Jim Sillars: Fading influence we can do without

Jeremy Greenstock exerts his ten per cent influence on the US during a UN meeting in 2003. Picture: Reuters
Jeremy Greenstock exerts his ten per cent influence on the US during a UN meeting in 2003. Picture: Reuters
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Don’t’ they just love us. High heid yins from London seem to be dying to come up here, to warn ourselves about ourselves. The latest visitor was Her Majesty’s Foreign Secretary William Hague. His message: the loss of Scottish influence on world affairs if we let go the hand of clever people like him.

According to Mr Hague: “Being a member of this historic Union gives people in Scotland the opportunity to do more good in the world, to exert more influence on global politics and economics.” More good in the world? Ask the Iraqis Blair “liberated”, or the Syrians Hague encouraged to rebel. We’ll only get a “fraction” of global influence with independence he claims.

In the early part of the 20th century most people in the British government called the UK England. I kid you not. I am reading The Sleepwalkers – How Europe Went to War in 1914 and in all the official British documents cited, England is referred to. When the Germans tried to build a railway to from Turkey to Baghdad, London described it as: “unauthorised penetration into the English sphere” in Iraq. Foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey told his Russian counterpart, when discussing Russian vessels exiting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean: “England would no longer make it a settled object of its policy to maintain existing arrangements” in the Straits. Not much Scottish influence to be found there.

It was no better in the Second World War, in which Scots participated disproportionately to our size. In his memoirs of that conflict, Churchill refers to the broadcast on September 27 1938 by Prime Minister Chamberlain: “While the Führer was at grips with his generals, Mr Chamberlain was preparing to broadcast to the English nation.” He quotes the famous intervention in the great Commons debate when Mr Amery called on Labour’s Arthur Greenwood to “speak for England”. Writing of the gathering crisis, he tells of a “great drawing together of men and women of all parties in England.” Then there was Churchill as Prime Minister – in a minute to his Foreign Secretary: “1. England has no interest in Syria except to win the war.” In official document after document the references are to England. There is no trace of Scottish influence.

The reality is, and always has been, and could be no other given the differences in size, that the United Kingdom is England with Scottish and Welsh appendages, the latter two having no influence on foreign policy made in a London anchored in England.

The decision to wage war on Iraq, opposed by a majority of Scots, did not spread UK influence. In the early days of the US-UK occupation of Iraq, I along with two other senior colleagues, met Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who had been Ambassador to the UN, and was then on his way to be No 2 to the Yank running the show in Iraq. He was remarkably frank when asked how much influence he, representing the UK government, would have with the Americans – ten per cent he said. That would give Scotland 8.9 per cent of ten per cent. Hardly worth wasting a breath to pass an opinion.

As for the present day, when Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne and London mayor Boris Johnson were in China kowtowing in a reversal of history, the Chinese smiled politely and let it be known through the semi-official press that they regarded the UK as an old country that is a busted flush. Russian president Vladimir Putin was, characteristically, more brutal in his dismissal of this “little island”. All over the world, diplomats know that the role of the UK in its “special relationship” with the US is that of poodle. I for one am happy to shed that kind of influence.

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