Stewart McDonald: The PM’s speech at the UN was her chance to show global leadership. But she blew it

Posted On: 
6th October 2017

We can no longer rely on this Conservative Prime Minister to lead on the global stage. But Scotland can step up, says Stewart McDonald

Theresa May speaking at the United Nations in September
Credit: 
PA Images

As world leaders descended on Manhattan for the recent UN general assembly, you could be forgiven for feeling sorry for them as they try to wade through the many international problems we face. Saddled with complex political realities, the grinning diplomatic niceties and burdened with the huge expectation of getting something – anything – done, it must have caused its fair number of headaches.

For most world leaders that must be a nightmare at the best of times. For our own prime minister? Well, she had to do it with Boris in tow. I’m not sure I’d wish that on my worst enemy.

But given the complexity of the many domestic issues that the prime minister has to wade through back home, not to mention the issue of Brexit, this was a chance for her to show that she could do proper international leadership, by showing that she understood international anxieties on the global stage and that she was a solutions PM for a world in need of solutions. She blew it.

The big discussion that needed to be had was undoubtedly on international security. At a time when there is a resurgent Russia, a menacing North Korea and an unpredictable incumbent on Pennsylvania Avenue, and many complex political realities biting to unravel the UN project around the world, the prime minister should have thrown down the gauntlet and sought a renaissance of the values under which the nations gathered in Manhattan.

As the rules-based order that underpins democracy, stability and security around the world becomes increasingly strained, the prime minister should have used her UN speech to unify those wanting to maintain peace among nations. Unburdened by Brexit for just a short period of time, she could have pitched herself as an ambitious international thinker – as Emmanuel Macron did in his recent speech at Sorbonne University. That would have been the mark of a truly ‘global Britain’.

What did she do? Threaten to cut Britain’s funding to the UN. Another step back from the international projects with which we have such a proud history.

Threatening to withdraw Britain’s financial support from the UN only further adds to the wider anxiety that those running the show – and, frankly, those hoping to run the show – are seeking a Britannic isolation that can only reap rewards for us based on an outdated view that the world owes Britain a living. It ain’t gonna happen.

For me, I wonder how different it could have been if Scotland had opted for independence just three years ago – up there as an equal player, an EU and NATO nation determined to show leadership on the world stage.

The work that an independent Scotland can do internationally might not be flashy or brash. That is no bad thing. Most nations are getting on with smart security cooperation, joint international peacekeeping missions and development projects that underpin stability and prosperity. That is the turf I want Scotland to be on.

Britain is bogged down in its own baggage and there is no solution to be found in trying to write its future in isolation.

Keeping in mind that this may well have been her last UN outing as prime minister, I can’t help wonder what possessed her to use her time at the UN to make such unnecessary threats. Then again, political calculation isn’t her forte.

It is an unfortunate situation that we feel we can no longer rely on our own prime minister to speak up for global partnership and solutions, but I am determined to ensure the UK commits itself to such values, which will ultimately provide a more secure future across the globe.

That famous SNP saying, “Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on” (first used by Winnie Ewing in 1967) isn’t an invitation for our neighbour to get off. We will work with our closest ally on many domestic, international and security matters. A diminished Britain is bad for an independent Scotland too. I just wish they’d see it themselves from time to time.  

 

Stewart McDonald is MP for Glasgow South and SNP defence spokesperson