Russia has a vested interest in the campaign for Scottish independence.
“This is not a purely domestic matter even though it’s a decision that will be taken by the Scottish people,” Lord Robertson told an audience in the USA on Monday. The former secretary-general of NATO is concerned about the potentially “cataclysmic” impact of Scottish independence on a pan-European stage.
Robertson’s comments were described by the Scottish government as “crass and offensive”.
Certainly, they were some of the most forceful remarks yet by a member of the ‘No’ campaign. Robertson sees separation as weakening Britain at a time of immense international uncertainty: “the loudest cheers for the break-up of Britain would be from our adversaries and from our enemies. For the second military power in the west to shatter this year would be cataclysmic in geo-political terms,” as he put it.
In response, Scottish deputy minister Nicola Sturgeon quite rightly pointed to Robertson’s “long-standing” opposition to devolution. However the consequences of Scottish independence for international security really are serious.
To its credit, the SNP’s White Paper describes Trident as “an affront to basic decency with its indiscriminate and inhumane destructive power”. It is unlikely that the US would see it this way. The future of Scottish espionage and their continued membership of NATO as an independent nation also remain unclear.
Jose Manuel Barosso, the EU commission president, has also said it would be “extremely difficult if not impossible” for Scotland to join EU on their own merits. This remark was justified with a fairly untenable comparison to the failure of member states such as Spain to recognise Kosovo: but it points to an air of uncertainty around the international and military status of an independent Scotland at a time when Russia is staring the West down with certitude.
In January of this year, the state-owned Russian news agency Isar-Tass reported that Britain was “extremely interested” in gaining support for a “no” vote in the referendum from Russia. They cited an anonymous Downing Street aide as saying that independence could “send shockwaves across the whole of Europe… Great Britain is extremely interested in the support of Russia, as holder of the G8 presidency, in two vital areas in 2014: the Afghan pull-out and the Scottish independence referendum”.
Downing Street refused to legitimise this report with a response, but it pointed to an awareness across Europe of the impact Scotland’s decision could have on international relations in the years to come.
The Crimean status referendum, its official outcome showing the Crimean people as 96 per cent in favour of Russian integration, was declared invalid by a (non-binding) United Nations General Assembly resolution on the grounds that it violated both Ukranian and international law. Russia continues to push for legitimisation (having already vetoed a UN Security Council resolution declaring the referendum invalid). Tellingly, the Russian state and state-controlled media alike are using the forthcoming Scottish referendum to justify their actions in Ukraine.
“[The Ukranian referendum] is an absolutely legal action in line with international practice – just like the Scottish independence referendum”, said Valentina Matvienko, the chair of the Russian Upper House.
The international community disagreed, and the referendum was declared invalid by a United Nations General Assembly resolution on the grounds that it violated both Ukranian and international law.
“The West’s seemingly random policy on other referendums hints at a double standard in their governments’ rhetoric,” Putin’s propagandising mouthpiece RT wrote in an article which also explicitly cited the forthcoming Scottish referendum as justification for their intervention in the Crimea.
This comparison holds even less weight than Barosso’s comparison of Kosovo and Scotland. Scotland have every right to hold a fair referendum on their future, where the Ukranian status referendum was reasonably described by former Russian government advisor Andrey Illarionov as “grossly rigged falsification”. However, it is indicative of the vested interest Russia has in the campaign for Scottish independence
In 1919, following the rioting that came to be known as the ‘Battle of George Square’, English tanks were stationed in the streets of Glasgow. The British government feared a Bolshevik revolution on its northern border, as had happened in Russia two years before.
Of course, it is a long way from Sevastapol to Sauchiehall, and Robertson’s emotive description of Russia’s “forces of darkness” seems calculated to provoke a public response; but both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns must carefully consider the outcome of the referendum on the 18September on the international community of which Britain and Scotland are both a part.
Previously on LFF: Why are the SNP so relaxed about dancing to the Kremlin’s tune?Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.