ALTHOUGH Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon frequently demands that London respects devolved competencies yet she has never demonstrated any respect for reserved matters such as foreign affairs. In fact, this double standard is part of a deliberate policy geared toward establishing a proto-embassy network, to promote and operate a paradiplomacy.
After all, why else would there even be a ‘Scottish Government France’ twitter account?
A Freedom of Information request has revealed the extent of the SNP’s spending on duplicating reserved foreign policy functions. The existence of seven ‘Innovation and Development Hubs’ gives the SNP game away. These hubs are located in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, Dublin, Washington DC, Beijing and London. And do not be taken in by their formal title either, these hubs do not focus on trade and investment alone. According to Anthony Salamone; political scientist and Managing Director of European Merchants; “despite the stylistic name, the European offices do not concentrate solely on trade and investment, but instead equally incorporate political, social and cultural affairs depending on the local context”
These hubs altogether cost £7,594,000 to run. Our figure 1 shows the cost to taxpayers for operating the offices outside of Scotland.
[Figure 5:] 2019/20 operating budget for ScotGov offices outside of Scotland
The fact that the largest single allocation is being spent in Brussels is revealing. It is plain as day that ScotGov is spending £2,079,000 to woo international support for a separate Scotland. Brussels is not just the capital of Belgium; it is the beating heart of the entire EU. The SNP are using these hubs to undermine the UK on the global stage; let nobody forget the SNP’s ‘Europe loves Scotland’ light show stunt. That was paid for by taxpayers, and EU officials felt compelled to report the incident to the police.
Indeed, this spending on the ‘Innovation and Development Hubs’ becomes even less defensible when we consider Scottish Development International (SDI). SDI is the international arm of the Scottish Government and Scotland’s enterprise agencies. And since 2001, SDI has operated a large global trade network of small offices. So, the entire rationale for these ‘Innovation and Development’ Hubs makes even less sense considering the pre-existing mandate of SDI.
But if we step back, the scale of SNP spending on duplication grows larger. The ‘Constitution, Europe & External Affairs’ department is a case in point. This department covers large swathes of reserved competences and had a budget of £19.9m (2019/20); now inflated to £26.8m (2021/22 budget). It is unclear why the Scottish Government should have any department focusing on the constitution at all; given it is an entirely reserved matter. But the ‘Europe and External Affairs’ bit makes even less sense, unless of course the goal is to establish a proto-foreign policy behind the back of Westminster.
Our figure 2 below, shows allocated spending on constitutional relations policy and reserved foreign policy matters such as Brexit negotiations.
[Figure 6:] ScotGov Business & Constitutional Relations Policy budget supports Constitution, Europe & External Affairs Dept
One should question why the SNP spent £700,000 on the EU exit strategy and negotiation division. The Brexit negotiations were a reserved matter, and this money just duplicated UK level operations. Do not forget the embarrassing moment when Nicola Sturgeon attempted to get a meeting with EU Council President Donald Tusk during the Brexit negotiations (only to be refused).
But the picture would not be complete without mentioning the ‘International Development Fund’ (IDF). This duplicates the UK DfID’s old role, costing taxpayers a whopping £10m. All the while the SNP continue to demand more money from London to address bread and butter issues at home.
The SNP is willing to spend £10m on the IDF, £26.8m on a department that should not exist and almost £7.6m on seven proto-embassies masquerading as ‘Innovation and Development Hubs’. But they simply had to slash 16% off the affordable housing spend. They cut more than £100m from the Affordable Housing Supply Programme but had all that money for duplicating reserved foreign policy functions. It speaks volumes about the wrongheaded priorities of this SNP government.
Yet all this spending to trespass on Westminster’s turf has not resulted in many high-profile successes. The SNP’s ‘Innovation and Development Hub’ in Beijing ended with ScotGov getting embroiled in a scandal over ties to firms accused of corruption. Never mind the linked point that Beijing has a huge interest in disrupting or breaking up one of the key pillars of the western alliance.
Scandals such as the Scottish Government dealing with a blacklisted Chinese firm does not get in the way of the SNP operating this bizarre foreign spending.
This wasteful spending reveals a ScotGov attempting to undercut the UK government’s attempts to re-establish a global position post-brexit. It is not coincidental, it is deliberate.