The whole point to independence is that we will not emulate the UK in how we work in the world. We will inherit an embarrassment of riches other countries would give their eye teeth for. English speaking, in the “middle” time zone to reach around the world, with a historical link to the Commonwealth, as well as deeper links to the European continent, Scandinavia and Russia.
First published in The National, 6 September 2016
Strategically located at the future gateway, as the Polar route opens up, to Europe, and outwards to the North Atlantic, we’re already one of the most recognisable countries in the world. We’re an internationalist country, and I look forward to seeing Scotland change as we view the world through our own eyes and speak with our own voice direct to the world. And we’ll be in good company. Look which countries do international law and internationalism best, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, we’ll fit right in.
I remember being at a meeting in Kirkenes, Arctic Norway, discussing the sanctions the EU had just placed on Russia in the wake of the illegal annexation of Crimea. The Norwegian Consul-General to Murmansk, just over the border, put it well: “Norway of course joined with the EU sanctions, we’re a small country, international law is all we have.” The EU is increasingly acting as one bloc in the wider world, and while it is work in progress, it is a very positive development because where each of the EU states has its own historical baggage and national interest in a particular country or region, the EU as a whole acts much more on values. A positive development we might be taken out of just as it is starting to deliver.
It seems several lifetimes ago that there was talk of the UK having an “ethical foreign policy”. Nobody would even pretend it is now and the noises coming from Westminster these days are chilling. I’m a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, and I focus on the Middle East, where I grew up, a part of the world that could really do with some principled neutrality from those of us in the West. The UK could be a voice for good in the region, it is not all bad, and is listened to in a way other states are not. But it is clear that UK policy is more interested in the arms trade than equalities, and we are failing in our duty to the people of the region.
Nowhere more so than in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In fairness, there is a lot of hypocrisy from a lot of countries when it comes to this, but as the situation gets worse and worse there is more and more of a need for those of us who can to speak up. I was last in Israel and Palestine last year, the latest of many trips to the region, and I was stunned by the scale of the annexation of Palestinian land.
Any chance of a viable Palestinian state is being systematically and efficiently eroded on a daily basis. I met with political parties, community groups, journalists and activists, and the words of an Israeli peace activist stuck in my mind: “the state of Israel must be saved from itself”. My position is principled neutrality. My views are pinned on my values, and I will never be partisan in the conflict or else I will lose my leverage.
There is wrong, and right, on all sides (and there are more than two), as a gay man I would far rather live in Tel Aviv than Ramallah. But the status quo cannot hold, and the region is not far off a conflict that will dwarf everything that has come before. The demographic pressures on Israeli society are immense.
The population is growing at a significant rate, and the newly arrived “Russian Jews” from the ex-Soviet Union forming the majority of the settlers, willing to fight for the land illegally gifted them. The illegal Separation Wall grows on a daily basis, with increasingly the Israelis and Palestinians rarely interacting, with fear of the other the defining characteristic of the region. It is bad, and getting worse.
The state to make the greatest contribution to the region lately has been Sweden, under their Foreign Minister Margot Wallström. Scotland is not an independent state, but we can make a difference. We can be vocal, not partisan, but supportive of international law.
Everyone wants to see a just peace in the Middle East, but it will not happen on its own. Scotland could be that voice for peace, and we will need to be firm to bring Israeli politicians to the table. There are growing calls for sanctions on Israel in response to continuing illegal occupation of Palestinian land. I back them.
The EU was (quite rightly) quick enough to act over the Russian annexation of Crimea, we have a duty to the Israelis and Palestinians to stick true to our values. International law is being trampled upon by Israel. Scotland being vocal in a call for action will help to prove we want to be part of an international community that is serious about defending it.