A SIGNIFICANT day in the field of Scottish foreign policy took place last month with the launch at Edinburgh Castle of the Scottish Council for Global Affairs, a new non-partisan research institute focused on international and security issues.

Part of its remit will be placing its expertise at the disposal of policymakers. This is quite clearly an asset to the Scottish Government’s aims of increasing and strengthening Scotland’s foreign policy footprint.

Arguably, the establishment of the SCGA was inevitable. Successive Scottish governments have been steadily increasing Scotland’s international engagement.

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All three Labour first ministers believed strongly that Scotland should play a role in international affairs, distinctive from the UK. The SNP governments have continued this and upped the ante, with Nicola Sturgeon now arguably ranking among the most influential leaders of a sub-state government in the world.

However, the Scottish Government’s international footprint regularly draws ire from some more militant Unionists. Lord George Foulkes of Labour spoke in the House of Lords against its international offices and asked the UK Government to step in, arguing that the Scottish Government was spending public money on areas not reserved to it and therefore needed to be stopped.

The Scottish Conservatives have not been short of criticism either, with MSPs and MPs regularly decrying the existence of any Scottish foreign policy and adopting an originalist interpretation of the 1998 Scotland Act. One need only look to social media to witness a few dozen accounts screaming into the void about waste of public money and secret nationalist plots to usurp the UK Government’s role under any post that details Scottish Government involvement in international affairs.

It might be expected that the SCGA will face similar criticism and that any engagement with the body from pro-independence parties or figures will be met with criticisms from hardline Unionists, resolute in their belief that only a “proper” government such as Westminster can engage with the outside world and that attempts to do so from the Scottish Government represent a nefarious plot of achieving independence through cosplay.

The truth is much blander. The SCGA is plainly not some ploy through which independence will be achieved. It is simply a conduit through which Scottish scholars may share their research with the world and better influence public policy on international relations. Furthermore, support for establishing the SCGA was in the SNP, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos.

It has been launched by three of Scotland’s world-leading ancient universities. Rather than representing a clever plot to sneakily make Scotland independent, the SCGA represents an expansion of Scottish civic society’s global footprint. Nevertheless, the SCGA will ultimately serve to preserve and promote Scotland’s distinctive identity on the world stage alongside acting as a hub for researchers and experts to congregate.

The SCGA will be an institutional pillar upon which Scottish foreign policy will rest in the future, similar to the Council of Foreign Affairs in the US. It will likely wield significant influence upon the present Scottish Government’s international policy as well as its successors.

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The Scottish Government, whilst possessive of a developed policy on several international issues, is still absent from many globally. The SCGA may allow the government to expand its international footprint.

Scotland lacks the traditional foreign policy powers of an independent state and the SCGA may help illustrate to Scottish policymakers new and innovative ways in which they can contribute on conflicts such as those in Ukraine and Palestine, or help solve issues such as the climate crisis and the inequality of wealth between the global north and south.

Indeed, the SCGA is likely to significantly enhance Scottish influence on international affairs overall and provide the wider world with a Scottish perspective on international affairs, something that the independence and Brexit debates have proven is sorely needed.

Given its non-partisan nature, the SCGA represents an excellent opportunity for the independence movement to shape debates surrounding an independent Scotland’s place in the world.

Ultimately the establishment of the SCGA represents Scotland’s distinctive place within the international community and signals that Scotland’s elected government and civic society are committed to remaining a player in this community. The independence movement should welcome this development, seeing it for the opportunity it is.