Sturgeon at Westminster Foreign Affairs Select Committee yesterday

The outcome of this was a draw – not necessarily an honourable draw as Nicola Sturgeon was clearly busking her way through many of the questions asked [such as whether or not an independent Scotland would have its own external intelligence agency - an MI6 lookalike].

A major moment was Ms Sturgeon’s inability to cite accurately the number of treaties in whose negotiations she had said an independent Scotland would share, She could only manage ‘A few thousand?’ Committee Chair, Richard Ottaway MP, gave the correct figure – a gasper at 14,000.

Work on these alone, in advance of  the final formal separation from the UK, would take more than the scant nineteen months the First Minister has allocated between the October 2014 referendum and the putative first full Scottish election.

The committee session was a draw because some of the positions presented to Ms Sturgeon were nonsensical and a draw because others, put to her with great confidence – were vested interest questions put by placemen for the major lobby groups of defence and whisky.

Ms Sturgeon asserted that Scotland would establish its own domestic intelligence service – the MI5 lookalike. Given that the Scottish Government has been unable to make an intelligent case for how its own cause of independence would work in practice, where they would find the operatives for such a service has to remain an open question.

This was part of the line taken in questioning by Foreign Office Minister, David Lidington who pointed out that the cost to the UK as a whole of its three intelligence agencies is £21 billion a year; and that Scotland would be starting from scratch, not simply maintaining existing services.

He specifically highlighted the fact that it’s not just a matter of employment costs but of recruiting – of the finding and training of suitable people in very specialist expertise – which also means finding competent and appropriate trainers. Then there is the need to establish and maintain a headquarters operation.

As in so many aspects of the revelations of forward planning for putative independence, such as it is, Ms Sturgeon made is clear that part of Scotland’s intelligence needs would come from yet more shelter from the UK.

While a foreign diplomatic service focused on trade generation is the constructive approach, the cost of establishing it, as with an independent intelligence service, would undoubtedly be significant. It could be done via a super consular/commission set-up but the First Minister’s vanity would hardly envisage taking that route.

However, one of the nonsensicals was pressure put on Ms Sturgeon by repeated questions from John Baron MP [Conservative]  on how many embassies an independent Scotland would establish, pressing her to say that Scotland would duplicate Britain’s 270 diplomatic missions.

Me Sturgeon rightly pointed out that smaller countries can operate fewer but far better targeted missions, where much of the UK’s establishment has no great current purpose but is  a legacy of empire.

On the issue of competence, the UK’s performance in intelligence, diplomacy and trade support through its 270 missions has been far from impressive. It is hardly a model to hold up to Scotland on any grounds beyond its sheer presence.

It was a second intervention from Foreign Office Minister, David Lidington, that flushed out the lobbyists penetration. He warned of the negative impact of an independent Scotland on trade interests, saying: ‘particularly on the promotion of defence equipment [Ed: aka 'arms sales'] and whisky’.

Lobbying is wholly pernicious in its success in influencing government ministers and policy. Defence and whisky are persistent and assiduous lobbyists and intimidate governments of any colour with their massive financial firepower.

This is a counter-democratic process. It will take an extraordinarily principled and determined government – the sort hoped for in the independence proposition but showing no sign of materialising – to act against the lobbying tradition, now a fully fledged ‘industry’, demeaning that term.

In the meantime it is interesting that the arms and whisky industries clearly see the need to lobby the UK government to press the case of their promotional needs upon a potentially independent Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon did put on the record that:

  • an independent Scotland would get no in-out referendum on the EU;
  • Trident is a non-negotiable removal.

The true value of a session like yesterday’s was what it shows of the calibre of thinking on either side. While Ms Sturgeon batted as best she could, she was clearly adrift and lacked the sort of authority hat carries the day. That only comes from having done the work and having the answers – and neither is the case.

But on the other hand, while the questioners raised some pertinent issues and some supplied relevant facts to illustrate the situation they were focusing on – it is  no easier to be impressed by predictable bores asking over-rehearsed questions, placemen and emptily self confident posers than by someone struggling to reach and missing the bar.

So a draw that fell short of being an honourable one is the best that can be said of the Edinburgh session.

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12 Responses to Sturgeon at Westminster Foreign Affairs Select Committee yesterday

  1. the cost to “the UK as a whole of its three intelligence agencies is £21 billion a year”

    Well, I’m not sure who will be running Scotland’s intelligence service but it certainly won’t be Newsroom. The actual figure is estimated at £2 billion a year. Intelligence estimates that are an order of magnitude out don’t install confidence (but perhaps Newsroom could be usefully employed in producing dodgy dossiers for the rUK as she shows some talent here).

    Of course, other Scotland sized nations manage a good fist of their intelligence services on a fraction of this money. New Zealand and Norway both spend less than £100M per annum and, of course, Scotland already contributes towards the cost of the rather bloated UK intelligence services – perhaps £160M – £200M per annum.

    Too poor, too wee, too thick… when are we going to hear the much vaunted positive case for the Union? Presumably no time soon on For Argyll.

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    • Yet again, the negative comments come from a Nationalist. If your conclusion of what is written is ‘too wee, too poor, too thick’, then so be it. I would suggest it says more about your mindset than anyone elses.

      The Nationalists seem to have some sort of inferiority complex that they barely manage to conceal. It may of course be some clever reverse psychology trick, but i’m no expert :)

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  2. “no in-out referendum on the EU”?

    Predictably so, but it will be interesting to see how that political position unfolds.

    This is just an observation, not an endorsement of any view, but my guess is that, right now, there is less support in Scotland for independence than there is for pulling out of Europe.

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    • An in-out referendum seems a bit of a waste of money given Barroso(not that he has authority to make such a statement, he’s a mandarin not an elected representative) has stated we’ll be out automatically; if we need a plebiscite it will be a ‘join or don’t join’ one after the election.

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  3. There are plenty of ambitious Scots in the UK Security, Defence and Security services who will swear allegiance to the Scottish state on Independence. In 1995 the Head of Chancery at the UK Embassy in Brussels told me that 30% of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff were Scots. Unless there has been discrimination in the recruitment of Scots to these services since there will be a well of suitably qualified applicants to choose from.

    The UK government is scared to ask its employees in these services what’s their preference, Scotland or Little Britain.

    As regards costs for embassies, take a look at the UK’s in Paris, the Palace the UK ambassador inhabits in Vienna to name but two of a host of wildly grandiose real estate in which Scotland has a pro indiviso share. Plenty of cash there even to build new Scottish embassies using the talents of our excellent native architects to showcase Scotland.

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    • Of course there’s that old intelligence operative 007. I think he’s a tax exile in somewhere sunny but I’m sure his strong allegiance to the old country & in particular the SNP might bring him back into circulation. Just so long as he can still be a non-dom & doesn’t have to pay tax in the old country.

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      • He could be appointed Ambassador Plenipotentiary, with a roving brief – that way he’d be out of tax reach and there’d be no need for expensive embassies, just a colonial base in London for the Secretary of State for England to run the English Office.
        Now who would be good for that job?

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  4. Nice to read a newsroom article, that shows respect to our elected representatives nad gives a totally unbiased view on the subject. Pin your colours to the mast and dont hide behind the term ‘NEWS’

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  5. If UK minister David Lidingston is saying that the cost of the three intelligence agencies is £21,000,000,000 a year then something is far far wrong.

    No wonder the UK economy and debt burdens are in such a mess. Twenty one thousand million for the intelligence service. Phew!

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  6. Recognising also that the UK has the third largest defence spending in the world after the USA and China, one wonders how we can afford it.

    Maybe as Russia and the USSR found out, we can’t. And the rUK’s potential disengagement with Europe, together with the US ending of the special relationship, will only exacerbate things.

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