Scottish Independence: Diplomatic Presence

Part 9 of an 11-part look at Scottish independence and its potential impact on Scottish influence

Nations need embassies in the countries they have diplomatic relations with. First, they are the in-country representation of the nation they represent. The ambassador from the represented nation uses the embassy as his or her place of business, and actively represents his or her nation within the host nation. The embassy also provides valuable resources to the citizens of the host nation who wish to visit or do business with the represented nation, and also provide assistance to their own citizens who are within the host nation.

The UK, for example, uses their “global diplomatic network to protect and promote UK interests worldwide, and retain and buildup Britain’s international influence in specific areas in order to shape a distinctive British foreign policy geared to the national interest.”[i]

Currently, the United Kingdom has 270 diplomatic offices in 170 countries, staffed by more than 14,000 diplomatic professionals[ii], representing the interests of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland around the world. These facilities are collectively called the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.[iii]

In an informal conversation I had with a Scottish government official, it was claimed that Scottish taxes pay for 10 percent of the UK’s diplomatic presence worldwide. The 2010/11 Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget was £1.6 billion, of which, if the 10 percent figure holds true, £160 million was paid for by Scottish taxpayers. By 2014, the UK government plans to reduce the cost of the FCO to £1.36 billion.

Should Scotland declare independence, they would need to establish embassies in every nation they sought to have continued diplomatic relations with, with an annual budget of £136-£160 million. Within this budget, the Scottish government would need to secure facilities, hire staff, and effectively represent the Scottish people around the world.

One point of potential contention with the remaining members of the United Kingdom is that, technically, Scottish taxpayers paid for 10 percent of every embassy and consulate the United Kingdom runs. A matter for discussion and negotiation would be how the capital property should be divided. If Scotland received 10 percent of every embassy and consulate around the world, Scotland would have an immediate international presence to rival the United Kingdom. This, however, would have to be negotiated, as common sense indicates that most diplomatic facilities are not designed to be divided easily since they are highly secure buildings, and are considered the sovereign national territory of the country who owns the embassy.

Whether the resolution of this issue is rapid or not will play a significant role in how well and how quickly Scotland can establish formal ties with nations around the world. It will also impact how a newly sovereign Scotland will interact with the United Kingdom in these same countries.

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