International Strategy

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:34 pm on 18th January 2006.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 2:34 pm, 18th January 2006

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3826, in the name of Mr Tom McCabe, on the international strategy.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour 2:35 pm, 18th January 2006

In 2004, Parliament welcomed the publication of the Executive's first international strategy. Since then, we have redoubled our work to promote Scotland and its international interests. This is a good moment to review what has been achieved and to point to our future direction. Ministers have strengthened the Executive's efforts to ensure that Scotland makes the most of international opportunities. We have taken major steps to raise Scotland's profile around the world. Let me give a few examples.

We have initiated a major project on a 10-year timescale to enhance and redefine Scotland's international image. Our clear purpose is to promote Scotland as a great place to visit, live, learn, work and do business. We are actively encouraging bright, talented and hard-working people to come to Scotland to live and work and we are making it easier for them to do so. That strategy is working: in 2004, we had the highest levels of in-migration since records began in 1952.

We have increased Scotland's profile by opening and developing offices overseas to represent Scotland in key centres of influence. We have also worked with Whitehall, with regional partners and with Parliament to enhance our policy influence in Europe. Ministers have travelled overseas to increase Scotland's impact on major partners, including in Europe, North America and China.

We have worked with the United Kingdom Government to ensure that Scotland's success is promoted internationally as part and parcel of the UK's success. We have also made the most of major opportunities at home and overseas to showcase Scotland to an international audience.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Will the minister care to comment on an objective test of progress that I carried out 30 minutes before I came to the chamber? When I entered the words "Scotland", "England", "Wales" and "Ireland" into the Google search engine, I found that "Scotland" returned 20 million fewer results even than "Wales". Are we making the progress that the minister suggests?

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

If Mr Stevenson regards that as an objective assessment of progress, I must tell him in all candour that that is why we are in Government and he is in the Opposition.

We have broken new ground by demonstrating how the Executive can support and encourage Scotland's contribution to international development, not least by renewing our long-standing relationship with Malawi. Many members will be aware of some specific activities that we have pursued under those initiatives, but I doubt that many will be conscious of the full range and extent of what we have been doing. It would take some time to go through the full list, so I will mention just three examples.

First, we have developed Scotland's engagement with China. Several ministers, including the First Minister, have visited China and we have welcomed senior Chinese visitors in return. Those include President Hu, whom the First Minister met during the G8 summit last year. They also include, more recently, the Chinese education minister—a man who, it has been estimated, is responsible for the education of one quarter of the world's pupils and students. We have worked with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to open a new Scottish affairs office in Beijing and Scottish ministers will visit China again throughout 2006.

Secondly, we have developed for Scotland a brand that incorporates the saltire and we have produced marketing and promotional materials that have been used on every continent to highlight what contemporary Scotland has to offer. To date—Mr Stevenson will be interested in this figure—more than 0.25 million people around the world have visited our website scotlandistheplace.com to find out more about our great country. The tailored visits that we have organised for 75 representatives of the international media have resulted in features about Scotland appearing in major newspapers and magazines around the world. In addition, we have distributed packs of information and materials about Scotland to Foreign and Commonwealth Office posts overseas to help them to promote modern Scotland effectively.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

The minister will recall that, ahead of the UK presidency of the European Union, the Opposition continually asked what Scotland's input to the UK presidency would be. Can the minister give us an idea of the input that Scotland and Scottish ministers had?

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I am very happy to do so. I can confirm that more than 30 European presidency events were held in Scotland, and that they were deemed to be extremely successful. The people who visited our country appreciated our professionalism and the warmth of the welcome that they received. In fact, overall, the UK presidency has been deemed to be extremely successful, although because of the carping of some sections of the media and some members on the nationalist benches, that has perhaps become apparent only in retrospect. A wide range of measures has been taken, including reform of the budget and the sugar regime, the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia, endorsement of a new EU counterterrorism strategy and agreement on the data protection directive.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

No—I need to make some progress.

As a result, in response to Irene Oldfather's very appropriate intervention, we can ably demonstrate that considerable progress was made during the UK presidency.

Some of our achievements in Scotland include the creation of an image bank of more than 300 compelling photographs of Scottish people and Scottish life, which are shared with our key partners including VisitScotland and Scottish Development International. Not only is that a good use of public sector resources, it enables us to demonstrate consistently that Scotland is a great country to visit, to live in, to learn in, to work in and to do business in.

We have secured prominent advertising sites at six major Scottish airports to extend a warm welcome to visitors and to leave the lasting impression that Scotland is an inviting and exciting country.

Finally, we are continuing to build our links in Europe. We co-operate informally with a number of different regions, and have useful co-operation agreements with Catalonia and Tuscany. Most recently, we have signed action plans with two of our closest partners in Europe, Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

No—I really need to make more progress. I have already taken a number of interventions.

Our plans, which cover areas such as planning, environment, tourism, youth work, health improvement, enterprise and structural funding, set out a programme of tangible activity. I hope soon to make a return visit to North Rhine-Westphalia to meet my new ministerial counterpart and to discuss further options for co-operation.

As we move forward from this point, our international strategy needs to recognise some startling facts about global change. One bald fact is that in this century China has contributed more growth to the world economy than all the G8 countries put together. There are now more internet users in India than in the UK and 95 per cent of the world's population growth is now absorbed by developing countries. Global change is not always comfortable, but the countries that prepare for it, embrace it and are open to the opportunities that it creates are the countries that benefit most from it. Openness to the opportunities that are presented by changing international circumstances should lie at the heart of Scotland's international strategy. For centuries, Scots have been among the pioneers of new ideas and technologies that have generated social, economic, and scientific progress. We have helped to drive change around the world and, indeed, we still do.

However, we also need to take advantage of what is happening elsewhere. In domestic legislation, we can learn from others' experiences, which is what we have done with our anti-smoking policy. In working internationally, we need to focus on working with the most important partners to get the maximum benefits.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

The minister referred to domestic policy. I am sure that he will recall with sadness the European report that painted Scotland as the most violent country in Europe. How does that help our international image?

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

It does not help, particularly given the entirely skewed interpretation of that report by some sections of the media. Anyone who assesses the report objectively will know that that conclusion was well and truly flawed.

Change in Scotland plays its part, too. Devolution has given Scotland huge opportunities to develop its international engagement, but we are also part of a United Kingdom that has global reach and influence and which is also working for Scotland's international interests. The devolved Government also has the scope to use our own activity to maximise Scotland's international impact. As we move forward, the Executive will build on important relationships that Scotland has already established and will work to establish new relationships that will benefit us in the future.

The Executive looks forward to working with partners throughout Scotland, and particularly with members of the Scottish Parliament, who I know share the vision of achieving the most that we can for Scotland by working openly in an international context.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the Scottish Executive's ambitions and activities to build international relationships that benefit Scotland and Scotland's interests throughout the world; supports its promotion of Scotland as an ideal place to live, work, study and do business; commends the Executive's encouragement and support for Scottish contributions to international development and other challenges facing the international community; acknowledges the importance of working with the UK Government to achieve these aims, and underlines the importance of responding to changing international circumstances to ensure the greatest possible gains for Scotland in all sectors.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 2:45 pm, 18th January 2006

It is a pleasure to take part in the debate. We very much missed the Minister for Finance and Public Service Reform at the debate on local government finance last Thursday, but I think that I now understand why he was not here. He must have been brushing up on his numeracy skills so that he could debate internet statistics with Mr Stevenson—a rather daunting task. I reassure Mr McCabe that I intend to offer no more internet statistics during my speech.

I welcome the debate and much of the content of the Government motion. We think that it is important that the Government has an international strategy and we welcome the fact that there has been intensification of activity to promote Scotland in other countries. It is also good that the Government is establishing bilateral relationships with other countries.

We are particularly pleased that the Government has chosen to involve itself in international development activity, which is beyond doubt a reserved policy area. The fact that the Government has chosen to be involved and has committed public expenditure to supporting that task is a welcome recognition that the countries that we seek to help—Malawi or any other country—are not in as fortunate a position as we are. We have a moral obligation to do what we can to assist, despite the fact that it is a reserved policy area.

It is a mark of the significant progress that has been made during the first six years of devolution that we now have a European strategy, an international strategy and an international development strategy. I commend the Government for its achievement, although I recognise that there has been a major turnaround in the Government's attitudes. In 1999, my party was vilified by the Labour party for suggesting that the new Scottish Government should have an external affairs strategy and that there should be a minister responsible for it. In an excellent document that was published in February 1999, the SNP set out its policy, which included the following aims: to manage external relations with the European Community and European Council; to open offices in important markets in the world; to ensure that Parliament has a strong voice on European affairs; to promote Scottish interests in Europe and the rest of the world; and to contribute to humanitarian work by supporting Scottish relief and development agencies.

I seem to remember that we were vilified by the slogan, "Consulates, not clinics", but the Scottish Executive is now pursuing exactly our policy approach after all these years. Of course, that wise document from the SNP was prepared by none other than Mr George Reid, who was described by the Labour party in 1999 as the SNP's "Minister for conflict". How wrong Labour members were then; I am glad that they have now seen the light.

The promotion of Scotland abroad was, into the bargain, the subject of a committee inquiry, which I had the privilege of chairing. A number of the recommendations that were made have yet to be acted on, so I hope that we shall hear from ministers about further responses to the recommendations of the European and External Relations Committee. The Government has undoubtedly made progress but, in the words of the popular slogan, "A lot done, a lot more to do".

I want Scotland to be a country that plays a full part in the international community, that works actively in the European Union to promote Scottish interests and which contributes to co-operation for the common good. I want Scotland to be able to exercise a strong voice on the major international issues of the day. In recent years, the conflict in Iraq has dominated the political agenda in this country and throughout the world, but the Executive has been only too keen to treat that major issue, which affects us all, as a reserved issue that the Westminster Government should deal with. The Executive's lack of willingness to take a stance on an issue that concerns Scots shows the limits of the international activity and perspective of the Government.

Recent concerns about rendition flights and the possibility that our land and airspace have been used to accommodate such flights have been met with unwillingness to probe the issue. Again, the Scottish Executive is happy to leave the issue to the United Kingdom Government and is not prepared to satisfy itself on a matter that is of deep concern to the people of Scotland. I hope that the Executive will take seriously the new information that has been published today by my Westminster colleague, Angus Robertson, which provides significant new information on the pattern of rendition flights and the impact that they might have had in Scotland. Credible information and evidence is now available; it shows the planes that have been used and cites the dates on which the planes have been seen and the routes that the planes have taken. The Executive cannot ignore the growing evidence about rendition flights and it must take a stand on behalf of the people of Scotland. An Executive with a strong international perspective should be prepared to reflect on such issues.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I am not sure whether we are hearing a signal of yet another new approach to policy by the SNP. Is Mr Swinney suggesting to Parliament that politicians should now instruct the police on what they should investigate and when? This country has a long tradition—rightly so—of the police being entirely independent. If the SNP or anyone else reported any evidence of wrongdoing to the police, the Executive would properly have faith in the professional judgment of the police on what they should investigate and when. I would appreciate clarity: does the SNP want us to depart from that policy?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

If the minister studied the parliamentary debate on rendition flights before the Christmas recess, he would know that at no stage did any of my colleagues suggest that the police should be instructed to do anything. Of course the police must be independent and of course the Lord Advocate must be independent. We would support, continue, maintain and encourage those principles in the Scottish judicial system. However, we are talking about politics and policy. We want the Executive to express concern about the growing suspicion that rendition flights are using our airspace and our land. The Government should take a stand and make its voice heard clearly. There is a subtle difference between a political statement of concern—a concern that plenty of other countries are expressing—and the type of timidity that Mr McCabe has shown in the debate today.

The war in Iraq and the rendition flights are two examples of areas in which the Scottish Executive is not prepared to play an active part on the international stage. International affairs are not a pick-and-mix: we cannot pick the issues that suit us and avoid those which we find uncomfortable. If we are to play a full and active role in the international community, we must be prepared to address all such issues and to make our voice heard.

The Executive has made welcome efforts to promote Scotland abroad, to become more active in international development and to seek a role for Scotland in European discussions. We believe that Scotland's potential to play a part in the international community will be realised only when Scotland is an independent member of the international community. As we observe the constructive role that is played in Europe and the wider international community by a wide range of small countries—be they European countries or countries further afield—I am ever more convinced that Scotland has a distinctive role to play. That is the challenge and the opportunity that lies ahead for Scotland. I look forward to achieving that vision. In that spirit, I move amendment S2M-3826.1, to leave out from "acknowledges" to end and insert:

"but regrets that on major issues of international policy, such as the war in Iraq or CIA rendition flights, the Executive is unable effectively to represent the views of the people of Scotland, and recognises that this will be possible only when Scotland plays a constructive role as an independent member of the international community."

Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative 2:53 pm, 18th January 2006

I thank the minister for his comments on the Executive's progress on what we would all acknowledge is an important part of its programme. Much discussion on the issue has taken place in the years prior to my arrival in Parliament, and I have had the privilege of working through a great number of debates and parliamentary reports on it since then.

Any debate on the Executive's international strategy has to have two parts: we have to consider carefully whether the strategy is correct, and we have to move on to the rather more difficult issue of implementation. Last year's report by the European and External Relations Committee of this Parliament on promoting Scotland abroad made a number of valid points on both those necessary parts of the debate, but those points have not been answered. I hope that what the minister says later today, and what we hear in any further communications from the Executive, will answer the points fully. That would be a helpful step for the Executive to take.

The minister mentioned changes in Scottish population figures. We all accept that, unless we reverse the decline in our population, the future will not be as bright as it could be.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Will the member clarify Conservative policy? Is he suggesting that the Executive's policy is not ambitious enough for Scotland? The Conservatives did not want a Scottish Parliament in the first place; they believe that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should be in charge of all foreign and overseas issues.

Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative

It is not for me to comment on Conservative party policy on reserved matters. We believe, quite appropriately, that that should be done by our colleagues in Westminster. The Conservatives were opposed to the creation of this Parliament, but we moved on from that position some time ago—I had hoped that members on the nationalist benches might have noticed that.

Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative

Perhaps.

We need to ensure that there is sustained progress on population figures. There have been encouraging signs of late, but we need to make sure that there is definite progress.

I was encouraged by what the minister said about relations with China because it is important that the Scottish economy engage with the opportunities there. It would be remiss of us to ignore the scale of growth in China, India and many other parts of the world, so I am grateful to the minister for his comments on the matter. I will skip over his assessment that the UK presidency of the European Union was a success—I suspect that not many people would agree with that assessment, particularly in relation to the deal on the UK's contribution to the European Union budget.

The key thing that the Conservatives criticise the Executive for is not necessarily a lack of good intentions, but a lack of concrete milestones. We know that it is difficult to measure tangible progress in an area such as international relationships, and that it will take some time for progress to be made. The Executive seems to have many good intentions but says very little about how to measure progress against the objectives that it has set. If there is one thing that the Executive should redo in relation to its international strategy, it is to make it much more measurable and much more open to independent review.

The Executive motion rightly accepts the importance of working with the UK Government to achieve its aims: that is crucial and the minister will hear no criticism from the Conservatives on that score. However, we are entitled to ask just how successful previous efforts by the Executive to engage with the UK Government have been. Was the First Minister particularly successful in his representations to the Home Office on a protocol for dawn raids? Was he successful in obtaining full finance for the costs of policing the G8 summit? Was the Deputy First Minister and Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning successful in the representations that he made on the supplementary corporation tax charge that was applied to the oil and gas industry in Scotland? I suspect that we know the answer to those questions. The Executive does not seem to have the influence with the UK Government that it should.

That is not, however, as the nationalists would have it, a justification for independence. When the nationalists come off with that line, they let the Executive off the hook by going into a constitutional argument. Why does the Executive not have the influence that we fairly expect it to have? Why are Scottish ministers' representations apparently ignored so regularly? Why do Scottish ministers—including even the First Minister—carry so little weight with their UK counterparts? If Scottish ministers cannot influence the matters that I have mentioned, how can they influence the promotion of Scotland abroad? How can we have confidence that they have influence abroad? Those are the real questions that we should be asking.

Oil and gas is an example of where the Executive's lack of influence has sent a damaging signal about Scotland. The Executive can come up with all the strategies it wants, but until we ensure that Scotland is internationally competitive, they will not make a bit of difference.

I move amendment S2M-3826.2, to leave out from "welcomes" to end and insert:

"notes the Scottish Executive's efforts to promote Scotland's international image and to encourage Scottish contributions to international development; welcomes the work of Scottish Development International in building on the success of Locate in Scotland; is disappointed to note that no minister has participated in any Scottish Council for Development and Industry trade mission since 1999; believes that a more competitive economy and better public services are crucial to making Scotland a more attractive place in which to live and invest, and acknowledges that the Executive must work closely with Her Majesty's Government in order to improve the image of Scotland overseas."

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

We move to open debate. This is a short debate, so speeches should be four minutes. There is little time for interventions.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour 2:58 pm, 18th January 2006

This is a welcome opportunity to debate Scotland's place on the international stage. I begin by saying that devolution has given us, as Scots, a vehicle and impetus to express our renewed confidence and our inherent sense of internationalism. It is appropriate that we are having the debate in the week before the anniversary of the birth of one of our greatest Scots and the greatest internationalist in the rich history of Scotland. Members will expect me, an Ayrshire MSP, to mention the Ayrshire poet Robert Burns.

Hundreds of years after his death, Burns continues to contribute to the Scottish economy by virtue of a literary and cultural legacy that unites Scots at home and ex-patriate Scots around the globe this week in seeking out haggis and whisky and in joining together to celebrate a very distinctive part of our Scottish heritage. That promotes Scotland in a real and practical way—Burns represents the traditional image of Scotland that is vital to our tourist sector. We are a country that is rich in culture, steeped in history and heritage and blessed with remarkable natural landscapes and countryside.

We are also a modern and dynamic, and I hope, welcoming Scotland that is open for business. We have first-class universities and a highly motivated workforce.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I welcome the member's excellent reference to Rabbie Burns, our national bard. However, does she share my disappointment that, according to the Scottish Parliament information centre, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Council are doing little to promote Burns overseas?

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

I am aware that the Executive is working with Scottish Enterprise on that and that Ayrshire is already looking to celebrate the year of homecoming. A great deal is being done to promote Burns in Scotland and around the globe.

The encouragement of Scottish companies to develop their international business sectors and assisting them to remain competitive in the global economy are priorities for Parliament, but they have also been key elements of the Executive's international strategy. The enlargement of the European Union has provided a market in excess of 400 million consumers, and the route development fund has allowed Scottish business unprecedented access to those markets.

For some time, the Welsh have been promoting their country in the vital North American market as a gateway to mainland Europe. The considerable increase in the routes from Scotland to Europe's capitals provides us with an opportunity to market Scotland in the United States as a starting point for two-centre holidays. That opportunity provides a direct gateway from Scotland to Europe. As someone who regularly hosts visits from North America, I can see real advantages in that approach. Americans are often nervous about the cultural and language challenges that they face in mainland Europe. They are also more sensitive these days about security. It is very attractive to them to bypass Heathrow and come straight to Scotland via Prestwick international airport and to use that as a base from which to move on to Prague, Rome and Paris. Those possibilities have been developed as a result of the route development fund.

Scotland has three niche markets, which I call the three Gs—golf, genealogy and green tourism. Those are attractive to North American and Australian tourists. We in North Ayrshire are looking to develop those markets and we have responded to the Scottish Enterprise call to identify strategic locations in Scotland for international development. That strategy aims to highlight locations for tourism and growth.

I came to the debate thinking that I would have to talk about the subject as though it were a challenge. However, I looked at the VisitScotland website before I came to the chamber, and I am most impressed with the work that has been done on linkages, genealogy, green tourism and golf since last we debated the international strategy. It is important that we give credit where it is due.

Presiding Officer, I realise that I am running out of time, so perhaps I can end by saying that when I taught at the University of Arizona, people would ask me whether we had electricity in Scotland. However, I now know that the small town of Sierra Vista, south of Tucson, has an annual Burns supper. The city of Tucson has a Gaelic Institute.

Scotland has found a new vibrancy, which has become contagious around the globe. Despite the difficulties of the construction of this building, we have a Parliament to be proud of and that we can showcase. I asked the minister about the UK presidency of the European Union because it gave us ample opportunity to showcase the Parliament and Scotland. I was proud to be Scottish during that time.

I support the motion.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 3:04 pm, 18th January 2006

I welcome the Executive's international strategy. Devolution should be about more than introspection. Regrettably, however, I find the strategy rather focused on self-interest. There are two dominating concepts—promoting a positive image of Scotland overseas and internationally promoting Scottish devolved policy interests. The minister and John Swinney have been debating the last section of the motion, which highlights the relationship with and role of the UK Government, and perhaps it is understandable that a debate of this nature might become fixed on that subject. However, whatever our take on that, I share the aspiration for Scotland to have a future in speaking for itself on the international stage.

To those in the chamber who do not share that view, I say that there are other approaches, even within the confines of devolution. Over the past couple of years, through the cross-party group on sexual health, I have had the opportunity to get involved in a European network, the inter-European parliamentary forum on population and development—beat that for a snappy title. Through that involvement, I have had dealings with parliamentarians from across Europe, not only at member state level but at other tiers of government. At a recent conference in Barcelona, I saw a look of astonishment on people's faces when they realised that Scotland has no formal role in international development, aid or even trade. Local and regional tiers of government in other European counties have such a role and people take it for granted that that should be the case. We need to transcend the limitations: whether we remain a devolved institution or whether Scotland is an independent country in the future, we will continue to face limitations, which we must transcend.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I will take one intervention. I ask the member to be quick.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

Is the member aware that, although we are debating the Executive's international strategy, its international development strategy has also been published? That document covers some of the points to which the member has just referred.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

In a moment, I will address the small steps that we have taken.

The Executive talks about the concept of

"Promoting a positive image of Scotland overseas."

We need to get that aspect right. How do we come to know a country? How do we gain our perception of—let us pick a country at random—the United States of America? Is it by a slogan such as "The best big country in the world"? Of course not; we come to know a country by its actions. We know the USA by its actions in its own towns and cities, in Iraq, in the United Nations, in Guantanamo bay or in our air space.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I am sorry, but I have taken one intervention. As I have only four minutes, I do not have time to take another.

John Swinney mentioned CIA flights, an issue on which the SNP and the Greens call on the Executive not to interfere with the police, but to show political will. The Executive has lent its political will to tackling human trafficking for exploitation, an area in which we wanted to see not instructions being given to the police but political will being shown to raise the issue up the agenda and make it clear that we expect change. Rendition flights should be treated in the same way and given the same level of political backing. The UK Government accepts the American assurances—the skilfully crafted ambiguity—and it is by its actions that we know the UK Government on the issue.

It is by Scotland's actions that the rest of the world will come to know us and that our dignity, stature and profile abroad will grow. When we take those actions for ourselves, our profile as a country in the world will be a great one.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 3:08 pm, 18th January 2006

There is much in the debate that members agree on. We all agree that we have to use the powers that are available to Scotland under devolution since the advent of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 to promote Scotland overseas. Internationally, there is a huge reservoir of good will for this small country that lies on the north-west periphery of Europe. We must tap into and harness that good will for Scotland's economic, social and cultural benefit. If we do so, there will be huge benefits for Scotland. I was delighted to hear even the Tories say that the Scottish Parliament should try to influence London on reserved matters. Clearly, there is much that we can agree on today.

As John Swinney said in opening for the SNP, there are areas on which we disagree. For example, the SNP believes that, to maximise Scotland's impact on the world, we need the trappings and powers of other independent countries. We are talking about not only what Scotland would gain from being on the international stage, but what we could contribute to the rest of the world.

I will not be quite as generous as John Swinney was about the Executive's international strategy. I believe that international relations and the international strategy are a very low priority for the present Scottish Government. I agree that we have made inroads, and that things have improved since before devolution, but we could do a lot more.

It is always possible to tell from the glossiness of the document how low a priority the Executive, and the Parliament, puts on an issue. The Executive's international strategy document is badly written, and I remember that it was late in being published. There are poor black-and-white photos of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. The content is really bad; it does not say much, but it is all warm words as usual.

We need much more ambition and leadership from the minister. That is why the European and External Relations Committee called for a dedicated minister for European and external relations. We need direction, leadership and much more focus and ambition.

We must remember that today's debate was a last-minute filler. The Executive changed the business at the last moment and, when it thought about what it could come up with quickly to fill an hour and a half, decided that international affairs would do. The debate was not even planned, which is why documents were published late. International affairs are simply not a priority.

If we in the Scottish Parliament do not promote Scotland, no one else will do it for us. That is why it is important that we get our act together. The minister has much more work to do to persuade the Foreign Office in London and organisations such as the British Council to work for Scotland. They are massive organisations with a massive presence throughout the globe and they do very little—indeed, next to nothing—to promote Scotland. The Foreign Office has a budget of nearly £2 billion and 16,000 staff between London, Croydon and Milton Keynes, with 233 overseas posts. If the minister checks the British embassy websites or British Council websites from throughout the world, he will see very little reference to Scotland. I will give the minister an example from the British Council—another massive organisation, with 7,300 staff, a turnover of £430 million and a presence in 110 countries. Its job is to promote UK culture and education throughout the world, but the mindset in the British Council, like that in the Foreign Office, is a London mindset that virtually ignores Scotland.

If we look at the pages called "Governance in the UK" on the British Council China's website, we see no reference to Scotland and no mention of devolution. The "Parliament" section refers to the UK Parliament and the "Cabinet" section refers to the UK Cabinet. We can also look at the page called "What the Papers are Saying" to see how the British Council updates the international community on current affairs in the UK. I checked that page this morning and six months ago and found that exactly the same newspapers were quoted: the Financial Times, The Independent, the Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail—all London editions.

Those web pages make no reference whatever to Scotland; that is the mindset that we are up against. The minister must acknowledge that there is a huge job of work to do to persuade the UK establishment even to remember that Scotland exists. Today, I contacted the Scottish Parliament information centre, which confirmed to me that the Foreign Office and the British Council are not referring at all to the national bard—Scotland's most internationally famous literary figure—a week before Burns day.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 3:13 pm, 18th January 2006

I am happy to support the motion in Tom McCabe's name, which sets out some sensible points. The Executive deserves support and congratulation for what it has done, but I will try to suggest a few things that we could do better.

It is a difficult task for us to seek real influence in the United Kingdom. Members might not like to admit it, and it gets a bit tedious when the nationalists keep going on about it, but it is a fact that Scotland does not exist as far as a lot of those in Westminster, Whitehall, the London chattering classes and the London press are concerned. Somehow we must break through that, and we will all have problems—even with our own political colleagues—on that front. We must work really hard so that we are at the heart of the UK and so that we can make even better use of the UK facilities for promoting Scotland than we do at the moment.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Does it help the overseas promotion of Scotland and knowledge of the country as a distinctive entity if we wrap ourselves in the union jack and promote all things British, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has urged?

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

I was going to come to that and deal with it positively. Personally, I cannot understand why we do not promote St Andrew's day more vigorously, including by having a holiday.

On the question of getting people to come here and attracting tourists, I think that the Executive has progressed a bit as far as transport is concerned, although we could still do a lot more.

On the matter of being welcoming, there are some very good parts of the Scottish tourist scene. There are some really good attractions, where the people are welcoming, the whole thing is well set out and everything is great. However, in other parts of tourism in Scotland, the personal welcome leaves a good deal to be desired. We must educate those people who need educating in the tourism industry to be more genuinely welcoming.

Rabbie Burns has had a good mention, but we could make a lot more use of him. A big anniversary is coming up, and we could build on him a lot. There are other Scottish writers on whom we could build more, including Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. There are others, too. Almost everyone in the world, or at least a great many people, has heard of Sherlock Holmes or Peter Pan, but the authors thereof should get credit, too. We could do more to promote present-day writing and publishing in Scotland to give out a good picture of ourselves abroad.

We could make more effort at having regular reunions of people who have left Scotland to work abroad. We could have a massive old boys' and old girls' reunion—a former Scots' reunion.

We need to look outside, as well as getting people to come here. We have to build on the existing links and on the twinning approach, whether that relates to Europe, the Commonwealth or other countries. There is a great tradition of Scots in Europe, which we could study much more than we do at the moment, and we could make people aware of our great contribution to history in Europe, as well as in the Commonwealth. Voluntary arts and sports links often provide the best ways of developing the attitude of Scots towards people abroad and vice versa. We could do a lot more in that respect that would be relatively cheap. Just a little bit of money creates a huge amount of good will.

It is slightly difficult to say this in a politically acceptable way, but I think that one of our great assets, which we can trade on, is the fact that we are not English. The English have a downside in many foreign countries' view. I do not know whether we deserve it, but the Scots have much more of an upside, and people do not blame us for the empire. Let us push our Scottishness.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent 3:17 pm, 18th January 2006

The Executive's motion mentions

"Scottish contributions to international development".

I support those efforts, despite the critics who say that international development is a matter reserved to Westminster and that it is therefore none of our business. The eradication of poverty most certainly is our business. As members of the human race, we all have a responsibility to play our part in the eradication of poverty, at home or abroad.

Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for International Development, made it clear that he welcomed this Parliament's efforts to add value to the work of his department. Some critics try to discredit those efforts by claiming that a lot of the money that is meant for international development is not reaching the people in need, but is going into the coffers of corrupt politicians. Such allegations surfaced again at the time of last year's visit by the President of Malawi. I do not know for sure whether those allegations are true or false, but our tradition of justice is based on the presumption of innocence unless proven otherwise. Last year, I took part in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association's delegation to Malawi. We uncovered no evidence of corruption.

If evidence of governmental corruption comes to light, whether in Malawi or anywhere else, that does not justify the stopping of assistance to people in need. Why should people who are in dire poverty be punished for the corrupt conduct of their Governments? Aid could still be channelled through non-governmental organisations, instead of through the Government. In Malawi, there is no shortage of NGOs; in fact, there is a considerable number of them, many of which have Scottish connections. They do excellent work in areas such as health and education, particularly in helping people who suffer from AIDS and malnutrition. I hope that some of those NGOs will receive assistance from the Scottish Executive's international development fund to enable them to continue their good work in international development and help promote good international relations between Scotland and the rest of the world.

There is a need to promote good international relations here in Scotland, too. I welcome the fresh talent initiative to encourage people from other countries to live and work here, but the Government's treatment of asylum seekers and refugees is not consistent with that policy. About 12,000 asylum seekers and refugees live in Scotland. More than 20 per cent of them are university educated, but more than 90 per cent of them are denied the right to work. People are coming to Scotland—some of them are fugitives from some of the most oppressive regimes in the world and many of them have skills and talents that could be used to build a new Scotland—but instead of being welcomed with open arms, they find themselves denied the right to work. Some of them are locked up in places such as Dungavel and others live in constant fear of dawn raids by snatch squads from the immigration authorities.

We are supposed to be living in a 21st century, multicultural, multiethnic society. We should celebrate that diversity, instead of treating people from other countries like second-class citizens and trying to impose on them some kind of British uniformity, with the help of the union jack and a special day to celebrate British nationalism. For historical and other reasons, some ethnic groups find it difficult to identify with the union jack and I doubt very much whether support for a British national day would ever reach the figure of 75 per cent that was recorded by the MORI opinion poll in support of my bill to make St Andrew's day a national holiday.

If ministers are serious about promoting Scotland internationally, they should try to ensure that people here in Scotland are treated as equals irrespective of their ethnic origin. The Executive should support my St Andrew's Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Bill, which would give the people of Scotland the opportunity to celebrate our national identity, our ethnic and cultural diversity and our membership of the international community.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I remind members that speeches should be four minutes. I am trying very hard to fit in all the back benchers.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour 3:22 pm, 18th January 2006

The best spur for us to think internationally and develop our international strategy that I have heard today is the range of voices and languages that I heard on the number 40 bus coming along Maryhill Road this morning. It is becoming increasingly noticeable how many migrants from other parts of the world are coming to Scotland to seek opportunities, work and a new life as a result of the prosperity and opportunities that exist here. Not too long ago, there was substantial net out-migration of Scots to other parts of the world. That net out-migration has been slowed considerably and there has been considerable in-migration of people from other parts of Europe and the rest of the world. People in Scotland should embrace that and see it as a mark of not just our economic success, but our increased cultural diversity and attractiveness as a nation.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Does the member consider that the people who have been attracted to live in Scotland came here because we were distinctively Scottish or British?

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

I do not think that that even entered their heads; I think that they came here because they thought that they could make a new life here and they embraced that opportunity.

Margo MacDonald makes an interesting point. One of the issues that I have with the SNP contributions is that it is not important that a separate Scottish statement is made from here or anywhere else. The issue is what we want to say to the world and who is going to listen to us. Those are the questions that we need to ask. It is interesting to put that in the context of some of the things that Gordon Brown said last week about Britishness. He picked out the ideas of liberty, collective or shared responsibility and fairness as distinctively British and as emblematic ideas that characterise Britishness. However, I would say that they are also ideas that characterise Scottishness. There is a clear linkage—an interconnectedness—between our value system and the value system of the rest of the world.

The fact that Gordon Brown—who is recognised as a significant statesman by any measure, whether we judge that in terms of Scotland, the United Kingdom or the rest of the world—is Scottish and is articulating the views of the UK Government while bringing with him a Scottish cultural tradition, values and identity, enriches Scotland and Britain and, I hope, produces a transmission of those ideas to other parts of the world.

I do not think that there is any problem in our putting forward Scottish ideas, British ideas and European ideas in the context of internationalism. The history of the past 100 years has been towards making nationalism, in its narrowest sense, less and less significant, relevant or sensible. We need to engage with the problems that exist in the world and ask what contribution we can make as individuals to sorting them out. Global poverty is a huge issue. Do people in Malawi or anywhere else in Africa worry about whether a specifically Scottish approach is taken towards them or do they wonder about the sort of support that they are going to get and the intentions and integrity of the people who are behind that support?

I think that the influence of Scots, through the UK, coupled with the way in which we in the Scottish Parliament are contributing to the international development agenda, is highly commendable. I condemn the petty parochialism that often accompanies debates such as this one. If we want to listen to a Scottish voice with a chip on both shoulders—I refer to Richard Lochhead—that is fine, but I would far rather listen to Gordon Brown, Jack McConnell and the people who say sensible things.

Photo of Rosie Kane Rosie Kane SSP 3:27 pm, 18th January 2006

The issue that we are debating is extremely important for Scotland, now and in relation to our future. John Swinney was right to introduce the issues of rendition and the war on Iraq to this debate. The Prime Minister's friendship with the President of the United States of America has dragged this country on to a sinister international stage. We cannot be proud of that.

The motion in the name of Tom McCabe talks about promoting Scotland as

"an ideal place to live, work, study and do business".

It is a well-known fact that there are skills and population shortages in Scotland that, if they are not dealt with soon, will become a crisis. It is therefore imperative that we attract and welcome people to Scotland. It would seem that there are people throughout the world who see Scotland as an ideal place to live. They come here, hope to settle here and want to work and raise their children here. However, they are tossed aside, barred from contributing and exposed to danger. I refer, as did Dennis Canavan, to our asylum seeker community. Our international strategy makes no mention of our own international community. However, within that community lies the solution to many of our problems.

The motion also mentions

"the importance of responding to changing international circumstances".

I agree that that is important. We should respond to the horrific poverty, environmental disaster, civil war and intolerance of political and religious belief that cause people to flee in the first place. We should open our hearts and borders to those in need. That would be the compassionate and humanitarian thing to do, but it would also help Scotland and would go some way towards securing our economic future. There are doctors, nurses, university lecturers and teachers living on the streets of Glasgow. They rely on the Red Cross for sleeping bags and Barnardo's street teams for food. They are often known as failed asylum seekers and many come from countries to which they cannot return. The response of the Home Office is to make them destitute. That makes no sense at all.

The minister might say that that is not a devolved matter. How can the Executive take that position when it is on the streets of Scotland—in our bus shelters and our doorways—that these poor souls have to sleep? We might have heard a peep from the front benches if a different party was in power at Westminster. Instead, however, there has been an eerie silence on the treatment of our international visitors. Attracting workers is one thing, but we need people to come here and have children. I have done my bit in that regard and I hear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is doing his bit, too. If we are seriously to secure our economic future, the silence must end. We must welcome and support families in Scotland and we must support our new international citizens.

Sadly, Scotland is still beholden to Westminster and will therefore stay tied to war, brutality and domination on the international stage. Some are happy to strip Scotland of its assets and some are happy to sit around and let that happen. Luckily, ever-increasing numbers oppose both those positions, so perhaps, one day, Scotland will reach her full potential here and throughout the world.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative 3:30 pm, 18th January 2006

Scotland has made a head start on its international strategy. Patrick Harvie referred to Scotland's image and how the rest of the world sees us. The rest of the world already knows of Scotland's performance in the past in engineering and in pioneering into other countries where Scots assisted in building up agricultural industries, supporting organisations and building sound administration.

Scotland has a great reputation. Donald Gorrie talked about our reputation in London and the need to build Scotland into considerations. In London, we have a Prime Minister who claims Scottish heritage. The Scottish Chancellor of the Exchequer represents a Scottish constituency. We have Scottish former Foreign Secretaries, transport secretaries for the whole UK, Home Secretaries and senior Home Office ministers. Scotland has a massive input into affairs south of the border. If ministers cannot register their Scottishness south of the border as Scottish members of Parliament, goodness knows who can.

When I was involved in producing the European and External Relations Committee's report on international matters, I recognised that the international strategy that was presented to the committee was a little woolly and lacked detail. I recommend that we pick up Derek Brownlee's idea of creating milestones so that we can judge the success of the international strategy. Alan Wilson asked whether resources for international promotion were best used, whether value for money was achieved and whether everybody knew what was expected of them. He said that he did not know, but that, realistically, he thought the answer was no. That was said a couple of years ago. Perhaps the minister could consider the situation now and advise us of progress.

I differ little from what Irene Oldfather said about Robert Burns. However, in its evidence for the European and External Relations Committee's report, the Robert Burns World Federation was extremely critical of the Executive's stance, particularly on the 250th anniversary of Burns's birth, which is just three years away. I wonder what lessons have been learned from that and whether the minister has a strategy for picking up on that anniversary. However, I compliment the Executive and particularly Patricia Ferguson on involving the National Trust in activities in Alloway, which should enhance Burns's birthplace.

What are the big issues on the international scene? Energy is perhaps the biggest, not only in relation to climate change, but in relation to security of supply. Scotland's nuclear power history is second to none. Scotland has a magnificent and safe history and a sound technical basis. If the minister promoted Scotland's nuclear record, he would do Scotland proud economically and internationally with respect to our branding.

It is a point of shame that, since 1997, we have dropped in the competitiveness league from being the fourth to the eighth most successful region in the UK. The same story applies to economic growth. The minister's motion does not refer to economic development or things economic. I suggest that he should look again at the international scene and see whether we can build on the points that I have mentioned.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 3:34 pm, 18th January 2006

A nation is known by its deeds, not by its words—and certainly not by its strategies. There is much to commend in the Government's good efforts in deprived areas of Africa, which it would be churlish not to recognise. However, against those efforts one must set our treatment of asylum seekers who come to Scotland—who have already been mentioned—and our treatment of children who watch their parents being handcuffed and are forced furth of Scotland without having known any other place to live. Children who are deported from Scotland can even be investigated by the reporter to the children's panel and sent away with the very people who are abusing them. We let such things happen in Scotland's name. As a result, Scotland is hardly an ideal place in which to live and work. As members have said, such things fly in the face of the fresh talent initiative—they are total nonsense.

Issues have been raised from our previous debate on rendition flights, which are mentioned in our amendment. We will be known by our deeds. Who is doing what? Where are they doing it? Who is investigating? That Senator Dick Marty has already accused European countries of remaining silent about the issue is interesting. He said:

"all European countries should stop acting 'hypocritically' and decide whether or not to tolerate the dirty policies of Washington."

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I am sorry, but I do not have enough time. I have only four minutes.

Senator Marty said:

"Since two, three years, the countries know what is happening. There are countries that have collaborated actively, and there are others who have tolerated. Others have simply looked the other way".

To use the words of the famous Ming the merciless, see no evil, hear no evil, but let the evil be done—I added that last part myself.

Senator Marty said that it is impossible for Washington to fly prisoners across Europe without anyone knowing what is going on, and that Governments throughout Europe are willingly being silent about camps in eastern European countries in which people are being tortured.

What inquiries are taking place? The Council of Europe, Spain, Sweden, Iceland and the head of police in Manchester, on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers in England, are conducting inquiries, but we are doing nothing in Scotland.

What is the definition of torture, which, according to Condoleezza Rice, is simply not taking place? For Colin Boyd, under Scots law, torture occurs when

"severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession".—[Official Report, Written Answers, 22 December 2005; S2W-21581.]

Of course, that is not the United States's definition. It has defined enhanced interrogation techniques as follows:

"Grab: the interrogator grabs a suspect's shirt front and shakes him ... Slap: an open-handed slap to produce fear and some pain ... Standing: Prisoners stand for 40 hours or more, shackled to the floor. Said to be effective, it also denies them sleep and is part of a process known as sensory deprivation ... Cold cell: a prisoner is made to stand naked in a cold, though not freezing, cell and doused with water ... Water Boarding: the prisoner is bound to a board with feet raised, and cellophane wrapped round his head. Water is poured onto his face and is said to produce a fear of drowning".

Would not we call such things torture?

I appreciate that most of the airports in Scotland are not subject to the Parliament's investigations, but two are—Inverness and Wick. Highlands and Islands airports fall within the Scottish Executive's remit. There have been five Central Intelligence Agency flights to Inverness and two to Wick—that information was obtained from the US Federal Aviation Administration under American freedom of information legislation. I suggest to the minister that he should investigate matters and start by looking at the logs for Inverness and Wick airports, over which he has jurisdiction. He should do so here and now and then report to the police.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour 3:38 pm, 18th January 2006

The Executive's strategy is a sensible agenda for engagement by Scotland's devolved Parliament with the wider world. The relationship between Scotland and the wider world has a long history, some of it proud and some of it murky. For many centuries, Scots have travelled the world for all sorts of purposes, some of which we might not want to refer to in the debate.

Irene Oldfather and Phil Gallie were right to refer to the great Scottish poet who wrote movingly about the brotherhood of man, but we should also bear it in mind that Burns nearly went to Jamaica to work in an economy that was built on slavery. Perhaps we should not be too smug about our history. We should all strive to do better in the future.

Happily, Scotland has a good reputation abroad. I have come across people in the most unlikely places and circumstances who are aware of Scotland's distinct identity and who have a good impression of our people and our country. That reputation, combined with the Executive's strategy, should be a sound basis for us on which to learn, to contribute and to do business in the rest of the world in future. So it is rather tedious to have to listen to nationalist members going on in every debate about how everything would be fine if only Scotland was independent. I am sorry, but we do not believe that, and I do not think that they honestly believe that. The people out there are bored of constitutional fetishism.

As for the seriously disturbing issue of torture and rendition flights, the idea that Scotland could somehow have more influence over the CIA than the United Kingdom has is patently absurd. Torture is against international law. I am proud of the fact that General Pinochet was detained in Britain in 1997, and I sincerely hope that our independent police and prosecution authorities will apply exactly the same principle to any offender when there is evidence.

Within the devolution settlement, the Parliament and the Executive have wide-ranging rights and duties in relation to the European Union. There are important international dimensions to our responsibilities for enterprise, the environment, education, and culture and tourism, and we can play a valuable supporting role in relation to the deep concerns of our people about the victims of poverty, conflict and natural disasters overseas. The Executive's motion sets out the right way in which to approach those issues, in partnership with our colleagues at Westminster.

I will touch briefly on two specific issues. The first is the fresh talent initiative, to which members have referred and which I strongly support. The initiative is targeted at skilled workers, but there are a lot of foreign people doing unskilled work in Scotland. We know that some of them are subject to exploitation by unscrupulous employers and gangmasters. I have expressed concerns about foreign workers and local employees being displaced by low-paid foreigners at the Monaghan Mushrooms farm in East Lothian. I am still looking to the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board to get a grip on that situation.

Secondly, I will say a word about Scotland's contribution to overseas aid and disaster relief. I strongly support the initiatives that the Executive is promoting in Malawi, and I thank Scots for their generous support for victims of the earthquake in Kashmir. I have been involved in delivering a little bit of that aid. The need of homeless people above the snow line in the Himalayas is absolutely desperate. I hope to return to that area next month.

Scots have a long tradition of travelling the world to learn, to work and to develop business opportunities. We have been welcoming tourists and migrants for a long time, too. Our resurgent national identity in the Scottish Parliament affords a tremendous opportunity to develop even better links and even bigger opportunities. I strongly support the Executive's motion.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 3:42 pm, 18th January 2006

I, too, support the Executive's intentions, which are excellent. The strategic objective is correct if it is to promote the best interests of Scotland at home and abroad, which I think it is. Irene Oldfather echoed the Executive's motion. However, we then moved into a period of confusion, which ended with John Home Robertson talking about constitutional fetishism because of remarks that were made by SNP members, which one could infer suggested that we might act in a sovereign manner properly to promote the full range of Scotland's interests. I agree with that, too. In many respects, I wish that the SNP would talk of sovereignty, not independence—we would then have the idea of working in partnership with people in the United Kingdom.

The strategic objective says that, although we will obviously co-operate with partners in the United Kingdom, Scotland will be promoted as a distinctive entity. Does it help that, in the same week that the Executive's motion appears in the Business Bulletin here, the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggests that we should be British and celebrate Britishness? I believe that we are British, but the objectives that the chancellor has staked out as being worthy of promotion—such as the belief in tolerance, fair play and so on—are shared by people in Ireland. I think of myself as British, but as a citizen of the British isles. That unit of international and interregional co-operation makes much more sense than the narrow United Kingdom to which, unfortunately, my friend Phil Gallie referred.

Although one thing is written in the Business Bulletin, we have debated something quite different, and I wish that we would own up to that. If we are to promote Scotland as a distinctive identity in the 21st century, we will have to get over that faultline and do away with the Geiger counter that is run over every discussion in the chamber to look for elements of nationalism. The fetishism can be found all over, because friends and colleagues in one part of the chamber are immediately suspicious of an idea coming from the other part. If we consider propositions on their merit and logic, I suggest that we will come to very different conclusions and agree to support the Executive's motion, if it means what it says.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour 3:45 pm, 18th January 2006

That was an interesting and thoughtful contribution from Margo MacDonald; Richard Lochhead could learn a lot from it.

John Home Robertson reflected on where the debate had taken us. I will pick up a couple of points, particularly those that were made by Mr Lochhead about the British Council. I am not here to apologise or stand up for the British Council; I am here as an MSP who has had considerable contact with that organisation through my constituency, in my role as a member of a CPA delegation to Malawi and, subsequently, as a co-convener of a cross-party group. I have found all of my contact with the British Council to be helpful and constructive in promoting Scotland abroad. I suggest to Mr Lochhead that he might want to visit the British Council offices next door—he could talk to the people there about what they are doing, and ask what he can do to help them and what they can do to help him. Clearly, there seems to be a limit to his understanding if he thinks that the best way to learn about an organisation is to visit its website. Visiting would be far more productive and it would help him to learn more about the British Council's work.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I assure the member that I have probably had a lot more conversations with the British Council and its head than she has had recently, especially when I was convener of the European and External Relations Committee.

My argument is that Scotland does not get its fair share of the attention, time and resources of the British Council and the Foreign Office. There is plenty evidence to prove that. The member should check her facts.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

It is typical of a man to want to focus on size rather than quality or content. I have had considerable contact with the British Council. I do not want to get into the mine's-is-bigger-than-yours debate with Richard Lochhead but, judging by the quality of his contribution to the debate, it is not apparent that he has had considerable conversation and dialogue with the British Council. If we are to have a balanced debate, the member should work on that.

I have been critical of the Executive's strategy, especially of the timing and the manner in which it was produced. However, we need to move on and consider the work that has been done since, particularly in relation to Malawi, on which my involvement has concentrated.

I am privileged to be taking part in a CPA delegation to Malawi in February. As a member of this Parliament, I will discuss with Malawians the contribution that the Executive's international development strategy has made, the changes it has brought about, and the progress that has been made and which needs to be made. That delegation will not be too shy to come back and report to the Parliament, and hold the Executive to account if the promises and commitments that were made in that strategy and subsequently, in developing the protocols with the Malawian Government, have not been carried through.

There is an interesting debate to have around the questions, "Who am I? Am I Scottish or am I British?" I suppose that I am both. I am proud to be Scottish and proud to be British. I should not have to apologise for either. It is wrong to get into that debate in some of the ways that we have done today. I would welcome the opportunity to take part in a debate in the manner described by Margo MacDonald, in which we can best express our Scottishness within the context of the United Kingdom—

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

I understand that Margo MacDonald does not accept that; she was talking about the British isles. There are issues for us all to discuss.

When the minister makes his closing speech, I would be grateful to hear how he intends to report to Parliament on the progress of the international development strategy and how we can make progress together. As Hilary Benn said when he came to the Parliament, there is enough work for all of us to do. Instead of getting hung up on who is doing what, where and how, let us get on with it, promote Scotland abroad and help the most vulnerable members of the international community. I am proud to be an international socialist.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 3:50 pm, 18th January 2006

There have been some interesting speeches this afternoon, all no doubt very sincere, but some of them of fairly dubious relevance.

Since 1999, one of the most positive aspects of devolution has been the way in which Scotland's image has been projected on the international stage—with some measure of success, from which we can take a degree of satisfaction. It is questionable whether the Executive has been totally successful in what it has tried to achieve—the jury is firmly out on that. However, it cannot be stressed too much that one of the most important things that the Executive, the Parliament and the country must do is to project an image on the international stage that is acceptable and attractive. Of course we should be proud of our history. However, we should not manifest ourselves as some mist-shrouded Brigadoon, with no relevance to modern society. We must be seen as contemporary, positive and forward looking.

To a certain extent, we are achieving that, but an awful lot more could be done. Let us think what makes Scotland attractive to people, because nowadays tourism is an important fact. We have seen the way in which heavy industry has diminished over the past 30 or 40 years. We must recognise that, to a great extent, service industries are the way forward. However, is Scotland all that attractive? I was terribly depressed the other day when I saw in the Evening Times a story relating to the amount of graffiti and general disorder in Glasgow, which is detracting from Glasgow's bid for the Commonwealth games. The Executive has failed to do anything about that.

I look in other directions. The minister was right to point out in his opening speech the effects of the new emerging economies of India and China. I am worried about the macroeconomic impact that the Chinese economy will have on western economies in the next 20 to 30 years. We must make our economy much more competitive. Our competitiveness must have an international dimension. Is the Executive making Scotland an attractive place in which to live and to earn a living? I cannot accept that it is, when the minister's Labour colleagues down south impose a bureaucracy burden on business that is unprecedented and we see taxation the like of which—

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I do not have time to do so. I am sorry, but I have only four minutes. The member will agree that I am usually fairly generous.

Tax is impacting on oil investment as a result of Chancellor Brown's interventions. The Scottish Executive is failing to do anything about Scottish Water. Business rates are finally becoming more competitive with rates down south, but the decision to make the change has been postponed time and again and will not be implemented for another year. The Executive is not making Scotland an attractive place for business or attracting the sort of outward investment that we seek.

In an interesting, erudite speech, Des McNulty highlighted the fact that migration in may be greater than migration out. However, let us consider what is happening. As a result of the Executive's policies, we are losing more and more young graduates. We are attracting in people, many of whom have considerable skills, but most of whom have lesser skills. That is not a satisfactory state of affairs. There is a great deal to be done in that regard.

We recognise that much has been achieved, but we cannot sign up to a self-congratulatory motion of the sort that has been put before the Parliament. We must recognise that much needs to change. I am increasingly depressed by the anti-American rhetoric that comes to the fore time and again in the chamber. I have heard of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face, but when there is a massive potential tourism intake from the United States, does it really make sense for members repeatedly to insult America and Americans?

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 3:54 pm, 18th January 2006

Perhaps our starting point ought to be knowing ourselves as well as we wish others to know us. I hope to illustrate that, in some ways, we are perhaps doing better than we understand and are saying less than we should.

I welcome that speech from Bill Aitken, who seems to have fallen into the category of those who trumpet our successes, understand our shortcomings and take responsibility for dealing with them into their own hands. Bill Aitken should know that he will be welcomed on to the nationalist benches whenever he wishes to join us.

The motion before us today starts off well. It states that the Parliament

"welcomes ... ambitions and activities to build international relationships that benefit Scotland and Scotland's interests throughout the world" and

"supports its promotion of Scotland as an ideal place to live, work, study and do business".

That is great. If the full stop had come at that point, who knows? Perhaps the vote at decision time might have been rather different from what I expect it will be.

In passing, let me say that Karen Gillon takes nothing from my political philosophy by proclaiming that she has a shared identity, being both British and Scots. I am not threatened, nor even worried, by that, as it is entirely proper that she should do that.

We need to ensure that we trumpet what we are good at, so let me mention a couple of things from industry and commerce. Many of us come to the Parliament by travelling along the railway line that comes from Glasgow. As the train slows down as it approaches Haymarket station, we can see one of the most important parts of modern Scotland. I refer not to Murrayfield on the left nor to Tynecastle on the right but to Wolfson Microelectronics plc, whose offices sit by the side of the railway line.

As a company, Wolfson is beating the world. It will provide the intellectual drive for the next generation of Apple iPods and other high-technology consumer goods. However, Wolfson's products will be hidden on a little microchip inside those goods, so people will not know that Wolfson is a Scottish success story today unless we trumpet that success. Scotland has not only a history but a future.

Scotland also has the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is one of the biggest banks in the world. We should not be afraid of trumpeting its success either.

Diversity has an intrinsic value in the modern world, but that is why Scotland can make a unique and different contribution. The first law of epigenetics states that the more highly optimised an organism is for one environment, the more adversely it is affected by any change to that environment. Not only is there value to Scotland in being distinctive, but there is value to the world and to the wider community.

I assure Rosie Kane, Phil Gallie, Bill Aitken and others that I very much welcome friendships of whatever nature between our country and people in the States. Members may not know this but, on our first day in this chamber, a family of three Americans—the Shields family—sat in the distinguished visitors gallery at my invitation. I very much welcome personal friendships across borders, as such friendships help mutual understanding and aid world peace. Indeed, I say to John Home Robertson that I believe that we have a shared duty—which crosses borders, peoples and jurisdictions—to fight oppression, to promote openness and equality and to stand up, every one of us, for justice for everyone and with everyone.

We have heard a bit about strategies today, but let us remember that strategies are meaningless until they dissolve into work that promotes the delivery of something that is worth having. When the minister rises in a few seconds to close the debate, I hope that, rather than simply resort to "Holy Willie's Prayer", he will speak up for Scotland and recognise that, when Scotland speaks up for Scotland, we will be all the more effective.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour 4:00 pm, 18th January 2006

Indeed we will, as usual, speak up for Scotland. That is not exactly what the SNP usually does, but if what Mr Stevenson has said represents a new approach, we more than welcome it.

There has been some recognition in the debate that political renewal is making Scotland a better place and is attracting overseas interests to the country. One very positive development is the establishment, since devolution, of nine consulates in Scotland. Political renewal is also having an impact on the way in which Scotland works with its international partners.

As Scots, we know that Scotland is a modern and enterprising country. Our cultural life has never been more vibrant; our quality of life is among the best in the world; and our educational institutions are world-class. However, our task is to get that message across to our partners not only in Europe but around the globe and to ensure that they understand the potential benefits—for us and them—of engaging constructively with Scotland.

I will address some points that have been made in the debate. Patrick Harvie said that the strategy is based on self-interest. Well, I have to agree. It is based on the self-interest of the people in Scotland whom we represent and seeks to promote their interests; to open up opportunities for them in this country and around the world; and to ensure that people around the world are aware of the opportunities that exist in Scotland. As I say, we do so in the interests of the people who put us in this place. After all, that is exactly what we are here for.

However, in acknowledging that, we also agree with Dennis Canavan's sentiments. We can benefit from Scotland's diversity; indeed, we must embrace that diversity, those individuals and their contribution to the country. However, he then went a bit further and referred to his St Andrew's Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Bill. I will not go there; I will simply say that his points about embracing people who can make a positive contribution to the country were well made.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

Not at the moment. I do not have much time.

Richard Lochhead said that we were not going far enough and then launched what amounted to an attack on the British Council. In that respect, Karen Gillon's comments were absolutely right. In my experience, the British Council has been enormously constructive. It has an office in Edinburgh and, in fact, manages the 22 students from six countries who are in our current international scholarships programme. Moreover, it has been invaluable to us in our work with Malawi. We have very good contacts with the organisation, which has done good work in Scotland, and it would be wrong to portray the position any differently.

In response to Karen Gillon's question about how we will report progress, I point out that we will maintain our current engagement with the European and External Relations Committee.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Margo MacDonald's thoughtful and incisive speech, which focused on the subject of this afternoon's debate. That is what should have happened this afternoon, and her speech was appreciated not only by me but by other members who heard it.

Bill Aitken is perfectly right to wonder whether we have been completely successful and to conclude that the jury is still out. I cannot say that we have been completely successful, because this work will never come to an end. We must be prepared to dig in for the long term in the interests of the people whom we serve, and the Executive and I are perfectly happy for members of Opposition parties, the public and other people to hold us to account for our work and its success.

With the political renewal that we have experienced, we want—and are determined—to ensure that our country is in the best possible position to engage with the wider world and, indeed, to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented by a rapidly changing world. We will take help from all members to achieve those objectives in the interests of the people whom we serve.