"A Scottish parliament within the United Kingdom will give Scotland the best possible representation in Europe," says the plan. "It will provide distinctive Scottish representation in the institutions of power in Brussels." The plan was agreed by the Labour Party in March as part of "A Parliament for Scotland", its strategy for devolving some power from Westminister. The details of its radical ideas on Europe escaped attention at the time. It will delight those who believe Britain should, like its EU partners, disperse authority and power, but horrify those who fear devolution will lead to federalism and the end of the Union.
The shadow Foreign Secretary yesterday outlined the idea to Labour MEPs at Strasbourg as part of a presentation of his ideas on the EU. Though he told journalists afterwards that the plan was well-known, it seemed to take many Labour MEPs by surprise. The plan would give Scotland a role similiar to the German states or Lander, which wield enormous influence in the German system.
The plan envisages a Scottish European Office in Brussels "which will serve as Scotland's official point of contact in the European Union", says the plan. "This will be a major government office staffed by civil servants, accountable to the Scottish parliament, and capable of making direct representations on its behalf to EU institutions," it adds.
At the moment, all official contact goes via the United Kingdom Representation to the EU, a British embassy staffed by the Foreign Office and other Whitehall ministries.
"Labour believes that a Scottish administration should appoint a Minister of European Affairs," it says. Mr Cook said that "the Scottish Parliament is not going to have any external foreign policy". But the document provides for Scottish representatives to attend meetings of the EU's Council of Ministers, which groups ministers from member states. The Scottish parliament "would seek to ensure that it is directly represented where appropriate on UK delegations to the Council of Ministers". At the moment, the Minister of State for Scotland fulfills this role if necessary.
The Scottish Parliament would also carry out the role that Westminister fulfills of examining and agreeing EU legislation, said Mr Cook.
The plan raises huge issues for Britain's constitutional development, implying as it does a shift towards German-style federalism. But it makes no reference to whether such powers would also pass to the rest of the UK.