The First Minister, as president of the regions with legislative powers, is hosting a Burns supper in Brussels on 19 February to promote Scotland's place in Europe. On 13 January, Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, gave the inaugural Robert Burns memorial lecture in New York in the presence of the Deputy First Minister. That received worldwide media coverage for Scotland.
Burns night also presents a unique opportunity for the promotion of Scotland as a tourist destination. VisitScotland.com is promoting Burns on its home page and VisitScotland's London office is presently running a Burns promotion to attract visitors to come and stay in Scotland.
Does the minister agree that significant opportunities to benefit from the 250 th anniversary, in 2009, of the birth of the bard will be available to Scotland? Does he further agree that Ayrshire, as the birthplace of Burns, should be the centre of the benefits that those opportunities bring?
I recognise the passionate commitment of the member and assure her that we are working towards the celebration of Burns's birth in 2009. That is why we have put together a team of players from VisitScotland, the Scottish Arts Council and a number of other agencies. In partnership with local representatives and local authorities, we will put something together that will genuinely commemorate the important role that
I hope that the First Minister makes a better speech in Brussels this year than he did at the Burns supper that I attended in Glasgow last year.
Will the minister guarantee that the opportunity that will arise in 2009 will be used to promote Ayrshire internationally? In addition, will he consider the possibility of renaming Prestwick airport as the Rabbie Burns airport?
The member has asked two questions rather than one. I have a number of things to say. First, it should be recognised that, out of the poets of 191 member states of the UN, only Scotland's national poet has been chosen as the poet to represent all humanity. Secondly, I assure Alex Neil that the First Minister will represent Scotland positively in an international forum.
We want to work with all players at a local level in Ayrshire to ensure that when, in 2009, we celebrate the birth of Burns, the celebrations are appropriately put together. I reassure the member that we will not have the situation that Burns described in one of his poems when he said:
"The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men
Gang aft agley".
We assure the member that the Scottish Executive is on the case.
Does the minister agree that an excellent way in which to promote Scotland is to encourage and support Burns suppers, such as the forthcoming European Union Burns supper in Brussels? MSPs, including my good friend Jamie Stone, have been asked to participate in that supper. Perhaps Jamie Stone will become an ex-good friend once he has delivered the toast to the lassies and I have replied to it.
I welcome the contributions that individual members will make. We are all ambassadors for Scotland wherever we go. I hope that we can use Burns's work to represent what we think Scotland is today and that his work will make a contribution in the future.
The member raises an important issue. We recognise Burns's importance as our national poet, but many contemporary poets in Scotland represent Scotland in a contemporary way and reflect our country's traditions. Through the work of Burns and other Scottish poets, we can ensure that poetry is at the heart of the nation. We should all hear their contributions.