any discrimination against minorities, and with the firm belief that independence will allow us to turn, not inwards, but outwards to the world.
    Other independence movements will be watching – some of them (naming no names) less inclined to the inclusive path. And governments are watching too. Those with separatist movements which they fear or oppress may well start to reflect differently, once they see the result.
    It’s one of the great ironies of this campaign, that the initial decision of the UK government and parliament to respect Scotland’s democratic mandate to hold a referendum, showed ‘British values’ at their best. Since then – not so much. The UK government could well be taking credit world-wide for this. Instead, we have cataclysm and apocalyse. It’s very silly.

    • Your memory is faulty. Westminster’s first reaction to the referendum bill was ‘you can’t do that, it would be illegal and you don’t have the power’. It was only later, doubtless when his civil servants pointed out the right to self determination in the UN Charter that the UK largely wrote, that Cameron changed his tune and negotiations were launched which resulted in the Edinburgh Agreement. In which the Scottish Government got pretty much everything it wanted. Because anything else would have been litigated to the ECHR.

      I fully expect the Spanish to end up there, sued by the Catalans. But first the Catalans have to completely exhaust all other options within Spain because I cannot see Rajoy conceding an inch unless forced to do so.

  3. Agreed on the probable international perceptions of an iScotland, even applied to the USA as more revelations on Lockerbie emerge.

    As it’s Easter Sunday, I can see why you mention a role in the Holy Land. However although it’s home to the three Abrahamic faiths, one of which has predominated in Scotland in the past, it’s a big ask as a start for a role in international adjudication as ours is the only one of the three to ” turn the other cheek ” whereas with Islam and Judaism it’s an ” eye for an eye ” and any of their politicians who think otherwise tends to be assassinated.

  4. “You may disagree that he should ever have been released but I doubt if you can disagree that it was a decision that defied the major powers, notably America”

    It would be nice to think so, but the release had rather more to do with intercepting his appeal against conviction. That would have been messy. We know that WM protests were ritual – privately they wanted the release – the USA too, I’d guess. Lots of dirty washing to be sorted out post indy, I’m afraid.

  5. I’m very ambivalent about the release of Megrahi, not because I don’t think he should have been released, but because I don’t believe he should have been in prison in the first place. The evidence against him was a cobbled-together farrago of nonsense. The SCCRC found six individual grounds on which it believed the conviction might have been a miscarriage of justice. And yet MacAskill made a sanctimonious speech about him dying a guilty man. Was he “persuaded” to abandon the appeal so he could go home?

    Now more evidence has come to light that shows he was definitely innocent. For sure. The Crown Office has been ignoring it for a year, and running off to Libya telling us they’re going to find his accomplices.

    It’s not pretty, and I don’t think we should be patting ourselves on the back too much on this one.

    • Totally agree Morag. When the truth of Megrahi comes out as it surely will it will be a very black day for Scottish justice.

      I have never been sure whether the judges Lord Sutherland, Lord Coulsfield and Lord MacLean had the wool pulled over their eyes by the intelligence services (CIA & MI5/6) or whether they were complicit in the framing of Megrahi.

      Either way there was a gross miscarriage of justice as recognised by Dr Jim Swire on the final day of the case. He decried the trial as a farce.

      What has taken place since then has been a cover up on a huge scale by the british and American governments.

      • I was still living in New Zealand during the trial and so the coverage was episodic but Jim Swire’s calm yet impassioned pleas had a major effect on me. That a man whose daughter had died in the crash could come to that conclusion gave me pause. I have thus been sceptical of the conviction ever since. Libya had no reason for such an act and much to fear from a revelation of its role. Iran on the other hand had plenty of reasons from the actions of the Vincennes.

  6. Dr JM Mackintosh

    Just brilliant, Derek.

    You would make a great ambassador for an independent Scotland.

    Ever thought of going back to Washington some day ?

    Here is an interesting link on international arbitration – we have a centre for it already. One of the advantages of retaining our own Legal system.


  7. My thoughts are exactly the same as the first post by Jim McCracken

  8. I too want to see Scotland make her mark on the world in a position for good because tied as we have .been for 307 years in a Union with a country which has been made to look like we are the warriors.
    We were put in the Front line, it is our “War Like Pipes” you hear leading the charge. Scotland had but one enemy before the Union, we were friends with many, let us be like Ireland and turn our hand to peace keeping not war making.

  9. Megrahi did not have to drop his appeal in order to be released. And he remains guilty until the verdict of the court is overturned. Just the same as any other convict. Innocent or not.

    Shame people still have to try and involve the SNP in labour’s sordid oil deal with their terrorist supporting friend.

    • Have you never done something you didn’t strictly have to do, but you did it because you had been persuaded it was “for the best” by someone manipulative?

      And while it’s true that the SNP weren’t the bad guys as regards the oil deal, steadfastly refusing to look at new evidence that shows Megrahi was definitely innocent isn’t endearing them to me to be honest.

      • Morag, until the appeal is heard and another verdict is passed ,sad as it is and I too believe he was fitted up. The SNP had no other option. I also would like to see another method of picking Judges in this country, they are all too, off the establishment, All the same class in the same school/uni. No wonder they were easily manipulated.

      • Morag the Megrahi shambles is about more than the SNP or even the Scottish Government. That trial in the Hague was a carve up we all know it. But the fingerprint experts were also a part of it. None of this shows Scottish jurisprudence in a particularly flattering light. Our only comfort is that the trial was conducted pre-devolution, and freeing Megrahi at least saves us some face for posterity.

  10. Mr. Bateman for Alex Salmond’s post September Team Scotland!

    David you help unclutter my thoughts into organized empathy…many thanks

  11. The Finnish, Swedish and Canadian troops have been keeping a sort of peace on the Golan Heights for decades. Irish soldiers have lost their lives in South Lebanon whilst acting as a buffer between warring forces. The Norwegians won a battle of trust (sadly undermined when the big boys barged in for the photo shoots) with both Israelis and Palestinians. Instead of punching above their weight, they have concentrated on making a positive contribution to conflict resolution. Their contributions have been effective because they have been made in proportion to their capacity to act.

    Meanwhile Great Britain has sent in Tony Blair . . . . .

  12. Aye, Derek agree 100%, the men & women in uniform in the future Scottish Armed Forces have a primary duty to defend Scotland’s territorial Sovereignty but we should aspire to emulate our near neighbour’s (Denmark, Norway, Ireland, etc.) in being respected Peace Keepers & conflict resolution moderator’s… now at this Easter Weekend it is fitting to remember … “Blessed are the Peacemakers …”

  13. The uk is very much involved in development aid (which it does very well) and less so in humanitarian aid. I think there could be a role for Scotland to concentrate on humanitarian aid (aid that is independent, neutral and according to need). The problem for the uk to deliver humanitarian aid to a country is sometimes complicated when the country’s government is supported by development aid, or worse when that government is helped by military assistance or by actual armed intervention by the uk. Sometimes I am not sure that difference between the two is understood, ex foreign minister d miliband is in a right old confusion below as explained by msf ( who are v much a humanitarian organisation).


  14. As that ‘Scottish representative’ in the embassy in DC, (at same time as chris Meyer was ambassador) I can confirm that the FCO did not exactly welcome me with open arms! 🙂 nor was there much awareness of Scotland’s new parliament and fact we wee taking different policy decisions, on healthy education etc, than Westminster.

  15. More important to feel important Derek than to feel compassion for your fellow man?
    One wee pedantry: death weapons? As opposed to what? Stern looks and harsh words! Lol. Great article

  16. There’s an ad running on television at the moment (at least there is here in the Borders where TV is beamed up to us from the Scottish suburb of Manchester) for something (as I can’t remember for what product shows how effective the ad is!) that has a swipe at poor, wee insignificant Finland. It always makes me grind my teeth and squirm. British imperialistic thought is alive and well.

  17. Yeah, this chap has punching above our weight written all over him. I’d rather not throw any punches at all frankly. The UK will have a unique opportunity in the event of a YES vote to lose one of mankind’s most appalling inventions permanently. It will have the opportunity to choose a different path at home and overseas. Here’s hoping Westminster see it as just that…

    … an opportunity not to be missed.

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