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Scotland: the strategic choice

Published: Monday, 15th September 2014

As internationalists with a deep admiration for the Scottish contribution to the UK's global strengths and interests, we will not stop warming to Scotland whatever happens on 18 September. In our diplomatic careers, numerous Scottish bosses, colleagues, administrators and negotiators added a quality that made British diplomacy respected worldwide. We do not want the UK to lose that; and we do not wish to see Scotland give up the best platform for bringing the world its pragmatism, its inventiveness, its humour and its grit.

This aspect of the choice for Scotland, its place in a rapidly changing world, has not been fully debated in the current campaign and we would rather speak out now than leave it under-represented.

The global picture is a daunting one as narrow sovereignty concerns dominate. Most societies are reconsidering their political identity now that the spread of freedom has given them the opportunity to think afresh and reorient themselves. In nearly every case, the choice has gone towards tighter horizons. The Middle East, it seems, spawns a new example every few weeks, but the phenomenon is widespread.

In this complex, unpredictable and sometimes threatening environment, the instinct to return to the tribe is understandable. Yet it is creating momentum for global chaos. The structures that have upheld the long global peace since 1945 are being eroded by the polarisation of identity and culture. A world with a thousand different colours on the map, a mosaic of equal but separate stones, will be close to ungovernable.

To succeed, even to survive, in such circumstances means having options and sharing risks. We fear for a Scotland that lacks the diversity and reach that membership of the UK delivers. Even for a united Britain, partnerships are vital. Systems for defence, intelligence, diplomacy, energy supply, open trade and sound finances are dependent on partners and on the health of international institutions; and diversity of revenue, investment, employment and business opportunities will be critical for global competitiveness. They are prohibitively expensive to secure without a collective approach. Narrower units may feel cohesive, but will be far more vulnerable. This vulnerability and lack of diversity is two-way - the UK will be poorer and weaker for the loss of Scotland.

We recognise the appeal of separate nationhood, but the choice is about much more than that: the everyday lives of the people of these islands, our collective future security, our jobs and our livelihoods. Cutting Scotland out of the UK would cause massive upheaval and risk for both Scots and all other Britons.

So intensive are the changes now under way that even imperfect alliances and partnerships have a growing value. This is just as important for the UK to realise in respect of Europe as it is for Scotland in the UK context. Scottish independent membership of the EU and NATO will not be hugely welcomed by the current members of those bodies, because of the centrifugal trend it encourages. Nato needs a strong UK and the currency question will preoccupy the EU. Negotiations for entry may be hard. UN membership would, we hope, be less problematic, because the UN is a generous and open forum of member states. But the UN is not a strong enough foundation for a new Scotland's international presence.

So the strategic issue for Scotland is precisely this: how to handle a complex and unforgiving habitat. Dividing North Sea oil and gas will be a nightmare for a decade. Sorting out old and constructing new defence, intelligence and diplomatic arrangements will be costly and debilitating. Investment will look elsewhere and employment will suffer.

The resilience of the Scottish character is, from our own experience, a prize national asset. But strengthening the UK, while championing its diversity, seems to us to be the right choice in an increasingly competitive and often dangerous world.

John Holmes, Former Ambassador to France,
Jeremy Greenstock, Former Ambassador to the United Nations,
Nigel Sheinwald, Former Ambassador to the United States