Scottish-Norwegian Commercial Co-operation

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:00 pm on 14 June 2007.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 5:00, 14 June 2007

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-12, in the name of Rob Gibson, on Scottish-Norwegian commercial co-operation. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that Norway celebrates the 102nd anniversary of its independence on 17 May 2007; welcomes growing economic co-operation between Scotland and Norway to make the most of our sustainable marine hydrocarbon and renewable energy resources, our proximity across the North Sea and ongoing civic and cultural collaborations; in particular welcomes the announcement of a new partnership between Statoil and Scottish Power which aims to produce a commercially viable tidal energy device for a full-scale trial to be run within two years; considers that the Scottish Executive should work with the Norwegian government to create a North Sea electricity supergrid to serve continental markets with secure supplies of clean power, and also believes that the prospects for creating a direct sea route for freight and passengers to link our two nations should be pursued with vigour.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 5:13, 14 June 2007

As Norway celebrated the 102 nd anniversary of its independence on 17 May 2007, many Scots joined in, as each year students in Edinburgh do and many folk from Orkney, with Norwegian twinning visitors, do in their Kirkwall march, the tog. Many others have worked with Norwegians in the oil industry, which our nations share on our sea frontier. Having listened to Norwegian oil workers, several people have remarked to me on the better working conditions in the Norwegian sector. A combination of income is derived from oil work, with the development of small businesses in workers' home areas underpinning an enviable quality of life.

Norway deserves our congratulations on its second from top place in the recently published Federation of Small Businesses Scotland/Sunday Herald index of success for small developed countries. That compares with Scotland's 10th place, so we have much to learn. The measurements that the index employs compare gross national product, education, health and equality of opportunity—factors that underpin the quality of life that I mentioned—in all 31 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development nations.

Civic and cultural collaboration between our nations is increasing. A couple of months ago, I attended a seminar in Assynt on community land ownership and management issues in Norway and Scotland. Experience in issues relating to the environment and local government, as well as land, was fruitfully shared. As near neighbours, we also share cutting-edge technical knowledge, honed by decades of development of renewable energy and the oil industry. I welcome the growing economic co-operation between Scotland and Norway in making the most of our sustainable marine hydrocarbons and renewable energy resources.

In particular, I welcome the recent announcement of the new partnership between Strøm AS of Hammerfest, which is partly a subsidiary of Statoil, the national Norwegian oil corporation, and Scottish Power, which is now a part of Iberdrola. Both those parent companies are world leaders in renewable energy. The new partnership aims to produce a commercially viable tidal energy device based on a model that has been developed and run in the north of Norway for three years. The design and installation costs of scaling up to a 1MW prototype will be shared between the two firms. It is hoped that the expertise of the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney and the huge power of the Pentland Firth will provide the base for a full-scale trial to be run within two years.

The successful development of the project will be aided by our new marine renewable obligation certificates to ensure that a successful road to commercialisation will help the Scottish operation to have global technology rights, with future units manufactured here and exported to other countries, which will ensure that the benefits stay in Scotland and Norway.

I welcome today's news of another development in the suite of marine renewable energy developments. AWS Ocean Energy—which is based in Alness in the region that I represent—has announced that it has built a demonstration version of its Archimedes wave swing, which is being installed by EMEC in Orkney in the next year or so.

Such developments highlight the need to maintain confidence in the renewables sector so that onshore and offshore wind, wave and tidal power will benefit. The Scottish National Party supports the deployment of onshore and offshore renewable energy technologies, with the valuable addition of the proven Norwegian tidal machinery.

In order to distribute the clean power that will be generated around Scotland, Norway and, possibly, Iceland, we will need a new supergrid. My colleague, Alyn Smith MEP, is working on such a collaboration from the perspective of the European Parliament. Our small, innovative nations along the northern arc of prosperity need markets for our secure, clean power. That is why I look forward to the Scottish Government building on the early talks that were established by Alex Salmond, before he became First Minister, with the Norwegian Government and the European Commission on ways of taking forward proposals for an electricity interconnector linking renewable generation off Scottish and Norwegian shores with energy-hungry markets in mainland Europe.

It is our ambition that Scotland and Norway, in partnership, can take the lead in tidal power technologies and undersea transmission, just as Denmark was able to become, in the past decade, the lead nation in the area of onshore wind power.

The promotion of Scotland's tourism industry is a key priority for the SNP in government. Within the enterprise structure, the reformed VisitScotland will treat Scottish tourism as the major industry and employer that it is and as a key driver for economic development. I hope that the rebranding will soon announce a "welcome to Scotland" logo and deliver a far stronger marketing strategy that decentralises tourism information and services. That must lead to an increase in the promotion of a number of access points to Scotland that are further afield than the two central belt airports that seem to be VisitScotland's focus. That is why I believe that the prospects for creating a direct sea route for freight and passengers, to link our two nations, should be pursued with vigour.

What better way to illustrate our contacts and commerce with our old friends across the North Sea than to celebrate the planned arrival at Scrabster of the new north Atlantic ferry, the 36,000 tonne Norrona, on the evening of 18 June. That sailing will inaugurate the Faroese Smyril line's weekly summer sailing that will link the Scottish mainland, Shetland, the Faroes, Iceland, Denmark and Norway. Well done, Scrabster harbour, for preparing to dock such a large vessel. I agree with the Scrabster Harbour Trust that Scotland Transerve, our roads authority in the north, must be ordered to fix as soon as possible the landslip problem that narrows to one lane the A9 trunk road access to Scrabster harbour, which has traffic lights that have been there since last October's storms. I am sure that the new Government will take heed of the difficulties that have been caused by that problem, which became apparent in 2004.

What better way to show the increasing potential of the northern European market than to see the 164m vessel, which carries about 1,500 passengers and 600 cars, getting full use? Let us remind Scots that the Scandinavian high pressure zone offers far more reliable summer weather than we experience here, and in return let us induce Scandinavian visitors to sample Scotland's produce, scenery, cities, cultures and so on by taking a trip here.

I am glad to make this speech in the presence of the consul general of Norway, Øystein Hovdkinn. I am delighted that we can fruitfully explore the prospects of Scotland and Norway as commercial partners, and we have much to gain from that friendly collaboration. Scotland hopes to play her full part.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour 5:20, 14 June 2007

I congratulate Mr Gibson on securing the debate.

No one who has examined a map can deny that the geography of Scotland and Norway suggests that there must be great scope for co-operation. Indeed, if there is any weakness in Mr Gibson's motion, it is perhaps that it does not acknowledge the extent of existing co-operation with Norway, although in fairness he referred to that in his contribution.

In a previous role, I spent some days last year in Stavanger during the offshore northern seas conference. It is clear that those who work in the North Sea oil and gas industry move seamlessly between that city and Aberdeen. The two cities are twinned, but their relationship is rather more real and profound, even workaday, than most twinning relationships that I have come across. In fact, I am tempted to say that if people moved as readily between Edinburgh and Glasgow, whether for the day or for periods of their careers, as they do between Aberdeen and Stavanger, it would be a good thing for Scotland.

That relationship is aided considerably by a relatively new direct air route from Aberdeen to Stavanger. It is one of more than 30 facilitated by the route development fund, which, if I can be forgiven a moment of self-congratulation, I recall launching as Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning back in 2002 to 2003.

The relationship is also helped by excellent existing co-operation between the Norwegian and United Kingdom Governments, which was most recently codified in the 2005 framework agreement. The agreement covers transboundary oil and gas projects and cross-boundary developments, many of which previously needed a new treaty each time a project was proposed. The co-operation also led to the groundbreaking agreement on the supply of wet gas to Britain from Norway, specifically benefiting Mossmorran and St Fergus. The agreement's added value to us was certainly recognised in Norway, where it provoked some controversy at the time.

The agreement was groundbreaking in another way. Looking back at the press coverage at the time, I see that the MP for Banff and Buchan, whose constituency covers St Fergus, put out a press release praising both former Labour minister Brian Wilson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. That certainly is an unusual occurrence.

The constant contact and collaboration between energy companies based in both countries is a great driver of innovation, and Mr Gibson is right to single out the Scottish Power-Hammerfest project to harness tidal resources. He was right, too, that it is another testament to the test and development facility at EMEC, where the kit will be developed and improved to the 1MW level.

In passing, I noticed Mr Gibson's reference to a renewable obligation weighted towards marine, which I support. I am not sure whether the minister was quite as clear on that in his recent statements, but perhaps he will say something about it tonight.

We should not forget opportunities for reducing carbon emissions from more conventional energy sources, and I commend to the minister current discussions between the UK and Norwegian Governments on infrastructure and regulation for capturing and storing carbon under the North Sea.

The proposal for a North Sea supergrid is interesting, and I hope that the minister will provide more detail of Scottish National Party thinking on it. I understand that the First Minister had already had discussions with Norwegian ministers about it prior to the election.

From this side of the chamber, we hope for a fair wind and favourable tide for greater co-operation with Norway, with the gentle caveat that we should not parallel Norway-UK collaboration but build on it for added value, which, like Mr Gibson, I believe that we can bring to the relationship.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative 5:24, 14 June 2007

I, too, congratulate Rob Gibson on securing a debate on his motion, although there is a slight groundhog day feel about it, possibly because, on 8 June 2005, we debated a not dissimilar motion of his, on commemorating the 100 th anniversary of Norwegian independence.

Rob Gibson is right: Scotland has long and enduring links with Norway. We have done business of one kind or another—not always willingly—with Norsemen for centuries. As a frequent visitor to Norway and possibly—I am looking around—the only member here who has profited from successful economic co-operation with a Norwegian partner, I am keen to see such arrangements continue.

Scotland and the UK have excellent economic links with Norway, many of which, as we have heard, relate to the offshore oil and gas industries. There are also co-operative arrangements through the European Union, on fishing, for example.

There is every reason why Scotland should, with UK support, build on those economic links where appropriate within the devolved settlement.

Scotland and Norway share geographical characteristics and have the same kind of resources. Of course, but for a few generations in between, Norway's national composer, Edvard Grieg, might well have been Scotland's national composer. I am sure that Scotland can benefit from many joint schemes with Norway, including schemes in the renewables sector, which Rob Gibson mentioned. There are sound arguments for creating a direct sea route for freight and passengers.

The Norwegians are a resourceful and energetic people. They are robust business partners and competitors. Let no one think that economic co-operation with the Norwegians is necessarily always on an equal basis: it is no coincidence that the Norwegians now virtually own the Scottish salmon farming business.

Of course, Norwegians do not see independence within Europe as the future of their country, as do some parties—indeed, the reverse is the case. In referendums in 1972 and 1994, Norway rejected joining the EU and chose to remain in the European Economic Area. The reasons are not hard to find. By any measurable terms, it is one of the richest countries in the world. Only Saudi Arabia and Russia export more oil than it does. Its oil and gas reserves have always been considerably greater than those that the UK has enjoyed. In addition, it produces huge quantities of electricity from its own hydropower schemes. It has iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, titanium, nickel and huge supplies of timber for export and biomass production. It has some of the richest fishing grounds in the northern hemisphere, which it manages far more efficiently than the EU manages its stocks under the common fisheries policy. Therefore, while it seeks international trade and joint ventures, it brings to the table an extremely strong bargaining position.

What makes Norway's position all the more enviable and unlike that of another so-called tiger economy—Ireland—is that it does not need EU funding. Indeed, unlike Ireland, its prosperity is unlikely to suffer as a result of EU enlargement. I say to Rob Gibson that perhaps few lessons can be drawn about a possible future independent Scotland being as economically successful as Norway. Norway is uniquely gifted with resources on land and in the sea, and it makes its decisions about its future in Oslo. Unless I have missed something, any future independent Scottish Government would take its place in the Brussels queue for EU funding with Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and other similarly sized recipient member countries. I am sure that my Norwegian friends have not failed to notice that.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 5:28, 14 June 2007

I welcome Rob Gibson to the front bench. I see that Mr Mather's surprise is nearly as great as mine, but I am pleased to see him there.

I want to make several observations about Scottish and Norwegian commercial co-operation in general, but will first reflect on my ministerial experience of Norway, which was principally coloured by a powerful visit to Bergen a couple of years ago to mark the 50th commemorations of the Shetland bus links between my constituency and the west coast of Norway in particular. We visited the small town of Telavåg, which was cleared by the Nazis during the war as a reprisal for sheltering British commandos and Norwegian resistance fighters. For me, one of the most important and powerful moments during that visit was when I spoke to veterans who were small boys in that village during the war. They were cleared with their mothers to another part of Norway and never saw their fathers again. There is a local museum there, which I encourage Rob Gibson and the minister to go and see when they visit Norway. It gives a powerful view of our contemporary history. During my visit I also went to see the Hitra, which was one of the motor torpedo boats that sailed through the winter months between Scalloway, in Shetland, and the Norwegian coast, taking British troops and Norwegians back to the mainland of Scotland.

Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway was in Shetland on 31 May to take part in the opening of a new museum and archives in Lerwick. We Shetlanders were very taken with the attention that she paid to that important part of our history. I share the sentiments behind Rob Gibson's central point in his opening remarks about the historical ties between our countries and the importance of their enduring over many years to come.

When she was in Shetland, Queen Sonja also spoke movingly about the loss of the Bourbon Dolphin and the support that Shetland showed to the many Norwegian families who were tragically affected by that. I thank the Norwegian consul general and the Norwegian ambassador, who were in Shetland on that occasion, not only for being there and for being good friends of my constituency, but for attending the party that we held that night to celebrate the opening of the museum and archives. The less said about that, the better.

I wish to take up two issues with the minister. The first is the possibility of a Shetland to mid-Norway to Rosyth ferry link, which is being investigated by several agencies in my constituency, principally the Møregruppen company. That is potentially an important development for tourism and in commercial terms. Instead of heavy goods vehicles piling all the way down through Norway to the greater Oslo area, as was described to me the other day, there is the potential for them to go by sea to Rosyth and, subsequently, on the Zeebrugge ferry to mainland Europe. I have written to Mr Swinney about the matter, but I ask whether the minister can update me tonight—or in the future—on what he can do with Fife Enterprise and other agencies, such as VisitScotland, in respect of that proposal.

Secondly, Mr Gibson and Mr Gray spoke about the idea of a supergrid. I share Mr Gray's enthusiasm for that project, particularly in respect of the potential for renewables in my constituency. The recent report from The Northern Energy Initiative, which was commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, considered the Norway-Scotland connections for power transfer. As I am sure Mr Gibson is aware, the green certificates to which he referred have less value in Norway than they do here. I ask the minister to consider that. I also support Mr Gray's central point that, parallel to the work that the minister might undertake with Norwegian ministers and the work that is continuing at official level, strong work should be undertaken with the UK Government to make progress on these matters.

I hope that Mr Mather will be able to provide responses to those general points.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party 5:33, 14 June 2007

I thank Rob Gibson for bringing the motion to Parliament. The motion and the debate that it creates should help to inform opinion on the necessity for Scotland to rebuild its trading links across the North Sea. Scotland cannot afford to have a fortress mentality and to cut itself off from the world. We are a medium-sized country and we need to build and maintain our links, especially our trading links, with other countries in order to maintain and improve the living standards of our people. Rob Gibson mentioned the new service that is taking in the northern arc, including the Faroes and Caithness. I will talk about another project that offers many benefits for Scotland.

A proposed ferry service is being promoted by local government and the private sector in mid-Norway. They are joined, in Scotland, by the Shetland Development Trust and are supported by Tavish Scott in his constituency role—a fact that he has just confirmed. The project needs ministerial approval to be able to apply for support from the new EU trans-European network for transport motorways of the sea programme, for which the proposed service has already been positively pre-checked with European Commission officials in the directorate-general for energy and transport.

I hope that the minister will be prepared to give this important transnational proposal his full support so that the relevant agencies involved can promote the opportunity immediately as an EU TEN-T motorways of the sea transport project of common interest. That would allow the service to apply for start-up support through the EU TEN-T motorways of the sea programme during the forthcoming call for proposals, which is expected before the end of 2007.

The proposed service could become a strategic link for Scotland's economy, especially as the freight cargo would be likely to comprise high-value products such as engineering components and parts, as well as fish and materials for the oil supply sector. The four counties of mid-Norway comprise the second-largest export region in the country, so the trade possibilities are extensive.

If Scotland is to look outwards and towards a better future, we should look to Norway and other Scandinavian countries, and the proposed ferry link would offer us easy passage into those markets. The link could allow trade into Sweden and Finland through Kristiansund—I hope I said that properly—and it would open up markets. Scotland could be the gateway for trade with Norway, not only for the rest of the UK but for other parts of the EU, because there is the possibility of using the Rosyth to Zeebrugge route for onward freight. The Rosyth to Zeebrugge service might be increased and a daily ferry service could perhaps be restored.

I hope that the minister will move quickly, because the promoters of the link are considering a link to Newcastle. I sailed from Newcastle to Norway; it took 22 hours and it was horrific. It would be a shame if Scotland lost out on the link for the want of speedy action.

The Norwegians cannot understand why the initiative has received so little support or interest from Scotland. Of course, the current Government is not to blame for that. We might have thought that VisitScotland would be interested in a new way of bringing visitors to Scotland, or that Scottish Enterprise would be interested in the business opportunities that the link would offer. We might have expected the previous Administration in Scotland to encourage the development of the ferry route. But none of that has happened. I hope that the minister will tell us that he is carefully considering the project and the help that he can give it.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat 5:36, 14 June 2007

I congratulate Rob Gibson on securing the debate and acknowledge his longstanding interest in the issue, which probably constitutes a passion for him—such passions are much to be encouraged in all politicians.

Closer ties with Norway are close to the hearts of many of my constituents. Orkney's historic links with Norway alone could provide material for a members' business debate. We might have a chance to debate those links during the next four years—who knows—but I am glad that Rob Gibson has secured this debate so early in the new session of the Parliament.

I will highlight excellent opportunities for further co-operation between Scotland—Orkney in particular—and Norway, but first I will question part of the motion. Although I am new to the Parliament I am acutely aware that even orally proposing an amendment to a motion in a members' business debate is akin to swearing in church, but I understand that 17 May is Norway's constitution day—on that day in 1814, in the post-Napoleonic period, Denmark ceded control over Norway and Sweden. It was not until 7 June 1905 that Norway and Sweden agreed to go their separate ways. Having said that, I acknowledge the significance of the 17 May anniversary, which was celebrated in my constituency in colourful fashion. The focus of the celebrations was on children and families, and the commemoration of the people who died serving their country was both poignant and uplifting.

There is another landmark date this week: the 24th anniversary of the twinning of Orkney and Hordaland, which has built up valuable cultural links. It is probably fair to say that the links between Orkney and Norway are now more cultural than economic, perhaps as a result of the many similarities between Orkney and Norway. However, we can perhaps do more to foster links that will have economic benefits—I note in passing that Highland Park is now sourced by the Norwegian wine monopoly. The twinning arrangement has resulted in more tourists coming from Hordaland to Orkney and to the rest of Scotland. The development of Orkney's marina facilities has certainly encouraged more yachts from Norway and elsewhere, and I hope that that trend continues.

The motion refers to direct sea routes. Tavish Scott set out the benefits of the existing Shetland service. The service has benefited Orcadians, but I part company with Tavish Scott to agree with Rob Gibson that the planned Scrabster to Bergen route will provide more opportunities for Orcadians to visit Norway and for Norwegians to visit Orkney. In the light of that, I would welcome the minister's views on what might be done by using the previous Executive's air route development fund—I happily acknowledge Iain Gray's role in the fund's introduction—to support the re-establishment of a seasonal air link between Orkney and Norway. Of course, such a link would need proper marketing support in Norway if it was to be viable.

The motion mentions the potential for links to help harness the sources of clean power that are available to both countries. I wholeheartedly agree that such potential exists. We have rich wave and tidal resources, which are not far from being commercially viable, thanks to the pioneering testing and development work of the European Marine Energy Centre in Stromness. As Tavish Scott, Iain Gray and Rob Gibson said, we cannot underestimate the importance of the supergrid in allowing renewable energy potential to be harnessed.

I believe that there are more opportunities for mutually beneficial co-operation between our two countries in shipping. The natural harbour at Scapa Flow already offers ship-to-ship transfer opportunities to Statoil of Norway, but I want those opportunities to be extended. Ports all the way along the Norwegian coast will be able to benefit from the major container transhipment hub that is planned for Lyness in Scapa Flow.

I am grateful to Rob Gibson for allowing me to break my duck in members' business debates and to do so on a subject of some significance to my constituency.

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party 5:40, 14 June 2007

"To Norroway, to Norroway,

To Norroway over the faem.

The King's daughter o' Norroway

'Tis thou maun bring her hame."

We have a long cultural connection with Norway. It has not always been the happiest one, as the fate of Sir Patrick Spens proved, but as Scots we had a great role in the formation of modern Norway. William Christie, who came from a Scots merchant family of Bergen, was an architect of the 1814 constitution. Colin Archer was one of the creators of the Norwegian shipbuilding industry. He was a pioneer of diesel engine design in that country and the constructor of Nansen's ship, the Fram, which was used to explore the polar region.

We heard from Ted Brocklebank about the national composer Grieg, who came from a Scots family. The great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen always wanted to be Scots, although he never was. His great champion in Britain and the Anglophone world was Colin Archer's cousin William Archer, who publicised him and got Bernard Shaw interested.

However, we have to be careful. Despite the great bond that we have with Norway, we misplayed our hand in negotiations across the North Sea in various periods. I move forward to 1965. In negotiations on dividing the subsea resources of the North Sea, the UK Government lost interest and allowed the Norwegians to extend their zone of the sea to the point of equidistance rather than terminating it at the 600m-deep trench, which is far closer to Norway. During those negotiations, Scotland was perhaps deprived of the Frigg, Statfjord and Ekofisk fields. That defeat, had we known it at the time, was probably worse than Culloden.

In 1900, Norway had a population of 2.3 million. Today, its population is 4.5 million. If Scotland had followed Norway's pattern of moderate social democracy, the creation of a welfare state and a flexible specialist manufacturing centre, our population today would be nearly 10 million. Baden-Württemberg and Sweden, whose populations were the same as Scotland's in 1900, now have populations well north of 10 million. A country can be a small country, successful or not, if it forgets and stops trying to be something bigger.

More setbacks were ahead. From the beginning of the oil discoveries, Norway had a low depletion policy like the one that was urged on the Scottish Office by Dr Gavin McCrone in 1973. Scotland did not get such a policy. Neither was the creation of an oil fund, which was promised by all parties in the second 1974 election, followed up. Instead, Scotland was put on the drip feed of the Barnett formula. What happened to the Norwegian oil fund? It is now worth £73 billion, or £15,000 per Norwegian. British private debt alone amounts to £1.3 trillion, or £22,000 per Briton.

What should we do in the future? We should reach a deal with our Norwegian neighbours; create a North Sea version of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries; and keep the price of oil up in the era of peak oil, because we are probably quite close to $100 per barrel. We should use the income as collateral to obtain high-tech equipment and training and to obtain some funds from that marvellous bounty of Norway.

Lying empty in Kirkcaldy in the middle of my large constituency is the merchant's house, which was expensively restructured about four years ago but is still looking for a tenant. When we have a hovercraft across the Forth, I hope that the Parliament will think of the building as a headquarters for further negotiations across the North Sea.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 5:44, 14 June 2007

I, too, congratulate Rob Gibson on securing this debate on a subject that he has strenuously and very commendably pursued over the years.

I do not wish to steal our colleague Stewart Stevenson's clothes, but I should point out that I have worked in Scandinavia. As members will recall from debates in the previous parliamentary session, I once worked in a fish factory in the Faroes. More important, I also worked for a Norwegian drilling company that was part of the JO Odfjell group. My cultural legacy from these periods of employment is made up of certain words and phrases such as "Jeg snakker ikke Norsk", which means "I can't speak Norwegian", and "Jeg elskar deg", which means "I love you". As Tavish Scott said to me, the less said about that, the better.

As Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur have pointed out, their constituencies have huge links with Norway. The same is true of Caithness. If we work north from Dingwall and Tain into Caithness, we find that all the place names are Nordic in origin. For example, Thurso derives from the Old Norse for "Thor's river" and the name Wick comes from "vik", which means "an inlet". Moreover, Earl Sigurd the Powerful plays a major part in the history of the far north; indeed, I am told by Norse experts that the name of Ciderhall, which is near Dornoch, derives from his name.

As Rob Gibson said, we should welcome the advent this coming Monday of the new ferry service from the Faroes to Scrabster, Bergen and other locations. After all, we should remember that the cost of living in many, if not all, Scandinavian countries is somewhat higher than that in Scotland. I am sure that Rob Gibson will argue that that reflects the economic success of those countries; nevertheless, the fact that our cost of living is lower makes the north Highlands a very attractive tourist destination to Scandinavians. In that respect, I am delighted that the Norwegian state wine monopoly is buying in Highland Park whisky, but I look forward to the day when substantial quantities of whisky distilled on the mainland are bought in and sold in the same fashion.

My first message to the minister is that it would be useful if, among the many roles that he has to play, he could ensure that the tourism and enterprise networks are able to accommodate our very welcome Norwegian friends when they start to arrive each week from next Monday onwards. Considering the opportunity that we are being offered, I think that it would be a downright tragedy if we got the tourism side of this whole enterprise wrong.

Secondly, I should point out to the minister that Norway's success is partly due to the peculiar drive of its people. As I saw for myself when I worked for the Odfjell group, they always take an opportunity and run with it. Members have already referred to the oil and salmon industries, both of which stand as clear examples of where the Norwegians stole a march on us.

Liam McArthur has highlighted various economic opportunities that are afforded by energy, and I believe that many of us feel that, as far as tidal energy is concerned, the Pentland Firth might well turn out to be our Saudi Arabia. However, if we do not grab the opportunity, we could miss the boat again. I am not saying that that will happen, but Mr Mather and his colleagues in the Scottish Government will have to keep an eye on the matter. After all, we cannot lose a huge opportunity that might turn both my part of the world and Liam McArthur's part of the world into a huge net energy exporter.

I again congratulate Rob Gibson on securing this most interesting debate, which is particularly relevant to the northern isles and to my constituency of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party 5:48, 14 June 2007

I congratulate Rob Gibson on securing this debate two years after the members' business debate on Norway's centenary celebrations. It is also a pleasure to be able to respond to so many positive speeches from fellow MSPs.

I am particularly pleased that the debate is being held so close to 17 May, when Norway celebrates the anniversary of its constitutional Government and its independence, and so soon after the opening by Queen Sonja of the Shetland museum, which commemorates the many links that have been—and continue to be—forged between our countries. However, I am sure that Tavish Scott is grateful that Jamie Stone and his Norwegian phrases were not let loose at the subsequent party.

I am also pleased to recognise and welcome to the Parliament the Norwegian consul general, Øystein Hovdkinn. His presence this evening is greatly appreciated.

I have always found it worth while to reflect on the ancient links that have bound our two nations together over the centuries and to affirm the Parliament's commitment to strengthening our civic, cultural and commercial ties with Norway and its people. Our shared history, which goes back to the eighth century, is celebrated in style at the Up-Helly-Aa fire festival in Shetland, in which, as the Parliament knows, Tavish Scott participated earlier this year. In his speech, Mr Scott made the daring exploits of the Shetland bus in world war two resonate even more potently as a symbol of our friendship with Norway across the seas and over the years. That friendship is also symbolised by the twinning of a number of Scottish communities with partners in Norway and by traditions such as the Norwegian Christmas tree that is annually gifted to, and appreciated by, Edinburgh.

Scotland's links with Norway continue to be strengthened through our universities and the arts. This year, events will mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Edvard Grieg, Norway's most famous composer. As we all know, he had forebears from the north-east of Scotland. I comfort myself with the fact that Grieg lived for two years in an independent Norway, which has flourished materially in the intervening 100 years. Now, in 2007, we look to refresh the connection, and we will consider all the options for strengthening our civic and cultural links with Norway and other Nordic countries, including through the Nordic Council.

We will do the same for business links. In recent decades, our common commercial interests have centred on North Sea oil and gas. We have worked with Government industry in Norway through programmes such as the pilot UK-Norway initiative. That led to a mentoring programme, which enabled UK companies—the majority of which were Scottish—to be mentored by leading Norwegian companies such as Statoil, Norsk Hydro and Norske Shell. Last year, Scottish Development International assisted more than 40 Scottish energy companies, primarily in the oil and gas sector, to get into the Norwegian market. SDI also helped to facilitate a visit and discussion forum involving five Norwegian organisations and key Scottish marine biotech experts at the European Centre for Marine Biotechnology at Dunstaffnage, near Oban, in my constituency. The good news is that a follow-up visit is planned for later this year.

A number of Scottish companies have set up organisations in Norway, many with the assistance of SDI representatives in Aberdeen's twin city of Stavanger. The offshore northern seas exhibition, which is held biannually in Stavanger, is one of the world's leading oil and gas conferences. It attracts a number of Scottish firms, as I believe will continue to be the case.

Economic and social co-operation between Norway and Scotland has been pursued for many years. That has been aided, from the Scottish perspective, by EU-funded programmes. There are opportunities for Scotland to pursue further projects under the new Interreg initiative. Draft programmes for the northern periphery and North Sea areas are currently with the Commission, and I hope that they will allow Scottish firms to build on previous successes.

As for renewables, I spoke on behalf of the Scottish Government at the all-energy exhibition and conference in Aberdeen last month. The event is the largest of its kind in the UK. This year, it attracted record numbers, reflecting Scotland's growing reputation as a renewable energy capital. Many Norwegian companies are interested in establishing themselves in the sector, and some are looking for local partners and customers here in Scotland.

I was particularly pleased that some companies presented themselves at a special Norwegian session at the all-energy conference. That was significant enough to attract the presence of the Norwegian ambassador to the UK.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

When Mr Mather was at the all-energy conference, did he take the view that I have heard from the oil and gas industries, that part of the potential of the supergrid proposal, which he knows much about, lies with oil and gas installations in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea? Could Mr Mather update the Parliament on how that proposal is developing?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I will—I plan to come to that. The member makes a valid point.

In considering Norway as a partner, we must recognise that it is a country that already has a great story to tell. It meets all its electricity needs through hydro power and a significant proportion of its overall energy needs from renewable sources. It is perhaps supergrid hungry. There is no doubt that we can strengthen our commercial co-operation with Norway, to our mutual advantage, in the development of new low-carbon energy technologies.

The Scottish Power-Hammerfest Strøm development has been mentioned in connection with the deployment of new tidal energy systems in Scottish waters. That is supported by Amec Infrastructure Services. I share Rob Gibson's ambition for that development. Let there be no doubt as far as marine support is concerned. We are adamant about supporting marine energy. The only concern at the moment is about the quality and extent of support from the UK Government.

On the matter of the supergrid, we are committed in as much as Scotland is committed to developing the potential for renewables. We must take the strategic view that Tavish Scott called for. In the longer term, we seek to take advantage of changing patterns in energy generation and use. Such planning should also address the role of Europe in any interconnected supergrid network that might evolve over time.

It is clear that Scotland's resources can play a major role in any European energy network of the future, which is one reason why the First Minister has made early discussions with colleagues in Norway a priority. Equally, there is the issue of tourism, commercial traffic and transport. Members should be aware that the Scottish Government is engaged with key partners to develop proposals on those issues.

I agree absolutely with Jamie Stone that we can learn about constancy of purpose from our Norwegian friends. Ted Brocklebank mentioned Norway's influence in the salmon sector here, which is a result of Norway pursuing its national self-interest. We are committed to empowering Scotland to follow that end of national self-interest, but that needs more powers and a full seat at the table in Europe.

Christopher Harvie warmed the cockles of my heart in talking about the OPEC of the North Sea and his vision of how we could have been the same size and had the same scope as Norway. That is still latent potential—we can overcome the broken promise of an oil fund and move forward to a better place. I very much want to do that and to emulate our friends in Norway.

Meeting closed at 17:55.