The British civil service, we are constantly told, is impartial and carries out the task of running the institutions and organs of the British state in a neutral, quietly efficient, and Great British Fairness sort of a way. You know, like the BBC.
But the British civil service is not so neutral after all. The British ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, tweeted last week on the official account of the British embassy saying “Scotland is a part of a United Kingdom with a united future”. He added “find out more”, giving a link to the UK Treasury’s paper on the independence referendum – that would be the paper whose relationship to the economic prospects of an independent Scotland are similar to Erich von Däniken’s relationship to astrophysics. The paper is another of those collections of half-truths, misleading statistics, and outright myth dressed up as a serious investigation. It’s the Chariot of the Treasury Gods.
Sorry, that’s unfair. Erich von Däniken does actually agree that the vacuum of outer space exists, whereas the UK Treasury is hoping no one notices the vacuum between Danny Alexander’s ears. And Erich does have more in the way of substantive evidence that beings from outer space have visited us than the UK Treasury does that an independent Scotland will be financially better off with UK Governments spending our resources on making London a global city. You only have to look at the drive-by Tories of the cabinet on their trips to Scotland to realise that alien pod people already walk the face of the Earth. Oh… and UK Defence Minister Philip Hammond did warn that an independent Scotland would have no means of defending itself from “threats from outer space”, because we’ll no longer have access to RAF jet fighters which can, apparently, shoot down a mother-ship from Alpha Centauri because the MoD possesses technology to put the fear of god into a civilisation that’s thousands of years more advanced than ours, just like Neanderthals could throw rocks and fend off an invasion of tanks. Actually, this analogy is getting worse and worse the more you look at it.
But back to the undiplomatic Simon. Scotland is currently engaged in a democratic debate about our future. Simon has certainly noticed that, although the Foreign Office is clearly struggling with the “democratic” part of the statement. We have a clear case of UK diplomats seeking to influence the outcome of a democratic vote, a vote which is legal, peaceful, and entirely in accord with the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom.
Can you imagine the outrage that would be generated in the UK media if the British ambassador to Spain had tweeted during a General Election campaign that the United Kingdom had a Conservative future? Politicians and political commentators would be lining up and calling for him to be recalled to London so that the mandarins of the Foreign Office could whack him over the head with a diplomatic bag. But that is exactly equivalent to what Simon Manley has just done. From the UK media and the watchdogs of government standards, there’s not a word.
The defence given by UK politicians on the rare occasions that they are challenged by the UK media about their campaign to recruit foreign politicians, businesses, and money to shore up their crumbling credibility in Scotland – which is to say, never – is that the UK diplomatic corps is acting in the UK national interest. This is a defence which raises some very interesting questions of its own, and if anything only increases the depth of the undemocratic mire into which the Westminster parliament is sinking.
What is the UK national interest? Who gets to define it? Perhaps I’m naive, but I’d always assumed that in a democracy, the national interest was decided democratically. The ballot box is the expression of the national will, and the national interest follows from decisions made by citizens during the ballot. The national will of the UK, or any other democracy, is what its citizens say it is, otherwise we live in an oligarchy, a dictatorship, or a clerical state. Or in Scotland as part of the UK.
We are currently in the official campaign period for the referendum. The topic of the UK’s national interest with respect to Scotland’s future is being actively debated and discussed by people in Scotland – by voters who are UK and EU citizens who have the legal and constitutional right to decide what their national interest is, not civil servants. And if citizens in this part of the UK decide that Scotland’s national interest is best served by independence, then by definition that is also the national interest of the UK, and alternative arrangements must be made accordingly. The citizens of the UK will have spoken. It’s not for Simon Manley or the civil servants of Foreign Office to pre-empt the decision and tell us otherwise, especially if they are acting on instructions from the very same elected politicians whose future is being decided by the vote.
Simon’s simple minded tweet was spotted by a UK national resident in Spain, who wasn’t best pleased to be told by a UK civil servant what was in his national interests. Christopher Carnie has written a letter of protest to the British embassy in Madrid. He’s given permission for his letter to be republished. Here it is:
20th June 2014
As we enter the final phases of the referendum in Scotland, could I ask you to be strictly neutral on this issue?
I have heard that the UK Government is seeking the opinions of other governments and companies, organisations, and individuals in other countries about the possibility of Scotland becoming an independent nation. There have been reports that the UK Government is engaged in a campaign to solicit support for the anti-independence cause from abroad. I was shocked to see that yesterday you tweeted from you @SimonManleyFCO account that “Scotland is part of a United Kingdom with a united future.”
I am writing to express my unhappiness that the UK Government is seeking to influence the democratic decision of the people of Scotland in this manner. It is inappropriate for a Government to seek foreign support in order to undermine a peaceful, democratic, and legal debate amongst its own citizens.
But if Your Excellency is actively soliciting opinions on Scottish independence, I would like to state my belief that the independence of Scotland would be of immense benefit to Scotland and to the remainder of the UK.
I understand that the Foreign Office has been briefing Embassies on the independence debate. I have read a number of papers produced by the Civil Service and am dismayed that UK taxpayers’ money, mine included, is being used to produce such uneven commentary (you will have read the coverage of the recent Treasury paper and its exaggerated claims of the cost of setting up Government ministries in Scotland – claims refuted by the academic on whose work the paper was supposedly based).
I hope that you are not being briefed with this partial, biased material.
I and many Scots in Spain and Catalonia support independence and look to you to represent fairly, on behalf of all you constituency of still-British citizens, a debate that deserves clarity and depth.
Please pass this letter on to the Devolution Unit of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Christopher has also contacted the SNP’s Westminster spokesman Angus Robertson to inform him of the actions of the UK Embassy in Madrid, and to urge him to ask a question in the House of Commons. Christopher’s email to Angus is as follows:
Dear Mr Robertson,
As SNP Shadow Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, you will be aware of the activities of UK Embassies abroad in promoting the “Better Together” political line.
The UK Ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, Tweeted yesterday, 19th June at 21:04 the following message on his account @SimonManleyFCO: “Scotland is part of a United Kingdom with a united future. Find out more in @hmtreasury’s latest paper: http://bit.ly/1kQpoiH #indyref”
A friend here in Spain, Pilar Aymara Fernandez, is coordinating a campaign to write to the Embassies about their biased projection of the argument. I have written to the Ambassador.
Would you consider tabling a Parliamentary Question to the FCO on the issue? For example:
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has briefed UK http://t.co/jFipiv1F7t Ambassadors to represent the debate on the Scottish Referendum fairly; and if he has briefed, instructed or otherwise required Her Majesty’s Ambassadors to represent one side of the Referendum debate, to lay before Parliament these briefings; and if the actions of Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Spain in tweeting, on 19th June 2014 at 21:04, a personal opinion on the Referendum were duly authorised by his Department.
In a separate email, I will attach copies of the Ambassador’s tweet, and my letter to him.
Many thanks, Mr Robertson, for your help in this matter.
All the best
Pilar Aymara Fernandez is co-ordinating a grassroots campaign, Solidarity with Scotland, to challenge the misinformation and manipulation of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its diplomatic corps. These diplomats are paid for by supporters of Scottish independence as much as anyone else, and they are obliged to represent our interests too – not the narrow party political interests of Westminster. And this is the case even when all the main UK political parties are in agreement.
If you are reading this outside the UK, or if you have friends and family outside the UK, take part in the Solidarity With Scotland campaign and make sure that Scotland’s voice is heard. Scotland’s national interest lies squarely in having a debate about Scotland’s future without undue foreign influence manipulated by the UK government.
Find out more at http://www.solidaritywithscotland.com/