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Arctic Yearbook 2012
An Arctic Strategy for Scotland
to High North sensitivities, the headline of Canada’s
National Post
to a Scottish politician’s proposal
for a Scottish Arctic Strategy is telling: “Scottish MP Pipes Up with Arctic Claim” (Boswell, 2011).
The “Claim” was a mere proposal that Scotland develop an Arctic strategy (Robertson, 2011). But
Arctic strategies, whilst sending important signals to other Arctic players, also have domestic
audiences and must bow to domestic political expectations. An Arctic strategy, especially one led by
the SNP, would play to Scottish identity politics, highlighting Scottish difference; but it will have an
additional audience, namely, the government of the UK to whom the message of speciality of
interests is equally important.
Strategic Themes
Of the many potential areas of enhanced cooperation between Scotland and the Arctic states, three
broad themes are selected for the main focus of this article, namely: governance and cooperation;
economic development; and environment and science. The five littoral states all emphasise defence
of sovereignty and military security (Heininen, 2011) but as long as Scotland remains a part of the
United Kingdom, these issues do not have a significantly “Scottish” as opposed to “British” hue and
are dealt with succinctly by Depledge and Dodds (2011). A few brief comments are nevertheless
offered at the end of this section.
Governance and Cooperation
Multilateral governance is to be preferred by Scotland, particularly within institutions where Scotland
has a voice. In Arctic fora such as the Arctic Council (AC) and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council
(BEAC), any special interests of Scotland must be represented through the UK which itself is a
permanent observer with no vote. Nevertheless, even representation through the UK’s Foreign and
Commonwealth Office (FCO) is preferable to no representation at all, as is the case at the Arctic five
meetings. Currently, consultation between Holyrood and Whitehall in international affairs, including
EU business, where Scottish interests are at stake or where Scotland has independent powers (i.e.
unreserved matters) is steered by a non-binding memorandum of understanding and concordats
(United Kingdom, 2010b). However, the Scottish and UK parties cooperate on a distinctly unequal
footing where ultimately Whitehall decides when, how and to what extent the Scottish government is
involved (United Kingdom, 2010b: B.1 and D.1). Devolution has not made a substantive difference
to a process that has continued “in similar circumstances to the arrangements in place prior to
devolution” (ibid: B.1.4). In any case, the concordats are “binding in honour only” (ibid: B.1.2;