THE Scottish Government is carrying out a “prototype diplomacy” operation which would be the building blocks for international relations after independence, an expert has said.

Dr Carolyn Rowe, a reader in politics and co-director of the Aston Centre for Europe at Aston University, also said Holyrood legislation on keeping laws aligned with Europe means Scotland will be able to “hit the ground running” in applying to rejoin the EU after leaving the UK.

While foreign affairs is a matter reserved to the UK, the Scottish Government has been expanding its international activities, with an office in Copenhagen the latest to be opened.

Other international offices are located in Beijing, Berlin, Brussels, Dublin, Washington, Ottawa and Paris, with a further office planned for Warsaw.

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Meetings between Scottish ministers and international representatives also frequently take place – in the last week alone, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon met with UK Indian High Commissioner Vikram K Doraiswami and German Ambassador to the UK Miguel Berger.

Rowe, who is part of an international research collaborative looking at regional relationships with the EU, said in the strictest legal terms, international activities carried out by governments at a “substate” level are not classified as diplomacy.

But in an article for The Conversation, she outlined Sturgeon’s “operation” to win European support for independence from the UK and how the Scottish Government is carrying out “proto-diplomacy” activities.

She added: “Eventually if Scotland was to move to an independent state, that is essentially the building blocks for its diplomatic strategy going forward and its international relations. It is a prototype of diplomacy.”

However, Rowe said this kind of strategy can be controversial and bring conflict because of the risk of undermining the strategy of the “parent state”.

One example she cited was a visit to Brussels by Sturgeon in 2019 at the height of the Brexit negotiations when then foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt reportedly took the highly unusual step of refusing to provide support.

“There was a ministerial car that all of the UK representatives can use in Brussels to get to meetings,” Rowe said. “When Nicola Sturgeon arrived in 2019 at the height of the Brexit negotiations and the tensions over that, she was denied use of the car, even though the Scots were sort of co-financing it because Jeremy Hunt didn’t want her going around promoting independence.

“He didn’t know what she was going to say, and this was their way of clamping down on what the Scots were going to be saying – which was just ridiculous – and it escalated.

“It became a bit of an issue at the time, and I have heard other people referring to this anecdote as a showcase of the way in which tensions can just become played out in the real world.”

Rowe said the “proto-diplomacy” strategy was common for sub-state regions which wanted to move towards greater powers, more devolved government or achieve independence.

“It is not uncommon to do it the way the Scottish Government are doing it at the minute,” she said.

“And it is not like they are going to meetings in Brussels and laying their cards on the table and saying we want your support for an independent Scotland. It is a lot more subtle, and it is much more about ideas and presenting capabilities and presenting themselves [as being] aligned with other small European states.”

But she cautioned it was difficult to establish how successful such a strategy was likely to be.

She added: “As part of the mood music, it really helps to inform the mindset, but you can’t really find classic examples of where this has been super effective.

“Everyone, I think, recognises it has a significant role to play, but you probably can’t isolate it from other factors as well.”

Rowe said the Continuity Act, which commits the Scottish Government to mirror EU legislation in the future, could help Scotland further down the line in the event of leaving the UK.

“They would be able to hit the ground running if they were to submit an application to join the EU, as the legislative texts and frameworks would all be aligned – it would make it so much easier to be able to slot back into the EU’s legal framework,” she said.

“Also, you would have national government support – so when this goes to a formal vote, you would have the countries all lining up to support the Scottish bid.”