by Henry Hill
Thursday, 27
January 2022
Analysis
13:15

Why Scotland and Wales are silent on Ukraine

The UK is facing major foreign policy crisis, but the first ministers aren't intervening
by Henry Hill
Credit: Getty

While the focus of the Westminster media has been on ‘Partygate’, the Government has been getting credit abroad for its relatively muscular approach towards the developing crisis in Ukraine.

The United Kingdom has been at the forefront of powers providing material aid to Kiev, and the contrast offered by British planes bypassing German airspace has strengthened the idea that Boris Johnson serious about ‘Global Britain’.

Leaving aside whether this approach is the correct one, another interesting feature of this story is that the devolved governments don’t seem to have gone anywhere near it. Google ‘Nicola Sturgeon Ukraine’ and ‘Mark Drakeford Ukraine’ and you will, as of the time of writing, find no interventions from either of these self-consciously European first ministers on the most serious crisis facing Europe.

In an ideal world, there would be nothing remarkable about this. Even under this country’s woefully dysfunctional devolution settlement, foreign affairs are reserved to Westminster. Yet the fierce policing of who’s treading on who’s turf that we see when London trespasses on devolved prerogatives usually only goes one way, and the devolved authorities are ordinarily very keen to involve themselves overseas.

This focus on foreign affairs came to the fore during the Brexit negotiations, when the Government suspected the First Minister of leaking information to Brussels. But also consider the millions of pounds per annum the Scottish Government spends maintaining a network of international offices, or Sturgeon’s hyperactive selfie spree at last year’s COP26 summit meeting in Glasgow.

Nor is that the end of it: this year the Scottish Government tripled its ‘climate justice fund’ to £36 million, sparking allegations that it was using public money to ‘promote independence’ — all while the essential services Edinburgh is actually responsible for, such as education and health, continue to under-perform.

Drakeford meanwhile has set up “Wales’ own Erasmus scheme”, despite the UK Government’s Turing programme giving students from all parts of the UK the chance to study all over the world. Once again, Cardiff Bay’s handling of bread-and-butter education issues leaves much to be desired.

Yet even though both first ministers are happy to divert their budgets to build an international profile, they’re silent in a major crisis. It is increasingly clear that, independent under nationalist leadership, Scotland and Wales would follow the path charted by the Republic of Ireland, which has struck a pious note of official neutrality while piggybacking off the NATO security umbrella, even to the extent of having the Royal Air Force police its airspace.

It is not a model worth emulating. Just this week, the Russian Navy has been preparing to conduct exercises off the Irish coast. Where the UK would dispatch its own warships, Dublin is sending… fishermen. The SNP’s anti-nuclear weapons policy, meanwhile, would see our main submarine base shuttered and the Royal Navy’s ability to police access to the North Atlantic reduced.

Perhaps that’s ultimately why Sturgeon has nothing to say to Vladimir Putin — her overriding political ambition is the break-up of one of NATO’s most important members.

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Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
10 months ago

Wee pretendy parliaments, with wee pretendy politics.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

All paid for by ‘us’!

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
10 months ago

The U.K. was paying for Irish neutrality? How so?

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

Is that the Irish just keeping a quiet neutrality?

William Shaw
William Shaw
10 months ago

I imagine Sturgeon is trying to maintain the same line as the EU.
She views it as essential that Scotland never appear incompatible with that abomination.
Drakeford has no illusions about being a force on the international stage.

Last edited 10 months ago by William Shaw
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
10 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Not even a force in his own living room

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
10 months ago

Wales is also spending money maintaining an office in Brussels.
In November 2020, a few months before the last election, Drakeford announced that the Labour Party would support independence and an application to join the EU. Then came the vaccination issue and a lot of bad press for the EU and the independence idea was noticeably absent from the election manifesto. It has disappeared; it has just receded into the political background.

There is no doubt that he is a fan of the EU but he can’t actually say anything until his party dares to declare that independence is the aim. It is difficult because he has only 30 of the 60 seats; Sturgeon is in a much better position. Alliances with other parties are unlikely because Plaid Cymru is more charismatic and Drakeford is the least charismatic politician I have ever seen. As soon as independence is mentioned, that is the end of Labour. So he has to sit silently.

Heather Scammell
Heather Scammell
9 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The night before the Referendum Drakeford and the (then) leader of Plaid announced their support for Remain however the English voted. Wales voted to Leave. Sadly that message still does not seem to have reached the inner circles of Cardiff Bay.

Tom May
Tom May
10 months ago

They are not countries so why would they have anything to say about international affairs. They are administrative units of a country. They may have long histories and cultures but they don’t have armies, embassies or seats at the UN. Let’s all stop pretending.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
10 months ago
Reply to  Tom May

They’re the ones who pretend and Scotland maintains office they call embassies around the world. The article is spot on …Sturgeon who has said the SNP is committed to NATO is determined to break up one of it’s strongest assets and cause massive upheaval for the vital North Atlantic patrols and the nuclear deterrent.
They never shut up about Brexit and Europe and what have you…but this exposes yet another enormous flaw in the casual high horsing rhetoric around independence ..so, as she did through Salmondgate and the current scandal around her husband, she stays quiet, and a supine Scottish media apologise if they inadvertently ask her a tough question.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
10 months ago

Whenever someone mentions Irish neutrality I think of the thousands of Irish queuing in Dublin to sign the book of condolence for Adolf Hitler, after the death camps had been revealed globally too.
(Though many thousands of Irish also fought for the allies too.)

Brooke Walford
Brooke Walford
9 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

You’re kidding!!! I am so flabbergasted I am impelled to ask for your source for this disturbing fact.

jbrick
jbrick
9 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Rubbish! That did not happen. The Taoiseach, Eamon De Valera did sign the book of condolence.
But thousands lining up to sign?
Never happened.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
10 months ago

Just hold independence referendums and hurry this along.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
10 months ago

I’m Welsh and I want Wales to remain as part of some sort of UK. The financial exercise was done many years ago – an independant Wales will start off bankrupt and go downhill fast from there. Plaid Cymru (The party of Wails) is a Marxist group and our present First Minister (Dragfoot!) is close by and one of Corbin’s Fellow Travellers.

John Murray
John Murray
10 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

Many years ago a Welshman explained to me that since the Welsh conquered England under Henry Tudor (Bosworth Field, etcetc) he saw no reason why they should give it back, particularly since it belonged to the Welsh in the first place.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
10 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

I don’t believe for a second that Scotland or Wales would make it as independent countries.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
10 months ago

Wales would have no chance. Luckily, a referendum would have no chance either.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
10 months ago

Scotland would. It’s sizeable enough.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
10 months ago

Nope, it relies on other peoples money. It would go bankrupt pretty quick.

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
10 months ago

Now what would Putin like to happen in the UK?

Frank Freeman
Frank Freeman
10 months ago

Neither the Scottish or Welsh administrations need to distract anyone from “Partygate”. Biden is also trying to distract from his own problems, and the Arms industries will make a lot of money from ratcheting up tensions with Russia, which incidently, is a long way from Ireland, Scotland or Wales.
Rather than threaten Russia, would it not make better sense to recognise the democratic will of the people of Crimea and hold an internationally observed reforendum in the Donbass to decide their own future?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
10 months ago
Reply to  Frank Freeman

Eh? Have I misunderstood?
The 120,000 Russian soldiers and tanks and planes massing on the Ukrainian border is actually threatening Russia? Wow! Machiavellian or what!

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
10 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I think he must be a parody account or comedian…or one of the Russian bots that are not at all interested in doing down Britain, the USA or the West but just in seeing fair play done.

Iris C
Iris C
10 months ago
Reply to  Frank Freeman

What a farce partygate is! I wonder what the Civil Service Union thinks about their members being hounded in this way. Isn’t the Labour Party supported by the unions?
Also one must wonder why the opposition parties want the Prime Minister to resign. Is it because they think they would have a better chance if they had someone at the top with a less likeable personality, who speaks fluently with compassion and has a lifestyle which mirrors that of the modern generation. Of course, I don’t approve of multiple divorces, etc., but then I am aged..

Andrew Currie
Andrew Currie
10 months ago

An alternative analysis might suggest that the Welsh and Scottish parliaments have implemented their own policies on, say, Covid, because health is a devolved issue, and kept quiet on Ukraine because foreign policy is a reserved matter. In other words, they have acted in accordance with their remits on both counts. We can be sure of one thing, however, which is that if they had expressed an opinion on Ukraine, this article would still have been written, but with a different headline such as “Scotland and Wales interfere yet again with Westminster affairs”.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Currie

They never shut up about foreign affairs when it suits their agenda..the Scottish administration spend significant accounts on what they call embassies around Europe and wider afield as part of the ever ongoing attempt to somehow pretend independence is inevitable. They just don’t talk about anything that embarrasses them, in which they are aided by a supine and petrified Scottish broadcast media to an extent that is far closer to the hard times Putin gets given by his media than the way our national media go at our government.

Andrew Currie
Andrew Currie
10 months ago
Reply to  Ted Ditchburn

No government, including the one at Westminster, ever shuts up about anything that suits their agenda, and Henry Hill, it seems, just never shuts up about the ones in Wales and Scotland (strangely silent on Northern Ireland though, a bit too risky no doubt).

John Harrison
John Harrison
9 months ago

Speaking of Irish ‘neutrality’, think of the many merchant seamen (and others) who lost their lives during WW2 because we weren’t able to make use of their ports in order to extend our anti U-boat activities far enough westwards into the Atlantic. We could, of course, have done the sort of thing that Hitler would have had without compunction had the situation been reversed and simply taken over the necessary ports, but we respected Irish ‘neutrality’.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
10 months ago

Iceland and Lichtenstein have been quiet too.