THE UK Government’s “embarrassing” message to diplomats around the world telling them to keep a close eye on Scottish ministers may end up backfiring and boosting awareness of British constitutional issues, an expert on international relations has said.

Dr Kirsty Hughes, a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh who formerly worked at the European Commission, told The National that diplomats abroad would “see the Scottish Government being treated like children”.

It comes after James Cleverly, the Tories’ Foreign Secretary, wrote to UK ambassadors and high commissioners across the globe to dictate how they should police Scottish ministers’ engagement with overseas governments.

READ MORE: Foreign Secretary tells UK officials across globe to be 'firm' with SNP ministers

In his letter, Cleverly told officials to:

  • "gather information" about any potential foreign trips planned by the Scottish Government and report back to the Tory government in London
  • make sure that any planned contact between SNP ministers and their counterparts abroad goes through his Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)
  • ensure foreign governments know to involve the FCDO in any planned contact with the Scottish Government
  • have a UK Government official sit in on any and all meetings between SNP ministers and their foreign counterparts

Hughes said the letter was “absurd and it’s silly, and it’s probably counter-productive”.

She went on: “What is it for? If you’re really going to ask diplomats around the world, in countries where they’re trying to develop serious and professional relationships, ‘ooh you mustn’t talk to the Scottish Government directly, the invite must come from us’? 

"It smacks of a parent trying and failing to control a teenager. It’s just silly.

READ MORE: Westminster 'planning further crackdown on Scottish Government global activities'

“It’s also very rude,” Hughes added: “The bit at the end where it says it can be ‘challenging’ to deal with the Scottish Government. That’s just way, way out of order.”

The reference was to a line from Cleverly in the final paragraph of his letter, where he said: "I appreciate that managing relationships with the SG at posts can be challenging."

Hughes said the top Tory's intervention, which comes amid a row over Scotland’s External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson using trips abroad to make links with foreign governments, made the UK Government “sound terribly scared to the point of paranoia”.

The National:

“These are serious politicians and diplomats and officials,” Hughes said. “They don’t need a desperately controlling – embarrassing frankly – message. I’m sure diplomats on the whole may well ignore [it].

“If host governments see British diplomats running around trying to control the Scottish Government in a micro-managing sort of way … I would think it might create sympathy.

Brexit created more understanding for independence, and this heavy-handed attempt to control and fence in the Scottish Government, I just think it might add to the way foreign diplomats and politicians see the constitutional divide.

“If they see the Scottish Government being treated like children they may go ‘well that’s a bit odd’.”

Scottish Cabinet Secretary Neil Gray suggested in a tweet that his views on Cleverly’s letter aligned with Hughes.

He wrote: “I’ve been in plenty of international meetings where UKG have insisted on sitting in and I can tell you that it isn’t our international reputation they undermine by doing so.”

Public law professor Aileen McHarg said the letter represented "practical obstruction" of Scottish Government diplomacy, adding: "Talk of ensuring that the SG respects competence boundaries would be more persuasive if the UKG were to do so itself."

In a statement, the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesperson at Westminster, Drew Hendry, also said the letter made the Tory government seem “paranoid” about “Scotland having a strong voice on the world stage”.

Hendry went on: "The Tory government knows its deeply undemocratic stance towards Scotland is becoming an embarrassment to its reputation internationally, which has already been shot to bits by Brexit and its repeated breaches of international law.

READ MORE: Angus Robertson speaks out as Westminster 'plots crackdown on global Scotland'

"This latest Tory attack on devolution shows weakness, not strength – it will backfire and strengthen support for independence.

"The only people who are not adhering to and respecting the devolution settlement are the UK Government – who are riding roughshod over the powers of the democratically-elected Scottish Parliament left, right and centre.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The Foreign Secretary is responsible for the UK’s foreign policy, with our embassies and high commissions overseas tirelessly promoting the interests of the whole nation.

“We have a strong record of working constructively with the devolved governments and will continue to provide appropriate support overseas for devolved policies.”