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Europe and Foreign Affairs: Taking forward our National Conversation


4 'Devolution Max'

4.1. The strongest examples of sub-state region participation in Member State decision making in the EU and international fora are found in countries using federal constitutions. It may seem unlikely that the UK will go down a federalist path, but deploying elements of the federal or quasi federal constitutions in Germany, Spain, Belgium or Canada, could provide further benefit for the people of Scotland, though admittedly this would fall short of the full benefits of independence.


4.2. Scottish interests in international affairs could be extended by constitutional agreement within the United Kingdom. Within the Belgian federal system, Flanders has autonomy to conclude treaties with international partners in some policy areas. Flemish Ministers have the right to represent Belgium within the European Council of Ministers and negotiating positions are agreed in advance between the Flemish and Federal government. It is conceivable that a federal constitution or agreement could be reached between the Scottish and UK Governments which would extend the same approach to Scottish Ministers representing the UK in international organisations and at international negotiations.

4.3. In addition, as Scotland does not have its own seat in UN or other international negotiations, it is vitally important that the UK properly consults the Scottish Government on the formulation of negotiating lines affecting devolved interests. The role of the Scottish Government in contributing to international development and nuclear non-proliferation should be recognised as a natural part of the devolution settlement and Scottish officials and Ministers should, where appropriate, be invited and expected to form part of UK delegations. For example, Scottish participation in UK preparations for the nuclear non-proliferation treaty discussions in 2010 would be a welcome step forward.

4.4. However, although some improvements could be made to current arrangements - from minor though helpful adjustments, to more fundamental changes which would begin to reflect a federal model - it is only through independence that Scotland would be able to fully shape a distinctive policy, and participate in international negotiations on a level playing field. Scotland could also strengthen the UK ambitions on climate change, given the strength of action we have taken, if only we were more engaged in the international preparations for the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit.

Overseas Representation

4.5. In terms of overseas representation, Scotland's interests would be better served by having diplomats directly serving its interests in key countries overseas, not just in Brussels, Washington and Beijing. With a 'Devolution Max' model it would be possible for the FCO to set aside a part of its current budget to allow Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to appoint specialist diplomats whose job it would be to pursue points of particular interest to the devolved administrations. In the case of Scotland, this might mean Scottish Interest Sections being created within British Embassies in major countries in the EU and other key partner countries, alongside an expansion of existing representation in Washington and Beijing.

European Union

4.6. Just as sub-state participation in international fora could be strengthened under a federal arrangement, Scottish participation in the EU could be similarly strengthened. In Germany, for example the Bundesrat, the second chamber of the Federal Parliament, comprising of representatives from the State Governments, is able to participate in decision making about EU matters insofar as the subject falls within the competence of the German Länder. Even where the matter is within the exclusive competence of the Federal Government, the position of the Bundesrat should be taken into account where Länder interests would be affected. Furthermore, where the matter relates primarily to an area of Länder competence, a representative of the Länder represents Germany in EU Council meetings.

4.7. Even without a new constitutional agreement in the UK, lessons could be learnt from the German approach to Länder involvement. Particularly helpful is the recognition that there are occasions on which it is entirely proper for a representative of a sub-Member State region to lead the Member States representation at EU Council meetings. Scotland is responsible for landing 66% of the total UK volume of fish and for 80% of UK aquaculture production. As fisheries policy is devolved, the Scottish Government has argued strongly that a Scottish Minister should take the lead in EU Council meetings discussing fishing and aquaculture policy ensuring full discussion takes place with other parts of the UK beforehand to ensure their voices are fully represented.

Box 3: Case Study - Fisheries

Fisheries is a vital industry to Scotland, supporting communities all around our coast. Fisheries and aquaculture products are estimated to provide around £600m to the Scottish economy annually. Management of fisheries is devolved to Scotland. With the bulk of UK fishing quota and fishing capacity in Scotland, and around one fifth of all EU waters, Scotland is recognised as the most significant Northern Europe fishing nation within the European Union. We also have a growing reputation for innovative and successful fisheries management with close relations with the industry.

Much has been achieved but much more needs to be. The recent economic downturn combined with the impacts of severe fishing restrictions through EU regulations has put considerable pressure on Scottish fishermen. Many of our most important stocks are managed through a bilateral agreement between the European Union and Norway, given these stocks occur in both EU and Norwegian waters. Scottish concerns are promoted as part of a UK package of negotiating priorities. Interests of fishermen in England and the rest of the UK can differ significantly from those of Scottish fishermen. Although the Scottish Government puts great effort into ensuring that the UK position reflects our interests, ultimately these have to be measured against other UK concerns.

We have long argued that, as the majority stakeholder within the UK, Scottish Ministers should lead on EU fisheries negotiations. Under a more developed devolution settlement, responsibility for representing the UK's interests at EU fisheries councils could be delegated to Scottish Ministers. Scottish Ministers could then ensure that the UK negotiating position balanced the needs and concerns of the Scottish fisheries with those of fisheries in the other parts of the UK. However, Scotland would require full independence before it would be able to speak with a separate, distinct voice within Europe.

4.8. In Spain, the Autonomous Communities now have legal rights to attend Council of Ministers meetings as part of the Spanish delegation and to speak for Spain in areas of devolved competence (with one Autonomous Community representing the interests of the others). A similar arrangement in the UK might involve a legal right for one of the devolved administrations to attend and speak at Council, with prior consultation taking place to ensure the interests of the other devolved administrations were properly represented. Attendance at Council could rotate between Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as happens in Spain with the Autonomous Communities, or discussion between the devolved administrations could agree which Council each wanted to attend.