For those who still believe in that old-fashioned thing called the British constitution, there has come a glimmer of hope from an unlikely source. Lord Cameron has threatened to withdraw Foreign Office support for overseas visits by Scottish government ministers if the SNP continues to disregard protocol on international jaunts.
Humza Yousaf raised eyebrows during COP28 when he shook hands and chatted with Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The SNP leader, who was at the event in his capacity as first minister of the Scottish government, tweeted out a photograph of the meeting and said they had discussed the situation in Gaza. In the same tweet, Yousaf called for an ‘immediate and permanent ceasefire’, which is at odds with the UK government’s position. Foreign affairs is supposed to be reserved to Westminster but the SNP government in Edinburgh isn’t terribly attentive to such constitutional niceties.
In a letter to Angus Robertson, the Nationalists’ grandly-titled ‘cabinet secretary for constitution, external affairs and culture’, the Foreign Secretary says the Scottish government failed to provide ‘sufficient advance notice’ to allow a Foreign Office official to be present at the Erdoğan tete-a-tete. In April, Cameron’s predecessor James Cleverly announced a crackdown on Scottish ministers holding meetings with foreign leaders and officials with no representative from the UK government in the room. The Nationalist administration at Holyrood would have to flag up any future bilaterals to facilitate the assignment of a Foreign Office official. In this instance, Cameron writes, ‘A UK official was available, whose contact details were known to your officials on the ground, but the location of the meeting was not shared with them.’
Citing previous breaches of the protocol, Cameron states that, should another occur, the Foreign Office will not facilitate any further overseas meetings and will ‘consider the presence of Scottish government offices in UK government posts,’ referring to the quasi-embassies that Holyrood is allowed to maintain in capital cities across the globe.