We are testing a new beta website for gov.scot go to new site

Europe and Foreign Affairs: Taking forward our National Conversation


Foreword by the Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution

Scotland has made a significant contribution to global culture, economy and life over its history. Our relationship with other world nations has been and will continue to be of crucial importance in an increasingly globalised world. However, under current arrangements, Scotland is almost always represented on the international stage by the UK. Foreign Affairs are reserved, severely limiting Scotland's ability to pursue its own agenda in international contexts.

The EU offers a wealth of opportunities to Scotland, from access to free trade arrangements to opportunities to share Scotland's experience and expertise in public policy, investment and administration. Although Scotland is subject to the EU's laws and regulations and Scottish Ministers are accountable for ensuring that these are implemented and complied with in areas of devolved responsibility, the Scottish Government does not have a full role in the development of EU initiatives. Instead, Scotland must rely on the UK Government to represent our interests in the EU, by having our views and interests incorporated into the UK negotiating line. The drawbacks of this position are clear; Scottish concerns can be lost or diluted in the formation of this UK negotiating line, particularly on occasions when Scottish and English interests differ significantly.

Despite the constraints of our current constitutional settlement, Scotland has already demonstrated that it has the capability and maturity to operate effectively in the international arena. Scottish Ministers do attend EU Council meetings as part of the UK delegation, travel overseas to build relationships with other nations and promote Scottish exports, and lobby international organisations directly. But if we could do more, we could constantly improve our performance.

Only an independent Scotland would be able to play a full role in the international context. We would be able to set our own foreign policies to meet our own priorities, whether in international development, immigration or international negotiations. Scotland would continue to be a member of the EU, with the full Member State rights of representation to enable Scottish Ministers to argue directly for Scotland's interests.

This Government believes that independence, with full responsibility for all international representation, is the best option to enable Scotland and the Scottish people to fulfil their potential. This document sets out the difference independence would make, but also describes what could be achieved through lesser constitutional change.

Effective representation of Scottish interests internationally is crucial in an interdependent world, and as part of our National Conversation, we invite views on how to take this forward.

Michael Russell MSP
Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution