ONE of the things that identifies the existence of a nation is it having an identifiable foreign policy. It cannot, of course, have international relations, which necessarily imply nation status, unless it has such a thing. It seems to me that Scotland is achieving this status, but that this will only increase the tensions arising between it and the rest of the UK.

The position of the SNP Holyrood government with regard to Gaza has been unambiguous and, in my opinion, welcome. Taking a stance based upon ethics and a concern for human rights, as well as compassion for the innocent victim of war, it has rightly demanded a ceasefire by all parties fighting in Gaza. This has, very clearly, placed it in conflict with both the Labour and Conservative positions promoted at Westminster. The fact that this has then let the Scottish Government align with states such as Ireland and Spain, who are taking similar positions to the SNP, only reinforces the idea that this is a distinct foreign policy position that is being promoted by Scotland.

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As significant, from my perspective, is the fact that this foreign policy position might also now have major economic implications. A week or so ago, there was almost no one discussing the economic consequences of putting the economies of the UK and other Western nations on a war footing. Now it seems to be happening all over the place, from the Financial Times onwards

We can hope that this might be premature, and even entirely unnecessary. We can hope that tensions between Israel only and Iran do not increase. We can also hope that China does not seek to exploit stress in the Middle East to increase tensions over Taiwan, and that the scale of the conflict in Ukraine does not rise. The number of conditional statements in this paragraph is, however, quite high. That is, no doubt, why this issue is now on the economic agenda. Both Jeremy Hunt and Keir Starmer seem to be the opinion that UK defence must increase now, whatever happens. What spending they will forego if either still insists on balancing their budgets is not clear. But that there will be economic consequences of this current stress is now certain.

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We only have one major economic textbook on how to fund war. It was written by the person who many consider to be the greatest economist of the 20th century, John Maynard Keynes. In 1941 he wrote a slim book entitled “How to pay for the war".

Cutting 90 or so pages down to a single sentence, his suggestion was that those with wealth should pay a lot more of that cost than anyone else because they could and should forego their consumption to finance the defence of the country if the latter proved to be necessary. That should also be true today, but the question that Keynes did not address, was what happens in a state that declines to partake in war and does, instead, wish to pursue peace?

The answer to this question is that we do not know. There were so few genuinely neutral states during the Second World War because so many were adjacent to the conflict, whether they wished for it or not, that the precedents are not clear. However, that there will be a difference is obvious. A state that promotes peace does not spend as much of its national resources on as much weaponry or on so many armed forces as one that wishes to pursue war. In contrast, a state that wishes to pursue peace will spend more on diplomacy, overseas missions, representation at the United Nations and on the supply of relief for those caught up in conflict.

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These are fundamental differences of emphasis that flow from differing approaches to foreign policy and the pursuit of armed aggression. Those differences of emphasis might exist between the Scottish and UK governments at present.

The question is, if Scotland really does wish to pursue the Irish approach to international relations, promoting neutrality, peace, conflict resolution and aid as a result, how will this impact relationships between London and Edinburgh, and how will this impact the independence debate within Scotland itself? I cannot know, for sure. Nor can anyone else. But that does not mean that this fundamental fault line can be ignored, because it might have major consequences.