The Scottish Government’s new approach to its international work

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On 9 May 2022, the Scottish Government published its new Global Affairs Framework.  This framework replaces the previous international framework which was published in 2017.  The publication of the new framework fulfils a Programme for Government commitment. 

Schedule 5 Section 7 (1) of the Scotland Act 1998 reserves Foreign Affairs but throughout the history of devolution, successive Scottish Governments have ensured an international presence and pursued a form of international engagement. This approach dates back to the first Scottish administration which established an office in Brussels in 1999. In August 2021, SPICe published a subject profile analysing the Scottish Government’s international affairs policies

What’s the purpose of the new framework?

The new framework sets out “the values and principles underpinning the Scottish Government’s international work and the basis on which the Scottish Government will prioritise its international activity”. 

The framework sets out to support the Scottish Government’s domestic agenda including the “creation of good, green jobs, reducing child poverty, gender and other inequalities at home and overseas”.  The Government’s international work is also intended to help contribute to the achievement of both the domestic National Outcomes and the National Performance Framework and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. However, there is no detail setting out how the international work will help meet these goals. 

What’s in the new framework?

The new framework focuses on the following values and principles:

  • good global citizenship
  • maintaining the closest possible relationship with the European Union
  • gender equality
  • climate crisis and climate justice
  • respect for human rights and the rule of law
  • the role of our international networks
  • Scotland’s culture.

Each of these values and principles is explored in more detail below.

Measuring progress

Whilst the new framework sets out a number of ambitions, it does not set out any targets or indicate any ways by which success can be evaluated. 

There is also no detailed description setting out how the new framework will relate to the Scottish Government’s five country engagement strategies (United States, China, Canada, India and Pakistan). 

From a parliamentary scrutiny perspective, the lack of targets within the framework and the absence of a clear link with the country engagement strategies means scrutiny will be challenging.  These were issues previously highlighted by the Parliament’s Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee in its Inquiry into the Scottish Government’s International Work which was published on 6 April 2022.

However, the Committee also focussed on three areas:

  • the importance of adopting a strategic approach
  • the need for a prioritisation of policies to flow from that approach
  • an emphasis on effective collaboration across government to encourage policy coherence in relation both to external affairs and how this interacts with domestic priorities.

These issues have been addressed in the new Global Affairs Framework which has focussed on six values and principles and sought to ensure policy coherence between the Scottish Government’s domestic policy and its international policy approach.

There will be a parliamentary debate on the Committee’s report on the afternoon of Tuesday 10 May 2022. 

Good global citizenship

The Scottish Government has committed to ensure that in all its actions it will ensure that Scotland is a “good global citizen”. According to the framework, this means:

“the Scottish Government commits to listen and act in response to the often unheard voices – especially those of women and young people, and from the Global South. Their perspectives will inform our own policies and encourage us to challenge others where appropriate in order to achieve fairer outcomes.”

As a “good global citizen”, the framework also commits to ensuring that Scotland’s global environmental footprint is sustainable, and that Scotland will play a full role in tackling the global climate and nature crises. In addition, there is a commitment to aiming for policy coherence to align domestic policy objectives and activity with the Scottish Government’s international development objectives.

Maintaining the closest possible relationship with the European Union

Whilst the United Kingdom has left the European Union (EU), the new framework commits to ensuring Scotland can continue to maintain a close relationship with the EU, which also recognises the value of EU citizens in Scotland and the value of Scotland’s trade with the EU.

The framework outlines a commitment to:

“continue to uphold the values we share with the EU, and to engage positively and proactively with the EU institutions, member states and other European organisations on Scotland’s and the EU’s policy priorities.”

In terms of Scotland’s relationship with the EU, the framework commits to Erasmus+ and “explores ways to maximise Scotland’s access to this scheme”.  This is despite Scotland no longer participating in Erasmus+ following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

In addition, despite Brexit, the Scottish Government uses the framework to once again commit to maintaining “alignment where possible and practical with EU legislation, standards, policies and programmes”.

Gender equality

The new framework states that Scotland’s “policies and actions abroad should be consistent with our focus on equality, inclusion and human rights at home”.  This commitment to gender equality is intended to build on the Scottish Government’s ongoing work in the following areas:

The framework sets out a commitment to ensuring that Scottish Government policies where they have an international dimension reflect a feminist approach to foreign policy (a concept discussed in a previous SPICe blog).

Climate crisis and climate justice

Given the challenges of the climate crisis, the framework commits to the Scottish Government “responding to the global emergency, by taking responsibility for and reducing our own emissions, as well as both addressing and adapting to the impacts which cannot now be avoided”.

A key element of the framework’s aims in response to the climate crisis is to pursue “climate justice” through the Scottish Government’s Climate Justice Fund:

“We recognise that the climate crisis will not affect everyone equally, and that the poorest countries and communities require climate justice. In recognition of this we have committed to trebling our Climate Justice Fund to £36 million over this parliamentary term. We will target this fund to support marginalised people who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in the communities in which we work, and ensure their voices are centred through our participatory approach.”

Leading from this, the framework also sets out an ambition to support and represent the countries of the global south in the combatting the effects of climate change.  The Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee has previously taken evidence on the operation of the Climate Justice Fund.

Respect for human rights and the rule of law

Alongside pursuing an ethical trade policy which focusses on addressing human rights, the framework sets out that the Scottish Government will:

“continue to use our international engagement and dialogue as an opportunity to help increase respect for, and understanding of, human rights worldwide through sharing practical experience of a human rights approach to policy-making and delivery”.

Recognising that the rule of law is essential, the Scottish Government uses the framework to set out that it will seek to work internationally to strengthen its law enforcement relationships and seek to work with international partners to improve human rights and to support the realisation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The role of the Scottish Government’s international networks

Following the Brexit vote, the Scottish Government has sought to further develop its international footprint, opening new offices in London, Berlin and Paris.  These offices complemented the Scottish Government’s existing offices in Brussels, Dublin, Beijing, Ottawa and Washington DC.

The new framework sets out how these offices will support the Scottish Government’s international policies.  In addition, there is a commitment to strengthen the Brussels office, and, in line with commitments in the Programme for Government, to establish new Scottish Government offices in Copenhagen in 2022 and Warsaw in 2023.

The role of the offices includes:

“promoting and securing research and innovation capability, partnerships and funding. This contributes to collaborative work which seeks fair solutions to global challenges, including a just transition to net zero and tackling inequality.”

The international offices are also responsible for promoting cooperation in areas of devolved responsibility at the national and sub-national level.

Beyond the international offices, the framework also sets out a role for the Scottish diaspora in supporting Scotland’s international engagement. 

Scotland’s culture

The framework sets out the Scottish Government’s ambition to develop a cultural diplomacy strategy:

“We will build on Scotland’s strong international cultural offer through a cultural diplomacy strategy. This strategy will set out how we will assist the recovery of the cultural sector from the pandemic through international engagement, and how we will use the opportunities cultural exchanges create in support of Scotland’s broader international objectives. By supporting and promoting Scotland’s international cultural connections we can help ensure the cultural sector has the platform it deserves.”


The new Global Affairs Framework will be debated alongside the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee report into its inquiry into the Scottish Government’s International Work in the Scottish Parliament on the afternoon of 9 May 2022. 

Iain McIver, SPICe Research