…By Larry John for TDPel Media.
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack appeared before Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee to discuss how the UK Government promotes Scotland internationally.
He defended Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s decision to ensure Westminster representatives were present for talks between Scottish ministers and overseas governments.
Dispute between Governments
A dispute has arisen between the UK and Scottish Governments regarding discussions on independence during international visits.
Scottish External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson criticized the comments made by UK officials, labeling them as misleading.
Examples of Breaches
Alister Jack provided examples of what he referred to as “blatant breaches.”
Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s discussion of constitutional issues with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Washington in 2022 was one such instance.
A foreign representative personally informed Jack that they were uncomfortable with Scottish ministers raising the issue of separation or Scotland’s re-entry into the European Union.
Foreign Officials’ Perspective
According to Jack, consuls of foreign countries have expressed discomfort when the Scottish Government raises separation, independence, or other constitutional foreign affairs issues during discussions.
They believe that, just as the French or Spanish consuls would not want to organize a meeting with separatists from Catalonia or Corsica with UK Government ministers, they would not expect the UK to meet with separatists from other countries.
The foreign officials perceive the United Kingdom as a single state and find it puts them in an invidious position.
Attempt to De-escalate Tension
Alister Jack stated that he has been trying to de-escalate the tension with the Scottish Government by establishing clear parameters for constructive cooperation.
However, he has encountered significant pushback and a lack of acknowledgment regarding these breaches.
He emphasized the importance of sticking to respective briefs and dealing with matters in the devolved space to foster better collaboration.
Additional Examples of Breaches
Further breaches were mentioned, including Angus Robertson discussing Erasmus and Brexit with a French EU minister in Paris, and former minister Ivan McKee discussing Scotland rejoining the EU during a visit to Poland.
The discomfort expressed by foreign officials regarding discussions on Scottish independence during international visits has sparked a dispute between the UK and Scottish Governments.
The UK Government aims to promote Scotland abroad while ensuring constructive collaboration, but the issue of independence remains a point of contention.