Ireland’s Security Council bid shows us what independence could be

This week’s psychodramas are just the latest distractions from a raggedy, moth-eaten plan that, staggeringly, nobody has even checked will work. But the world is moving on, and if you’re looking for some good news, the Irish Government has launched its candidature for election to the UN Security Council for the 2021-22 mandate.

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First published in The National, 12 July 2018.

“We are living in an era when local, regional and global issues collide with increasing frequency and force. Today’s crises and challenges do not carry passports or recognise international borders. Unilateral approaches are inadequate,” says their bid document.

Those are wise words for the times we live in, and in a tantalising alternative history they could have been said by an independent Scotland’s Foreign Minister.

I’ll declare an interest, I’m not impartial, Ireland’s bid warms my heart. Here’s a small nation thinking about what it can contribute to the world, using its history and experience to help others and build relationships. Ireland has experience of poverty and colonialism that remain relevant to countless peoples and nations around the world. The peace process alone gives the Irish government a real institutional understanding about what sacrifices are required on all sides of conflict to bring about a peaceful resolution.

Ireland has a long history of partnership within the UN and has served on the Security Council. This year marks the 60th anniversary of Ireland’s first ever peacekeeping deployment. In the Irish Defence Forces, 87 members have died on peacekeeping missions and it is a remarkable achievement that Ireland has the longest unbroken service on the front line of peacekeeping of any state. But as well as that, Ireland brings something else: an attitude that through working together, small nations can have a significant impact on large international bodies.

Their themes are “Empathy, Partnership and Independence”. They’re not only laudable in themselves, but in the strange times we live more relevant to the wider world than ever. But I couldn’t help but read their bid with a tinge of regret, if you will excuse the self-pity, for us. Scotland could and should be bringing forward our experiences to the world. With our unique bridge building global links, worldwide reputation and enthusiastic diaspora we could be doing things differently.

The UK, of course, has a permanent seat on the Security Council and therefore is a major player. Historically, the UK did much to build and support the UN and multilateralism. Some would argue Scotland is represented through this and already making a contribution.

I would not disagree, but I think we could be doing a damned sight better. I think we’re being represented by an apparatus run by vandals and philistines. I’d struggle to think what the three themes of a UK bid for a seat would be if today’s UK had to bid. Perhaps “Exceptionalism, Arms Sales and Nukes”? The UK has over the past few years turned its back on multilateralism, and with the vote to leave the EU shows every sign of retreating further into a blustery braying “ourselves alone” mentality at precisely the time the world is getting chillier.

The fact that some UK ministers and officials could even talk of Empire 2.0 and of making aid conditional on the furthering of British interests should concern us all. Today’s UK tolerated proven liability Boris Johnson as well as former tobacco industry lobbyist Priti Patel as diplomats.

The world doesn’t owe us a living, or special favours, a fact that is becoming all too clear to the Brexiteers and a delusion Scotland and small states lack. Small states instinctively “get” the need for solidarity and working together.

Ireland is proving to us what independence in Europe actually means. Solidarity with the biggest bloc in the world, and a chance to shine. I remember meeting the Irish Ambassador to the UN in New York a few years ago, sitting in his office overlooking 5th Avenue talking about the reality of being an EU state within the UN. With a twinkle in his eye he said: “The EU’s great for us, we can focus on our priorities and bring the EU’s weight to support them, but when St Patrick’s Day parades down that street there sure we’ve our own flag to fly too!”

This is what Scotland could have won, and still could yet. I want Scotland to be independent not to be separate or apart, but to join the world as ourselves. Solidarity has never been more important, Scotland could make a real contribution. Empathy, partnership and independence would not be a bad starting point.