Who should an independent Scotland invite to pay the first State Visit to the country after independence?
I intend to do a series of posts at intervals over the next few weeks on some of the diplomatic needs of an independent Scotland. Before tackling some of the weightier questions, I thought today I might look at the exhilarating question of who Scotland should invite to pay the first State Visit after independence.
A State Visit is made by the Head of State to another Head of State, as opposed to just the Head of Government (so monarch or President as opposed to Prime Minister). Head of Government visits are quite frequent, but State Visits are generally just a couple a year. The recipient state extends the invitation, though it is not unknown for a message to be sent to indicate that an invitation would be welcome. A reciprocal visit the other way usually follows within a year or two.
State Visits are affairs of great pomp and pageantry, but also the highest level of expression of political amity. Behind the parading and banquets is a huge amount of government to government diplomacy and of trade and business discussion.
The first State Visit to an independent country is a matter of huge symbolism. So who should Scotland invite to be the first Head of State to greet their Scottish counterpart as an equal, after over three hundred years?
Fortunately we can rule out WENI (Wales, England, Northern Ireland), as the issues involved in the Queen visiting herself are over-complex. I expect the Prime Minister of WENI will pay the first Head of Government visit, as the relationship will be extremely important to both countries. But State Visit, no.
The same consideration rules out other countries which have the Queen as Head of State. Otherwise New Zealand might have been a good choice. A similar size to Scotland, a thriving democracy and a population very heavily of Scottish descent.
I think we can rule out the United States too. The US will probably need to back up the Tory Prime Minister of WENI by pretending to be hacked off about the relocation of Trident missiles from Scotland (in fact the US really finds Trident more a distraction than a serious part of the arms equation. Trident is of no interest to anybody except the Westminster politicians it makes feel important). But Scotland’s strategic position in the North Atlantic will remain vital to the USA, and post independence may increase the heritage awareness of the massive number of US voters of Scottish descent. So an early State Visit for the USA, but not the first.
One way that Scotland can immediately mark a more moral foreign policy than WENI is by recognising Palestine, now that its statehood has been accepted at the UN. Palestine should be invited to open an Embassy in Edinburgh, as opposed to the “Mission” it is permitted to the Court of St James. An early state visit to Scotland by Palestine would be a great event, but not I think the very first such visit, which Scotland might need to promote its own interests as it embarks on the path of statehood.
Much the same goes for other countries with which Scotland has a close historical connection, of which Malawi has very close links. But the human rights situation there is deteriorating.
Norway is a country with strong historical links to Scotland. Its management of oil wealth is viewed as the best practice example. It shares a key maritime boundary. A good relationship with Norway will be essential to Scotland.
The overwhelming interest must be for Scotland to use the honour of the very first State visit to cement a relationship with one of its key EU partners.
Ireland is an obvious candidate, Scotland’s sister nation. But nobody wants to stir the sectarian divide and further alarm the benighted bigots of the West coast. So I don’t think Ireland will be high on the list.
Scotland’s EU neighbours in Scandinavia – Denmark, Sweden, Finland – are those with whom Scotland is likely long term to share interests and a voting bloc. These relationships will be essential.
Italy and Poland both have a great many human ties to Scotland. It has been estimated that 25% of all Scots have some Italian blood, like my good self. Poland is sending its second wave of welcome immigrants, seventy years after the first, and has strong historic links through the Baltic trade.
But in the end Scotland’s interest must be best served by inviting the first visit from one of the most powerful European states, either Germany or France. There is a wealth of historical and emotional resonance for France to be first in the queue. The French may not remember the Auld Alliance as readily as the Scots, but they are ready to play a helpful role on Scotland’s uninterrupted EU membership. I would opt for President Hollande as the first state visitor to Scotland.
There are many reasons why it is a bad idea to have a monarch, not least the entrenchment of an aristocratic elite and the sheer insult to democracy. But having a Head of State who is also Head of other States whose interests are different is a limiting factor. The Queen dislikes State Visits immensely. She only receives 2 a year for the UK, 4 at most, and getting her available to host them for Scotland will be difficult. Just a minor one of very many reasons we need a Republic.