What Would an Independent Scotland's Foreign Policy Look Like?

A Scottish Saltire flag blows in the wind near the Wallace Monument, Stirling, Scotland. Thursday, Jan. 12 2012.    This week
A Scottish Saltire flag blows in the wind near the Wallace Monument, Stirling, Scotland. Thursday, Jan. 12 2012. This week the Scottish Government has announced that they wish to hold an independence referendum in 2014. (AP Photo/Chris Clark)

On September 18, Scots will go to the polls and decide whether to remain part of the UK. The debate has mostly focused on economics, with banking, oil and debt dominating the discourse. Largely absent from the discussion has been international affairs. An independent Scotland must craft a new foreign policy; it is worthwhile considering what that may look like.

Scottish foreign policy would differ sharply from current UK foreign policy, with Scotland having a more restrained approach. Many British politicians believe that Britain is "the empire on which the sun never sets", and is therefore still an important global player alongside the likes of the U.S., Russia, and China. Those living outside the UK would rightly see this is as wishful thinking, but this desire to remain relevant on the world stage has led the UK to intervene in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Just last week, Prime Minister David Cameron penned a joint op-ed with President Obama, announcing their intention to confront ISIS. By contrast, Scotland has less interventionist tendencies than the rest of the UK. In the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, UK-wide polls showed 37 percent against the war, while Scottish polls showed 65 percent in opposition. An independent Scotland would have a far more scaled-back foreign policy, with none of the imperial complex exhibited by the UK. Scotland will continue to play a role in world politics as a member of NATO, but would do so without nuclear weapons, and would be far less likely to embroil itself in quixotic foreign adventures.

An independent Scotland would also have a more amicable and productive relationship with the EU (which, despite suggestions to the contrary, it would remain part of). In its involvement with the EU, Scotland would be a far more cooperative player than the British government has been, particular under Prime Minister David Cameron. His government has had an acrimonious relationship with the EU, threatening to veto budgets and political appointments with alarming regularity. As is the case with the UK's interventionism, much of this obstructionism is borne out of a misguided belief that the Britain is a superpower that doesn't need to partner with other EU countries. Indeed, the Cameron government has been pulled so far to the right by the rise of jingoistic parties like UKIP (Britain's answer to the Tea Party), that it has announced its intention to stage its own referendum on exiting the EU. UK polls have indicated that such an initiative would pass, while Scottish polls have consistently shown opposition to leaving the EU, demonstrating that an independent Scotland would be content to remain part of the EU.

Scotland's break from the UK would entail a break with Britain's anachronistic foreign policy. While domestic issues will be uppermost in voters' minds, Scots also have a unique chance to redefine Scotland's role in the world.

Michael Collins was born and raised in Glasgow and currently lives in the United States, where he works on domestic and foreign policy issues. He is a graduate of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.