UK has ‘a lot to learn from Ireland’ on Ukraine refugees - Scottish minister

Angus Robertson says independent Scotland would remain a member of Nato after departing UK

An independent Scotland would remain a member of Nato after departing from the United Kingdom, a senior minister with the Scottish Government has said.

Angus Robertson is cabinet secretary for the constitution, external affairs and culture and was formerly leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) group of MPs in Westminster.

Mr Robertson met Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney on Wednesday and also attended a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs where the discussion focused largely on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In an interview with The Irish Times, he said that the status of the country’s military alignments would not change in the event of independence.


“The SNP policy is that an independent Scotland will remain in Nato as a northern European nation, not dissimilar to Norway and Denmark as non nuclear-hosting countries.

“It puts us in a different position to Ireland and also to other EU countries which are neutral or or non-military aligned such as Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, and Finland.”

Turning to the war in Ukraine he indicated that it would lead to change. “I am struck by the extent of which we all have to consider how we work with one other and our position is that once we become an independent state, we will have a full conventional part to play in both Nato and EU defence structures.”

Mr Robertson expressed praise for the manner in which Ireland has quickly prepared to accommodate refugees from Ukraine. He indicated the Scottish government was restricted in that respect, as policy in relation to immigration and visa was a reserved function of the Westminster government.

“We are all trying to work out the best way in which we can help people in their hour of need,” he said. “We have a lot to learn from Ireland, especially given the welcoming and supportive approach of it and other EU States with visa waivers which unfortunately the UK is not following.

He said the Scottish government was working locally and with Ukrainian communities there to prepare for a growing number of refugees arriving into Scotland. He said it was interesting to hear from Mr Coveney of Ukrainian people in Ireland taking refugees into their own homes. He said there were people of Ukrainian heritage in Scotland who wanted to help family members, friends and compatriots in the same way.

“We are trying to impress on the UK government that it needs to change its approach and make it easier,” he said.

He said the number of refugees who arrived in Scotland would be determined by the approach of the UK government. He said at present, the British government was using restrictive immigration legislation.

“Frankly (it) makes it difficult for people to take the biometric checks and get their applications processed and then be able to travel onwards.

“We are in intense discussions with the home office to underline our commitment to playing our full share in Scotland, as we did with Syrian refugees. Every one of 32 local authorities in Scotland took in Syrian refugees,” he said, also adding there was also a resettlement programme for Afghan refugees.

He described the disposition of the Westminster government to the refugee crisis as shameful and said the UK government was not having to bow to growing pressure.

“It is shameful and appalling that people who have left their bombed homes with little or no possession are arriving in Calais and told they need to travel to somewhere else,” he said.

“The UK government is going to have to change its immigration process,” he added.

Mr Robertson said work continued on preparing for a second referendum on independence for Scotland.

“The Scottish government was elected in May 2020 on an explicit manifesto commitment in this parliamentary term,” he said.

He said that work was continuing for a referendum in the second half of 2023. He also pointed to a “consistently higher level of support for Scottish independence since the 2014 referendum and especially since the Brexit vote (in 2016).”

Brexit has had a serious impact on the Scottish economy, he said, not least on the exporting sectors which have traditionally been extremely strong in continental Europe. That export market includes the major food and drink sectors.

“The projections for negative impact on the Scottish economy are very concerning. The impact on Scotland’s population - the ending of free movement of people and the return of many EU citizens to their own countries - (has meant) for the first time in a long time are facing the prospects of a declining population.”

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times