David Pratt: An independent Scotland as the new Vienna? It’s not a pipe dream


YOU’LL find no argument from me that those who desire Scottish independence must remain more focused now than ever. Almost daily here in this newspaper many of you, our readers, are quick to remind columnists like myself of that.

As a freelance journalist specialising in foreign affairs and tasked with commenting, reporting on and analysing our troubled world for the pages of The National and other publications, I really value readers’ comments and thoughts on what I write. I know my colleagues do likewise.

Only by exchanging such views in a reasoned and reasonable manner can we improve our understanding of our turbulent world and the forces that shape it as well as their impact on all our lives here in Scotland and beyond.

Such an informed position is also vital in determining how we respond as individuals and society to the pressing issues that often affect us all no matter who we are or where we come from. The Covid-19 pandemic is an obvious point in case.

Let me be frank here then and say I often find it disappointing when I hear some try to prove their unquestioning loyalty and commitment to the indy cause by dismissing the need for Scotland to think “beyond independence”.

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Just recently, after posting a message on social media about the plight of ordinary people in certain war-torn lands, one self-confessed indy supporter responded almost instantly to me by pointing out that people living in Scotland’s “schemes” or deprived areas, “don’t care” about what happens in such places.

The Scottish Government, the respondent insisted, needs to recognise this and first and foremost deal with things on its doorstep if it has any chance of winning doubters over to the independence cause he argued.

“Let’s get indy done, then we can think about the rest of the world,” goes the thinking of those who make such a case. Some have even suggested to me that talking up Scotland’s potential future role in the international community is nothing but a “pipe dream” espoused only by certain careerist SNP politicians.

All I can say to that line of thinking is that alongside our seemingly unerring gift for stealing defeat from the jaws of victory, Scottish self-loathing is another of the traits we could do without right now. Certainly from a brutally honest tactical perspective I fully understand why someone would insist independence and achieving it must right now be the only thing at the forefront of our strategic thinking. But I’m not sure it is wise or indeed possible to separate the campaign to gain independence from the preparedness vital to run our own affairs once it has been achieved.

Moreover, I’m also not sure how comfortable or proud I would be of any government so myopic and cynical as not to look beyond its own immediate electoral needs and political doorstep.

An independent Scotland, I’ve always felt, needs to raise the bar not lower it in terms of its international outlook. As a nation I firmly believe we are better and more outward-looking than some would have us believe.

Regular readers will certainly know that I’ve long been passionate about and argued the need for Scotland as an independent nation taking its rightful place and making its contribution to our global family of nations. In aspiring to do just that however it’s time we faced up to a few home truths.

The first is that irrespective of the need to stay focused on gaining independence, we need simultaneously to continue identifying and understanding the bigger picture. In other words we must not neglect the development of those foreign affairs, diplomatic and other skill sets that will be vital if we are to make what might be a small but significant contribution to the international community.

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In fact it’s precisely those very qualities from which Scotland as a sovereign state might reap considerable dividends both politically and economically. That much was made clear by former

SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson last month, when in an op-ed article he drew parallels between Scotland and Austria.

As a country the same size as Scotland, Austria has made its capital, Vienna, a centre for international diplomacy. Translate this into jobs and investment and the till rings up with an impressive annual total of €585 million in staff costs, mission overheads and accommodation. And diplomatic missions and summits are only one aspect of Vienna’s go-to reputation. International conferences are another and said to generate another €11bn a year.

If it’s good enough for Vienna, I say, then why not for Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen or Dundee?

Writing in this newspaper last week, Robertson also highlighted how 17 years ago Scotland became the venue for bilateral face-to-face meetings between the members of parliament from Armenia and Azerbaijani during efforts to mediate over the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Sadly once again these two countries find themselves in the throes of conflict.

But what is to stop an independent Scotland acting as a venue for such diplomatic mediation in the future for similar warring parties. Would it not be the smart thing to do right now in preparing the ground for such roles in the arenas of diplomacy and reconciliation, not to mention international conferences from which Scotland could benefit?

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This is no pipe dream, it’s perfectly doable and travelling widely as I have over the years as a correspondent I’ve frequently been reminded of the goodwill that exists towards Scotland should it choose to present itself as a place to conduct such diplomacy.

The more we reach out, show ourselves to be open-minded, tolerant, willing to engage and display maturity in handling our affairs, the more other nations will likely respond in kind. This is a win-win scenario for all.

Let’s not squander the marvellous talents, abilities, reputation and ambition we have. Yes, all shoulders must be to the independence campaigning wheel right now, but equally it would be remiss of us not to recognise the immense possibilities and opportunities that exist in what follows. Without getting ahead of ourselves, now is precisely the time to prepare for that too.

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