This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

David Cameron's threat on Sunday to punish the Scottish Government if SNP and Green ministers fail to comply with Foreign Office rules about speaking to overseas leaders seems rather ill-advised.

The new Foreign Secretary published his letter to Angus Robertson on X/Twitter expressing his anger at the First Minister meeting Turkey's Recep Erdogan at COP28 without FCDO staff present.

Just a few days earlier Mr Yousaf was coming under fire from some in his own party about his decision to meet the controversial president but in one tweet the heat was off the First Minister and thrown onto Lord Cameron.

Not content with highlighting the "breach" at the Erdogan meeting, the Foreign Secretary also let rip about a previous incident in September when Humza Yousaf met with Katrin Jakobsdottir, the Icelandic prime minister, during a climate change event in New York when again FCDO officials were not in attendance.

That meeting, according to Lord Cameron, prompted a letter by his predecessor James Cleverly to Angus Roberston on October 16 which restated the rules to have London officials present at such meetings.

And he warned that if there were further breaches "we will need to consider the presence of Scottish Government officials in UK posts".

The SNP love it when Conservative politicians get angry about the Scottish Government's international activities. For many Scots the UK Government's interventions seem petty and thin skinned.

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Why, many voters north of the Border think, should a foreign office minder have to be present when Mr Yousaf or Mr Robertson speaks to a politician or diplomat from Europe? Are Scottish leaders not to be trusted?

The SNP would probably receive a pre-election boost were Lord Cameron to follow through on his warning and turf out Scottish Government staff and their belongings from the UK embassies.

For that very reason alone, it's unlikely to happen and so the threat seems somewhat empty.

But the row does draw attention to something rather uncomfortable for the Scottish Government too.

Why does it choose to locate its staff in UK embassies anyway and not have its own network of freestanding offices?

Isn't this a government that wants to take the country to independence? Why then is it happy to ride on the coattails of the UK's diplomatic network?

As indeed Lord Cameron's threat recognises most of the Scottish Government's eight overseas headquarters are located inside UK Government offices and embassies.

These include its hubs in Washington, Beijing, Dublin, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen and Ottawa.

Only the Scottish Government's HQ in Brussels is a freestanding office and not based inside a larger UK government building.

Other sub-states have their own international hubs, including Flanders and Quebec.

Former SNP justice secretary and now Alba MP Kenny MacAskill said some years ago he thought with the Scottish Government opposed to Brexit and pushing for a second independence referendum it should have its own separate office in Washington, rather than sharing the UK embassy's premises.

The Herald: Scotland House, the Scottish Government's EU outpost in BrusselsScotland House, the Scottish Government's EU outpost in Brussels (Image: Newsquest)
"They should be breaking out. We are promoting a different line from the UK Government," he told me back in 2020.

Some analysts believe there could be benefits for Scotland in having a standalone international office network.

"It should be perfectly normal for Scotland, as a sub-state, to interact with the world. Both the Scottish and UK governments have a responsibility to avoid needlessly politicising Scottish engagement in the EU or beyond," Anthony Salamone, the managing director of European Merchants, told The Herald.

"The Scotland Act reserves the foreign policy of the UK to London – it does not ban the Scottish government from reasonably interacting with the outside world."

He added: "Different models exist in Europe and elsewhere. Flanders and Quebec normally operate their own freestanding offices. The Faroe Islands and Greenland normally co-locate in Danish embassies.

"If the Scottish Government moved its offices outside of British embassies, it would naturally have a separate, clearer presence in those countries."

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Fellow EU expert Dr Kirsty Hughes also noted that "offices outside embassies" would be the logical corollary of Cameron's threat.

But Hughes added that even if the Scottish Government did open its own offices, it may still not mean freedom to pursue its own causes and agenda.

"The UK Government would demand information on, and attendance at meetings. That's not necessarily unreasonable. There's plenty of coordination from German regional offices to federal government and embassies for example," she told The Herald.

But both Salamone and Hughes noted the significant downside of cost including the additional ones that would come with renting, running and maintaining a building and providing security to staff.

Then of course, there is rationale for the offices.

If it is the case that the offices are solely concerned with promoting trade and cultural links between Scotland and the international community, there would be no reason for the offices to be freestanding.

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However, if they are there to promote a more distinct political message from the UK Government – opposing Brexit and seeking closer co-operation perhaps through independence – then it probably makes sense for them to operate autonomously from the UK network.

So with a second independence referendum far from sight and with huge budget pressures on the domestic front, it's probably rather safe to say the Scottish Government is a long way off from opening more standalone international offices.