Homecoming Scotland 2009

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:15 am on 8th January 2009.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 9:15 am, 8th January 2009

The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-3173, in the name of Jim Mather, on homecoming and its potential to support sustainable economic growth. I remind all members that Presiding Officers will no longer give a one-minute warning before the end of members' speeches. We are tight for time, so I ask members to stick strictly to the allocated time, or I will move on to the next speaker.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I welcome everyone to this important debate. This is an exceptional year for Scotland. There are only 16 days until the official launch of the homecoming celebrations, which are timely in these challenging times. The programme is ready to run and we have wind in our sails. Even currency weakness is a strength as far as the year of homecoming is concerned.

If we did not have the idea of homecoming on the stocks—it has been planned for some time, as members will know—we would need to invent it to boost the economy, and the tourism economy in particular. Its necessity is further endorsed by the reaction of our Northern Irish and Welsh neighbours, who wish that they had come up with the idea, and by the positive approach that we have had from VisitBritain which, to its credit, is promoting homecoming 2009 as a major reason to visit the United Kingdom and Scotland.

We are inviting the diaspora and affinity Scots throughout the world to celebrate our shared heritage by joining us this year for one of the biggest family reunions that the world has ever seen. It is an open invitation: people all over the world can declare themselves to be family members, and we are inviting everyone who has either an ancestral or an affinity link with Scotland to come this year and celebrate who we are, what we have done and what we can do together in practical thematic terms. We will celebrate the heritage of Burns—for which the 250th anniversary of his birth is the trigger—as well as golf, whisky, innovation, the enlightenment and our cultural heritage, with major iconic signature events such as the gathering, whisky month and Celtic Connections.

There is already phenomenal engagement from the diaspora and affinity Scots throughout the world. All party leaders were involved in the launch on 18 December and every local authority is engaged. There is substantial private sector support from companies such as Walkers Shortbread, the makers of Famous Grouse, Scottish and Southern Energy and Clydesdale Bank, with many more to be announced, and from our universities and communities. They are all united in the worthy goal of making homecoming 2009 a huge success and a source of long-term benefit for Scotland.

The priority for us, and for everyone in Scotland who has yet to engage with homecoming, is to get involved by telling friends and relatives abroad about what is happening this year; reconnecting with our own roots and with family at home and abroad; reconnecting with and revisiting the multitude of great places and great venues throughout Scotland; inviting friends and relatives back; visiting our own home towns; and helping to activate the increasingly connected network of Scotland's Scots, the Scots diaspora and the vast army of affinity Scots throughout the world. That latter community is pretty much limitless.

Homecoming and the high-priced euro are two good reasons for Scots to stay at home for a holiday this year and to get value and memorable enjoyment from being at home in Scotland in 2009. More than 300 events are taking place throughout Scotland, and EventScotland is working with every local authority in Scotland to deliver inspirational events across the country. That fits well with our legacy strategy of growing tourism revenues by 50 per cent by 2015, in spite of the challenging times.

The Government is providing a core budget of £5 million for events and promotion. That is seed funding, but others are piling in, including local authorities, private companies, Scottish Natural Heritage, Historic Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland. VisitScotland is managing its budget this year with a homecoming 2009 theme.

The evidence shows that the marketing is working. A recent article from The Scotsman said:

"the Homecoming idea has suddenly become a brilliant marketing tool that could save the Scottish tourism industry in the coming year and beyond."

Just this week in The Scotsman, Mike Cantlay, who is convener of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority and an entrepreneur with businesses in Canada, said that his Toronto customer base is beginning to align itself with the idea. It is clear that the key audiences—the low-hanging fruit—for homecoming are the UK, the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Ireland, but the scope goes beyond that to cover 40 countries.

The momentum is with us. There are now 9,000 direct links to the homecoming website from other sites, and every 35 seconds another North American will have registered on the website—the rate is increasing; it was every 38 seconds yesterday. Seventy-five per cent of those who are registering are interested or very interested in coming back to Scotland as a result of homecoming 2009.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I note that the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism places great emphasis on the number of North Americans who are registering interest in homecoming. When I asked him at the briefing for the launch of homecoming whether any attempt had been made to assess the number of local as opposed to international tourists and the greenhouse gas emissions that would be associated with the increased tourism from homecoming, he told me that that had not been done. Why not?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

We are seeking to ensure that any flights that come from the United States are full. In difficult times, we think that homecoming will play best to that market. Beyond that, we are cracking on with the "Caledonia" advert: 60 per cent of the Scottish population have seen it, and 66 per cent are aware of the year of homecoming.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I am pressed for time and keen to ensure that I move the motion.

The I am a Scot campaign is reaching 95 million people across the world through the website cometoscotland.com. Around 6,000 of the 8,000 passports for the gathering have already been sold, and momentum around our signature events is beginning to build in corporate Scotland.

In the current climate, homecoming is an ideal boost that is giving us a big push forward to ensure that tourism does well. The strengthening dollar and euro already bode well for Scotland. Our target return is an 8:1 ratio, so we expect to generate an extra £40 million from homecoming. We have the chance to capture the data and build on exceeding customer expectations so that we have more advocates and more people who are willing to come back, stay for longer, spend more and become repeat customers of Scotland.

That is all firmly in place. In addition, the Scottish homecoming cup, whose next round takes place on Saturday, will promote the event and give us further coverage in the media.

Homecoming is a great event, which has real momentum, and everything augurs well for it to have a great long-term legacy. I commend the fantastic homecoming programme, and I welcome the cross-party support for it.

I move,

That the Parliament supports Scotland's first ever homecoming celebration; recognises that the spectacular calendar of events and activities taking place this year from the weekend around Burns Night to St Andrew's Day will make for a unique year for all those joining the celebrations, including the people living in Scotland, the diaspora Scots and those with an affinity for Scotland who visit in 2009, and further recognises the potential for Homecoming Scotland 2009 to boost international and domestic tourism in support of the Scottish economy at this time.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour 9:22 am, 8th January 2009

In such tough economic times, it is, as the minister said, important to play to our strengths and to respond to opportunities. Homecoming 2009 offers opportunities to play to Scotland's strengths, and its timing has proved to be fortuitous in the current economic context. It is a long time since a boost to economic activity was quite so urgently needed.

Homecoming has the potential to play to some of our greatest strengths. It has a global reach among those whose families emigrated in centuries past, and a vast potential new market in the friends and relatives overseas of the people who have come to live and work here in more recent years. Rabbie Burns personifies the internationalism of Scotland, so to commemorate him while promoting Scotland as a destination worldwide is the kind of smart move of which he would no doubt have approved.

The issue for debate today is not whether homecoming is a good idea for 2009 but whether it is being promoted effectively, how significant a role it can play in sustaining the Scottish economy, and what more can be done to secure the best possible outcomes this year and to ensure a significant legacy. The wider picture of Scottish Government support for Scottish tourism is not entirely positive. Government investment in the sector is due to fall in real terms by 4.8 per cent in the next financial year and by 2.8 per cent in the financial year after that.

The response of ministers to last year's Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee report on achieving 50 per cent growth in tourism revenues was distinctly mixed; in some areas it is not yet clear what their final response will be. Labour's amendment highlights one concern that the committee raised regarding the withdrawal of adult apprenticeships in the tourism and hospitality sectors. I hope that the minister will go further on those today and guarantee that the apprenticeships will be available again in the future. It is not enough to say that training needs to be worth while and to reflect the needs of employers; it must also meet the needs of trainees and of the sectors as a whole.

Our amendment also highlights our concerns about Scottish Government support for the Scots language and cultural institutions. It is not acceptable on the 250th anniversary of Burns's birth that the Scottish Language Dictionaries should be obliged to issue redundancy notices because of uncertainty about future Government funding. Ministers could end that uncertainty and they would save a lot of anxiety for all concerned by doing so now rather than in three months. Those are two examples of areas in which Scottish ministers could take early steps to demonstrate their commitment to tourism and homecoming 2009, but they are not the only ones.

Perhaps the biggest question mark is over the funding of homecoming. As VisitScotland has conceded, £5 million to support the homecoming calendar of events is a "pretty modest" contribution. It is not the scale of funding that might be expected if homecoming were being given its full potential weight. On one level, it was good to see homecoming highlighted as one of the SNP Government's six points in response to the imminent risk of recession. Sadly, however, as with most of the other points, its inclusion in the economic recovery plan is not accompanied by significant additional resources.

I listened with interest last night when Alex Salmond told the BBC that he hoped to see £40 million in additional tourism revenues as a result of homecoming 2009. That aspiration needs to be seen in the context of other outcomes to which Scottish ministers are already signed up. In context, £40 million might turn out to be a "pretty modest" ambition.

The tourism sector and the previous devolved Scottish Government agreed a common target of a 50 per cent increase in Scotland's tourism revenues between 2005 and 2015. Scottish National Party ministers have endorsed that target. Achieving the target would require annual growth over 10 years in the region of 4 per cent, or £160 million. Therefore, the question is whether the First Minister's £40 million target is in addition to the existing targets for increasing revenues annually or whether it stands alone. If it is additional, a total of £200 million in additional visitor revenues is required, and that is a challenging aspiration.

All parties in the Parliament want homecoming to succeed. Almost all of us want it to attract international as well as domestic visitors. What we ask of ministers today is clarity about the objective criteria for success and how success will be measured. Is the aspiration this year for increased revenues of £200 million, of which £40 million will be an identifiable consequence of homecoming? If so, how will that contribution be measured? Alternatively, is the aspiration only to grow revenues by £40 million net, in which case, how will Scotland's longer-term targets be achieved?

Clear answers to those questions and a positive approach to other issues raised by Labour and other parties today will enable homecoming 2009 to progress with the broad support that it needs. I hope that the minister will respond accordingly. Like Burns himself, homecoming is too big and too important to be the property of any one party in Scotland today.

I move amendment S3M-3173.1, to leave out from first "recognises" to end and insert:

"welcomes and supports the calendar of events and activities taking place this year from the weekend around Burns Night to St Andrew's Day; recognises that this will make for a unique year for all those joining the celebrations, including the people living in Scotland, the diaspora Scots and those with an affinity for Scotland who visit in 2009, and calls on Scottish ministers to maximise the potential for Homecoming Scotland 2009 to boost international and domestic tourism in support of the Scottish economy by restoring full access to apprenticeships in the tourism and hospitality industries, bringing an end to uncertainty around future funding of Scots language and arts organisations and detailing how they will measure the contribution of Homecoming Scotland 2009 to supporting sustainable economic growth in the course of this year and beyond."

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Thank you, Mr Macdonald. I am sorry that there was a technical fault with the clock, but you were dead on time.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative 9:28 am, 8th January 2009

I confess to being slightly more optimistic and upbeat than Mr Macdonald about homecoming, which I know, because I checked the website, is due to start in almost exactly 15 days, 14 hours and 30 minutes.

Homecoming is a hugely exciting initiative, which the Scottish Conservative party will support in its entirety. There are 101 official events and, almost as exciting, there are many unofficial events. I had a brief conversation yesterday with the Rev Sam Torrens, whose church in Edinburgh has arranged a completely unofficial event to which a group of parishioners from Maryland will come to try to find their roots in Edinburgh. If there are 101 official events, goodness knows how many unofficial ones will take place the length and breadth of Scotland over the year.

There are some new and exciting events. The gathering is one of the showpieces of the year; it will take place within a stone's throw of this building. From an economic point of view, I highlight the Forbes chief executive officers conference at which chief executives from across the world will come to look at Scotland.

Homecoming is a hugely exciting initiative that has the potential to have an economic impact. Although 2009 will be a tough year, we have at least the possibility of bringing more tourists to Scotland to spend more money here because of the unique selling point of homecoming. It is critical that that happens, because 218,000 people in Scotland rely on tourism for their income and livelihood.

The main issue on which I will focus today is the subject of the Conservative amendment. The diaspora has enormous long-term potential. Homecoming 2009 is a big prize, but a far bigger prize will be won if Scotland can reconnect with the 25 million or so people of Scottish descent around the world. If we can connect properly and engage with them in the longer term, it will be excellent news for Scotland, good news for our economy and even better news for our tourism trade. It is important that homecoming is seen not just as a series of events but as a process of re-engaging far better and deeper over time with the 25 million or so people of the diaspora around the world. Homecoming cannot be just a one-off; it would be a great pity if it were.

We have heard the minister speak about what the Government is trying to do; I would be grateful for a bit more detail about how it intends to capture details about people who are coming here or who are interested in coming here. For many years, one of the weaknesses in the system—I include all Governments of all stripes going back 20 or 30 years in this criticism—has been that the level of detail that we capture about our tourists is not anywhere near as good as it could be. We could have far better information that could help our marketing efforts in the future. We need to know people's contact details and what their connection is with Scotland. Are there connections with particular parts of Scotland that we ought to know about? Are such people considering coming back and, if so, why? If they are not going to come back, why not? Do they know anybody else who might be interested? Who are the 25 per cent of people who registered on the homecoming website but are not interested in coming to Scotland? Why are they not interested? How do we get more of the 25 million people of the diaspora to come to Scotland over a long period?

We will support the Liberal Democrat amendment but not the Labour amendment at decision time. The world is watching and we have to look at the bigger picture. I move amendment S3M-3173.2, to insert at end:

"; recognises that ensuring a lasting economic legacy will depend on capturing information on those who visit during the Year of Homecoming with a view to creating a substantial marketing database for engaging with the diaspora Scots going forward; further recognises that individual tourism providers will be the engines of economic growth generated as a result of the Homecoming, and urges the Scottish Government to ensure that the industry be fully engaged throughout."

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 9:32 am, 8th January 2009

I am pleased to make an opening speech in this homecoming 2009 debate on behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, as it gives me an opportunity to put on record our thanks to our former colleague Donald Gorrie. It was Donald who first floated the idea of having a year of homecoming to encourage Scotland's vast and far-spread diaspora to come home to celebrate its roots. His idea was to give a boost to Scotland's economy, not just as a one-off tourism fix but as a way of encouraging many to "haste ye back" and, indeed, some to return home for good, to help to boost Scotland's population and to provide new skills, talent and enterprise for the long-term benefit of our economy and society.

Donald Gorrie's idea was developed by the Scottish Liberal Democrats and found its way into our manifesto for the 2003 Scottish Parliament elections and from there into the 2003 partnership agreement between the Liberal Democrats and Labour. The partnership agreement said:

"we will ... use the celebration in 2009 of the 250th anniversary of Burns' birth as one means to encourage Scots worldwide to return to Scotland."

I am pleased that when the SNP took over the Government, it took forward the work that was already under way to develop homecoming 2009.

I was happy to be one of the Scottish Parliament's representatives to Scotland week in the USA and Canada last April. I took every opportunity to promote homecoming, as I have done on other occasions when meeting overseas visitors. I am happy to support and promote events such as the St Andrews festival in my constituency in November, which will be a key part of the St Andrew's day celebrations that form the finale to homecoming 2009.

I am not going to get into the debate about whether or not the calendar of events is spectacular. What is important is not the hyperbole that we adopt in the chamber but how we all work together to ensure that homecoming is a success. Homecoming must be more than a branding exercise and more than just doing what we would be doing anyway but calling it a homecoming event.

The Government has identified

"intensifying our activity and support for Homecoming 2009" as one of the six points in its economic recovery plan. However, it remains unclear just exactly what that means. The budget allocated to VisitScotland by the SNP Government for promoting homecoming is less than the budget set by the previous Administration for promoting the year of Highland culture in 2007. Will the Government increase the budget available to VisitScotland to promote homecoming at home and abroad? We have all seen the homecoming advert, but many rightly asked why it was planned to show it only in Scotland. We are here already; we do not need to come home.

Perversely, the economic crisis presents Scotland with a massive opportunity, as the minister hinted earlier. The exchange rate, particularly against the US dollar and the euro, makes Scotland an even better value-for-money destination for both home and overseas visitors. It makes travelling abroad on holiday more expensive for Scots—and indeed for the English, Northern Irish and Welsh. Home tourism accounts for 85 per cent of all tourism business. There are great opportunities to promote the vast range of activities that Scotland has to tempt home tourists to holiday in Scotland this year.

Scotland has become a more affordable destination for many tourists from our key overseas markets, such as Ireland, Germany, France, Spain and, of course, the USA and Canada. What is the Government doing—whether it is through VisitScotland, other agencies such as Scottish Development International or British embassies—to build on those opportunities and to promote Scotland as the value-for-money destination of choice for 2009?

It is important that we continue to provide a high-quality tourism product and to improve the quality of that product. There is a serious danger that the credit crisis will result in many tourism businesses cutting back on investment and training, which will have an adverse impact on the quality of the product that they can offer. Perhaps the minister could explain what steps the Government is taking to support tourism businesses with investment and training during these difficult times.

We all want homecoming to be a success, but the Government needs to be clearer about what it is doing to promote that success, what its targets are and how they will be measured. That is why we will be supporting the Labour amendment this afternoon, and it is why I move amendment S3M-3173.4, to insert at end:

"and calls on the Scottish Government to bring forward details of its plans to promote Homecoming in Scotland, the United Kingdom and abroad in order to achieve maximum economic benefit from the celebrations."

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

We come now to the open debate. I ask for speeches of a tight four minutes.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 9:36 am, 8th January 2009

The homecoming debate is an opportunity for us to unite around the theme that Scotland is a great place to come to and that we have something to sell around the world. We have already managed to contact many people. About 60 per cent of the Scottish population have seen the "Caledonia" advert, 70,000 have viewed it on YouTube and 100,000 will see it on Ulster TV. Through public service broadcasting networks and the Discovery Channel and the History Channel, there is an audience of 100 million in America. The adverts are being seen around the world. I am glad that a multiethnic approach has been taken, and we in the Parliament should welcome that. The "Bollywood Steps" dance spectacle, the Jamaican Burns night at Celtic Connections and the Scottish tides-Polish spring event in Perth all show the outward-looking nature of the campaign.

Bearing in mind our involvement in music and our contacts through the love of music, we should recognise the excellent remarks that have been made by the Hebridean Celtic festival, for example, which asks people to send e-cards around the world, not just to advertise that festival but to remind everyone that it is part of the year of homecoming. Following the experience of Highland 2007, festivals such as Blas are already attracting visitors from Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Éire, Australia and France, as well as performers from other countries. Keith Bruce wrote about the subject in The Herald. In the past, he had been a sceptic about winter festivals and so on, but he was delighted to comment on the outward-looking nature of the various events, in particular Celtic Connections.

We should not measure the benefits of homecoming Scotland only in bed nights and tourist dollars. However, we have an opportunity to set in place a year that we can measure at the end more clearly than was the case with the parameters that were set for the Highland festival of 2007. The report on that festival said that it was one of the most ambitious and complex cultural projects ever staged in the UK. Homecoming is more so. We should learn lessons from Highland 2007 and from the reports that were written about it so as to tighten up how we spend the money that is available for homecoming.

I am pleased to recognise that it is good for Scots to go and see other parts of their country, and I would be interested to hear other members' views on that. I note that Labour assumes that Rabbie would be supporting its amendment at 5 o'clock this evening. I will be glad to go to Ayrshire and to visit Rozelle house and see the paintings of the late Sandy Goudie, including his cycle of paintings inspired by "Tam o' Shanter". It would be interesting to hear what members representing other areas will do to get out a little more to other parts of Scotland.

I suggest that we should look more widely to attract people here. I know that Russian Hour television is filming a series about Scots who had a huge influence in Russia. Lermontov the poet is very famous there, and the geologist Sir Roderick Murchison, from my own area, is celebrated with a statue in Perm—there is a new word for the Parliament. It is in front of school number 9 in Perm, in case members are wondering. That sort of thing allows us to realise that there is a large amount of affinity around the country.

I am delighted that we are able to unite around the saltire in this campaign, and I will be delighted to see some other people using the saltire, doing more than just advertising our country. I am particularly pleased that VisitBritain has told us that it is getting right behind what we are trying to do here. This is an ideal context for—

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I am afraid that I must move on. I am sorry, Mr Gibson.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour 9:40 am, 8th January 2009

This is a welcome debate for a welcome initiative. Of course I would say that: as Iain Smith pointed out, the homecoming was devised and directed under—Iain will forgive me—the previous Labour-led Administration. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work done by Jack McConnell, who is with us in the chamber today. As First Minister, he was deeply committed to the homecoming project, which he drove very effectively. I am sure that we would be interested to hear Mr McConnell's views on how it is being developed now.

We agree on the fundamental point that homecoming 2009 is a great concept and a fantastic opportunity. This morning's debate gives us the opportunity to examine the potential of homecoming for Scotland. We must also take the opportunity to feed back to the Government on what we think should be done and on how it is managing the process.

The potential of homecoming was always understood, but it takes on special significance in the context of the shift in global economic circumstances, particularly those that we are experiencing in Scotland. We must strive that little bit extra to squeeze all that we can out of the year.

Homecoming is essentially about promotion, connection and celebration. In Scotland, we have much to celebrate in what we are currently doing and in our heritage. I am sure that, at the 250th anniversary of Burns's birth, we will speak a great deal about his contribution to Scottish artistic and intellectual life. We must look beyond that, however, at the other examples of artistic endeavour and intellectual achievement that have made Scotland so proud over the years and centuries, alongside our great traditions of innovation and enterprise. I am sure that many members will talk about sport and whisky as we go through the homecoming year.

We Scots take great pride in our ability to connect and to be welcomed across the world. We have a reservoir of family and friends with a true bond to Scotland. They will forgive us if we try to make something of that this year and to maximise their potential for us. The whole debate around tourism and the economic results of homecoming will come centre stage, given the present economic climate.

I hope that the Government will pay attention to the serious points that Labour has made about how we capture that potential. We make them in the spirit of trying to make homecoming work, and I hope that they will be treated in that way. I think of myself as quite a generous person. I do not know Jim Mather terribly well, and I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but there are one or two questions about how homecoming has been managed so far. I make a plea to him to recognise that there are certain things that he must get a grip of if we are truly to have confidence in homecoming and to maximise its potential.

The SNP Government has said that homecoming is the third point in its economic recovery plan. That clearly signals to the Parliament and to Scotland that the Government sees it as being of huge significance and that it is not just a welcome event and something to which the Government is deeply committed but something of true significance across all that the Government does. It is therefore legitimate for us to say that we are disappointed by and have concerns about the budget that the SNP is committing to homecoming—I am referring not just to the homecoming budget but to the cuts in the tourism budget, which Lewis Macdonald mentioned. It does not surprise me that the Tories will not support us on the matter of apprenticeships. It is not their strongest point. There is a serious issue to be addressed in that regard.

Points have also been made about the traditional arts in Scotland, and there are many other aspects that we need to prioritise. One of the greatest disappointments, which I will come on to now in the last few seconds of my speech, was the furore about the advert. It was necessary to superimpose—

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I am sorry, Ms Curran. I said that I would have to move on after four minutes.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party 9:45 am, 8th January 2009

This is an uncontroversial debate that is not party political, although when Labour members talk about the approach that they are taking I sometimes want to reach for the nit comb. Of course the idea of homecoming predates the current Government. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Donald Gorrie and Jack McConnell, who initiated the enterprise that the Government is enthusiastically taking forward.

The massive and catastrophic change in our economic circumstances could not have been foreseen when homecoming was dreamed up. We started by fearing that folk would not come to Scotland because they could not afford a holiday, but now, out of the blue, we can see a silver lining to the cloud that is the collapse of sterling. However drastic sterling's collapse is, in some areas it brings opportunities, because this year it will be cheap for people to come here on holiday and we will be a destination of choice. VisitBritain has recognised that and will use homecoming Scotland as a big part of its international campaigning. I predict that the rest of the United Kingdom will try to entice some of our visitors to London or Cardiff before or after their visit to Scotland.

"Caledonia", the song that was used in the homecoming advertisement, has long been a favourite of mine, because it is about homesickness. I have listened to and loved it for many years, because I lived abroad for many years and absolutely understand—at every level—the pull of homesickness. People who have not lived outside Scotland for a long time will never be able to understand how strong that sense of homesickness can be. The advert will be incredibly useful, and I am glad that it is getting wider coverage and currency and that more and more people will see it during the year.

It is important to emphasise that we are not just targeting expats. I am looking forward to the Scottish tides-Polish spring events that will take place in Perth from February to April, which reminds us that Scotland has new homecomers. We can invite all the Poles who have worked here and then gone home because their economy is stronger to come back for a holiday, bringing with them the parents and families to whom they used to write and send money.

In the run-up to Christmas, I took the opportunity to write to all the Perths around the world, and I have had responses from Tasmania and New York state. I am glad that people are coming to Scotland. I encourage members to write to the mayors of towns that have the same name as their local towns.

Big industrial and corporate buy-in is down the line, and I predict that there will be more such buy-in as the year goes on. I wish that I had had my idea for a pilgrim way a couple of years ago—if I had done so, perhaps we could have launched the route this year. Individual members can take action.

I say to the critics, "Get over yourselves. Stop sneering. Stop taking a snobby metropolitan approach." Homecoming offers enormous incentives, and there will be a problem only if people turn their mouths down instead of up.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour 9:48 am, 8th January 2009

Like all members, I wholeheartedly support national and international initiatives that support our tourism industry, and I want to ensure that businesses throughout Scotland get as much benefit as possible during homecoming year.

I represent not only Burns's birthplace in Alloway but Mauchline, where he lived for years, so members will not be surprised by my enthusiasm for celebrating the Burns legacy through a wide-ranging programme of events. I congratulate the community organisations that are working hard to make those events a success. Homecoming year in Ayrshire will begin on 23 January with the Burns wha hae event—a weekend of performance, theatre and live music. The renowned guitarist Martin Taylor will return to what was his home area for a number of years, where he left a legacy of community involvement in bringing music to young people. Thanks to the efforts of the Mauchline Burns club, we will enjoy the hugely successful holy fair and a traditional ploughing match at Mossgiel. In north Carrick, events will build on last year's successful street fair in Maybole, which marked the event at which Rabbie's parents met.

The events will be a success in their own right, and it is fair to acknowledge that they have received funding and support from the Scottish Government and councils. However, opportunities have been missed, and there has been no coherent approach to supporting tourism and local businesses and sustaining the arts, which is disappointing. The First Minister might urge businesses to accept the euro, but visitors to Alloway will find it nearly impossible to spend a penny, because South Ayrshire Council has closed the public toilets opposite the Burns heritage centre. Theatre goers will enjoy the performance on Burns night of "I, Robert Burns" at the Gaiety theatre in Ayr, but that might be the last time that they can do so, because the theatre is to be closed as a result of council cuts.

When Rob Gibson comes to Alloway to see the Goudie collection at Rozelle, he will also see a brand new primary school, which was commissioned under the previous Administration. He might share local residents' dismay at the poor state of the local roads, and if he goes up the road he will find that Belleisle park is run down and the pets corner for kids has been slashed as a result of council cuts.

The people who gather for this year's open golf championship at Turnberry might be astonished to find that the Maybole bypass and improved rail transport to Girvan were not higher on the Government's agenda.

Many people in the arts community will find it hard to reconcile the Government's warm words about supporting Scottish culture with the cuts and uncertain future that Scots language and traditional music organisations and projects are facing. A secure future for such projects would surely be a great legacy for 2009.

If we are serious about building investment, I hope that the Scottish Government will consider the campaign that the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations launched today. The SFHA is aiming to secure a real legacy for Scotland by campaigning for a house building programme, which would also bring benefits to the construction industry.

I want homecoming year to be a success. I want our local economy to benefit and I want our culture and heritage to be celebrated. Of course, I also want an Ayrshire team to win the homecoming Scottish cup, but I will say no more about that in advance of Saturday's game between Ayr United and Kilmarnock.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 9:52 am, 8th January 2009

I take this opportunity to thank the minister for the useful assistance that he gave the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association on interaction with Canada.

There is no doubt that in Canada there is huge enthusiasm for homecoming. My third cousin once removed—I think that that is right—Ted Gunn and his French-Canadian wife Louise, who live in Quebec, are coming to Caithness this year. They are not coming for an official homecoming event, but their decision to come reflects the enthusiasm that is out there. As Roseanna Cunningham said, individual members can take action, perhaps by encouraging their relations to come to Scotland.

Genealogy has not been mentioned, but it is hugely important. Every Canadian and American Scot would love to know more about where they come from. We can do more to develop and use records in Scotland.

It is important that we market different facets of Scotland. In the context of the marketing of the far north of Scotland—my constituency—I remind members that a fortnight on Tuesday an exhibition of photographs by Mike McCartney, the brother of Sir Paul McCartney, entitled "Mike McCartney's North Highlands", will be launched in the garden lobby of the Scottish Parliament. I hope that as many members as possible will come. The exhibition is not part of official homecoming marketing, but it will lead to a publication, which will be around for years to come and will form part of the bedrock for future initiatives. It is to the credit of the Caithness and north Sutherland regeneration partnership that it has taken the initiative as far as it has done. High-quality art and photography will help Scotland in the year of homecoming.

I spent Christmas in Northern Ireland and I saw with my own eyes that a flood of people came from the Republic of Ireland after Christmas to spend money. As members said, the strength of the euro and dollar against the pound represents a golden opportunity. It is an opportunity to support not just the tourism businesses in my constituency and all over Scotland, but also those businesses that are affected by tourism even if they are not directly associated with it, such as—dare I mention it—the Scottish food industry. I will not go into dairy products, as that would not be appropriate without me declaring an interest. [Interruption.] I hear Rob Gibson say, "Thank heavens for that." It behoves ministers and their officials to investigate how the money that will be taken can be spread as widely as possible to the benefit of other businesses.

This year also presents an opportunity in that many satisfied tourists will come back to re-experience a happy experience. If we can pull it off this year, that will act as a bedrock for future years when, we hope, the situation for Scotland and the UK will be far brighter.

It is hugely important that we do not miss the opportunity that the homecoming gives us. We can argue about budgets and what the targets should be but, from my perspective, what is most important is that the Scottish Government ensures that for the homecoming each part of Scotland plays to its strengths. I mentioned that my cousin Ted Gunn and his wife will come over, which is to do with a clan in the far north of Scotland. By coming to Caithness and spending their money there, they will make a difference to the local economy, which must be good news.

I return to the Mike McCartney exhibition. I have already used the expression and I will use it again: if we can demonstrate the beauties and attractions of Scotland not just on a one-off basis for this year but on a more permanent basis, that will act as a bedrock for the future. Making the maximum effort at this stage will pay dividends in the future.

I have finished 10 seconds early.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

We are very grateful for that.


Thankfully he...

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Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party 9:56 am, 8th January 2009

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate on what will be an important year for Scotland. Homecoming 2009 will not only promote our country and all that it has to offer but bring Robert Burns to an international audience, many of whom will make his acquaintance for the first time.

As members have said, the events are many and varied and will be a perfect showcase for the beauty of our country and the talents of our people. There will be music, dance, singing, theatre, golf, clan gatherings, arts and crafts and family events, and, of course, the homecoming Scottish cup, which Cathy Jamieson mentioned. I am quite happy to nail my colours to the mast and say, "Killie for the cup!" From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs,

That makes her lov'd at home, rever'd abroad.

The homecoming will offer something for everyone at home in Scotland and, we hope, will provide a wonderful experience for millions of visitors.

The current poor economic climate in the UK brings an opportunity to attract more visitors to Scotland, particularly from the euro countries and the United States. Nearly 2 million visitors from the European Union nations came to Scotland in 2007, the highest number of which—300,000—came from Ireland. What a wonderful gesture of friendship and fraternity it would be—it would also make sound business sense—if Scotland's shops, hotels, pubs and visitor attractions welcomed those visitors with open arms and accepted their euros directly. That would no doubt be welcomed, too, by the many other tourists who come into the euro zone from further afield, who might opt to visit Scotland for a homecoming event.

Exciting times lie ahead, and many people are making a huge effort to make the year of the homecoming a great success but, as usual, there are some gloom merchants who have to have their say. I cannot let pass without comment an article by Ross Lydall in yesterday's Scotsman, in which he attacked my home town of Kilmarnock and the efforts that are being made to revive it, which include making the new Robert Burns centre the centrepiece of a restored Kay park. Mr Lydall saw the remnants—and, we hope, the beginning of the end—of the neglect of many years, but he missed the enthusiasm and the determined efforts that are being made to turn things around. Although Kilmarnock may not have the riches and trappings of civic London, it has a richness and generosity of spirit that will endure such criticism. Shame on Mr Lydall for writing about us so negatively.

A year long festival of events will no doubt spring a few surprises along the way. By St Andrew's day, we will have a good indication of whether the homecoming has been a success and will be able to assess whether the momentum can be maintained to deliver the sustainable economic growth that we all seek.

The legacy of the homecoming year should be judged not just from the point of view of the economic benefits that it brings to Scotland, important as those are, but in the context of the opportunity that it provides to celebrate and share our culture with our many friends throughout the world. When was the last time anyone had a party and invited the whole world?

The homecoming is a glowing testament to the talent and power of Robert Burns, who, like Scotland, was loved at home and revered abroad. The American and French revolutions occurred in his lifetime, in 1776 and 1789 respectively. The compulsion to write about and interpret world events as he saw them, often at great personal risk, was too strong. Burns might have left us at the tragically young age of 37, but his legacy of work on themes such as love, liberty, humanity, compassion, social justice and equality is relevant to us today. Man's inhumanity to man may well feature in the next debate.

The homecoming will be with us shortly, so let us who are fortunate to be members of the Scottish Parliament open our arms and welcome our friends, old and new. Let the celebrations begin.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 10:00 am, 8th January 2009

My colleague Cathy Jamieson represents the birthplace of Robert Burns, but the bard's life ended in Dumfries, in my constituency. He and Jean Armour took over the tenancy of Ellisland farm, which is just north of Dumfries, in June 1788. He moved into Dumfries town in 1791 while he was working as an excise man and died there on 21 July 1796. He lived in Dumfriesshire for some eight years, which were extraordinarily productive, despite tragedy and his increasing ill health. Some of his best known works, including "Auld Lang Syne", "Tam o' Shanter", "Ae Fond Kiss", "The Slave's Lament", "Scots, wha hae", "A Parcel of Rogues in a Nation", "My Love is like a Red, Red Rose", and "A Man's a Man for a' that" were published during that period. The celebration of Robert Burns's life and the year of homecoming have a particular relevance for Dumfries and Galloway, as they do for Ayrshire.

The organisers of the year of homecoming events in Dumfries and Galloway have been extremely productive. The programme of events on the homecoming website runs to 58 pages. The events are varied and sometimes ingenious in their interpretation of homecoming. They include Burns suppers, lectures, exhibitions, poetry recitations, summer schools and, at Michael's church, where Burns is buried, the unveiling of a commemorative stained glass window and a wreath-laying event. Dumfries will host a mid-winter festival on 25 January, which will involve a procession of lanterns, a ceilidh and a fire show at the River Nith—I hope that the weather holds up for that.

It is a little-known fact that the bicycle was invented by Kirkpatrick Macmillan in Dumfries in 1839, and in May the bike will come home to Scotland, as Dumfries hosts the world mountain bike conference. The first holding of the conference outside Canada will provide an opportunity to showcase the seven stanes mountain bike trail in Ae forest to an international audience.

The Border gathering takes place at the end of July. Every year, the event attracts people from the USA whose ancestors hailed from the Scottish Borders to visit and to discover more about their family history. This year, the Border gathering will link in to the clan gathering at Holyrood park.

Migrating wildlife is not forgotten. As part of the year of homecoming, the Wigtown Bay visitor centre in the Presiding Officer's constituency is promoting the observation of overwintering geese and the return of the Galloway ospreys from Africa. It is hoped that this year, some of the chicks that were born in Galloway will return there to nest.

There will be a multitude of events in venues across Dumfries and Galloway for locals and visitors to enjoy throughout 2009. I wish the organisers and promoters, who have put in so much work to ensure that those events happen, every success. However, I have concerns. I hope that visitors will arrive in Dumfries in their droves to see where Robert Burns wrote so many of his finest works. I know that they will enjoy the culture, the produce, the countryside and the hospitality of the region but, sadly, I doubt that they will be at all impressed by the state of Dumfries town centre and of the high street in particular, which is full of empty shops, overgrown gutters and buildings that are in need of a facelift. Dumfries and Galloway Council has talked a great deal about town centre regeneration for many years, and some of the responsibility for the failure to act lies at its door, but the Scottish National Party Government has also failed to take the issue seriously. In his summing-up speech in last June's debate on the small business rates relief scheme, Mr Mather said:

"The regeneration of town centres is now pretty much a given, and that will have an enormous effect."—[Official Report, 11 June 2008; c 9561.]

I am sorry, but the situation has deteriorated. We now need direct intervention and investment in the infrastructure of our towns.

We all support the year of homecoming, but it and Robert Burns alone cannot save the Scottish economy. The Government needs to come forward with a programme of investment for the future of the Scottish economy beyond the end of 2009.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

We now move to the wind-up speeches. I call Liam McArthur, who has four minutes.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat 10:05 am, 8th January 2009

This has been an interesting debate, which has been truncated to allow time for more pressing issues to be considered. Nevertheless, the debate has demonstrated the collective political will to make the year of homecoming a success.

Iain Smith reminded members of the role played by our Liberal Democrat colleague Donald Gorrie in floating the idea of homecoming. Roseanna Cunningham acknowledged that and rightly set out the role that all of us as individuals have in making the year of homecoming a success. Of course, the original vision for the homecoming went beyond that of providing an economic stimulus. Willie Coffey and Rob Gibson correctly pointed out the cultural and multiethnic dimensions of the year of homecoming events. However, by playing to our strengths, homecoming potentially has an important role to play as we enter difficult and uncertain economic times.

Contributions from throughout the chamber reflected on the amendments and made the point that, if the year of homecoming is to be more than a one-off shot in the arm for Scotland's tourism industry, the Scottish Government and its agencies must act to ensure effective promotion of the homecoming in Scotland, the UK and key overseas markets; ensure that our skills base is in the best possible shape to provide the range and quality of experiences that will have participants in this year's homecoming returning year after year; and ensure that we can effectively measure the impact of the year of homecoming and follow up the contacts that are made during it.

Gavin Brown will not be surprised to hear me express caution about the creation of a mega-database of personal details, although I appreciate his point. Mr Brown and, indeed, Jamie Stone are right to point out the role that businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises and those in some of the remotest parts of the country, will play in making the homecoming a success and, I hope, helping to sustain and grow their local economies.

In the limited time available to me, I simply echo the call of lain Smith, Lewis Macdonald and others for the minister to set out clearly and precisely how the Government intends to intensify activity and support for the year of homecoming, not least in the light of modest budget allocations or, indeed, cuts. What specific steps are being taken, for example, in light of changes in the relative strengths of the pound, euro and dollar to capitalise on the situation through targeting both domestic and overseas visitors? Action is also needed on skills. Everyone accepts that Scotland is never likely to be at the cheap end of the spectrum for tourists, but it can quite legitimately lay claim to the quality end. However, that requires greater focus on and investment in skills. The minister must spell out what action he is taking to support improvements in that area.

I have developed a healthy scepticism about information that emerges from St Andrews house. I was surprised but not astonished, therefore, when I perused my initial copy of the map of events for the year of homecoming 2009. While a sizeable number of the events are not new, that is not to say that they will not be spectacular. I was a little disappointed to note that the internationally renowned St Magnus festival in my own constituency had not made it into the programme. Perhaps the minister in winding up can explain the criteria and process for including pre-existing events. However, I was shocked to see that Orkney was set to host the brass in the park event, though not as shocked as people in the Borders. That appeared to come at a cost, however, as the Orkney science festival had somehow been relocated to Harris. The Western Isles also seemed destined to host the creative connections Shetland event in August, though any disappointment my colleague Tavish Scott and his constituents might have felt was surely tempered by the suggestion by the EventScotland map that Lerwick was set to play host to the Edinburgh arts festival. Thankfully, those errors have been corrected on websites and in the formal homecoming brochure.

The programme of events provides a solid basis for a successful homecoming on the 250th anniversary of Burns's birth. However, I hope that the minister will take on board the calls for action from throughout the chamber to ensure that the homecoming does, indeed, leave a long-lasting legacy.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 10:08 am, 8th January 2009

The economic crisis that we face means that the year of the homecoming has an importance now that few could have envisaged when plans for 2009 were first put in place. However, like my colleague Gavin Brown, I am optimistic and upbeat about it.

Presiding Officer,

"Let me tell you that I love you and I think about you all the time."

Those are famous words from a famous song that are spoken, not sung, by Sir Sean Connery—007—possibly the most famous man in the world, in a good VisitScotland advertisement that should have stirred and shaken the emotions of women all over the world and sent them rushing to Scotland for a chance to see Sir Sean's knees during the year of homecoming. However, it was surely ironic that the ad was shown in Scotland and not elsewhere. In response to a written question from me, the Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism told me:

"the advert is not being played on television or in cinemas beyond Scotland at this stage."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 18 December 2008; S3W-18519.]

I am therefore glad that the First Minister was able to boast only four days later about his delight that the advert would be seen after all by many millions of Americans, Canadians and others, as it would be screened on a number of key North American television channels, including PBS, CNBC, the History Channel and the Discovery Channel. I hope that my written question helped that outcome. However, none of my American friends to whom I have spoken recently has yet seen the advert. I therefore ask the minister which channels are showing it and at what times.

Michael Fry has certainly been publicising the homecoming. He said that Burns was an alcoholic, racist misogynist. I am sure that Michael Fry was being public spirited and that he simply wants to publicise the year of homecoming through this controversy. I really admire Burns, who, like so many other Scottish heroes, was active during the Scottish enlightenment, which led the world between 1740 and 1800. In 1760, Voltaire said:

"To see real civilisation you must now go to Edinburgh."

I believe that everyone should read the excellent book "The Scottish Enlightenment" by the Jewish New York professor, Arthur Herman, a man without a drop of Scottish blood in his veins, who simply says that the Scots invented the modern world. There were Scots like Robert Adam, the greatest ever British architect, who designed the White House; David Hume, the philosopher; John McAdam; George Stephenson; Thomas Telford—if only we had him today to build us a new Forth road bridge; John Witherspoon, who founded Princeton University, the greatest university of the English speaking world, which was based on the University of Edinburgh; Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate who gave the world 1,000 libraries; and great inventors like Alexander Bell and James Watt.

We should never forget that the River Clyde in its heyday built one fifth of the world's shipping tonnage and that Paisley was the largest cotton manufacturer in the world. We should remember, too, that the American constitution was written by a Scot, typeset by another Scot and printed by Scots because they were the best—Audubon's "Birds of America", the most valuable book ever printed, was printed in Edinburgh. Last but not least, of course, is the hero Adam Smith, the great Conservative and founder of modern economic theory.

However, the mythical, romantic heart of Scotland that is longed for by the diaspora is in the Highlands. I will highlight some of the varied events that visitors can look forward to, including the westering home to Islay weekends; the roots and boughs, summer in the straths events that are being organised by the communities of the Mackay country; and the clan Ross gathering. World-famous events such as the Connect music festival at Inveraray and the Hebridean Celtic festival will also be very important in 2009.

I must also advertise the family history centre in the National Archives of Scotland on Princes Street, which is a wonderful facility in a beautifully restored Georgian building that contains the very latest information technology. Anyone can go in there to trace their roots. I pay tribute to George Mackenzie, the keeper of the records of Scotland for initiating—

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You should be finishing now, Mr McGrigor.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I now call John Park, who has five minutes.

Photo of John Park John Park Labour 10:13 am, 8th January 2009

I am not quite sure how to follow that.

We have had a shorter debate on the year of homecoming than we had hoped for, but I have genuinely enjoyed it. The speech that we just had from Jamie McGrigor and those from Jamie Stone, Rob Gibson and Elaine Murray helped me to broaden my horizons. I have learned quite a lot during the debate that I did not know at the beginning of it.

I assure Gavin Brown that we in the Labour Party all welcome the year of homecoming and are enthusiastic about it. However, we want to point out that such a significant event must be properly supported. I am sure that he will agree with that. This is not about flag waving but about playing to Scotland's strengths. As my colleague Lewis Macdonald said, it is about Scotland's ability to take longer-term advantage of the many people who will visit our shores this year. Let us be clear that the homecoming is very important and that it needs meaningful support.

We have genuine concerns about standards of employment in Scotland; we had a members' business debate last night on the Evening Times and The Herald in that respect. The number of adult apprenticeships has been cut in the tourism and hospitality sector, which is an area of the economy that could be taking up the slack as other areas of employment contract in the coming year. However, for now, we have lost a key Government intervention that we believe is vital to the delivery of truly sustainable economic development. No one will disagree that there have been concerns about standards of employment in the tourism sector over a number of years. Opportunities for employees to develop are all but disappearing, which will do nothing to help standards of employment. One of the legacies of the year of homecoming that I would like to see is a pulling-up of employment standards in the tourism and hospitality sector. I hope that the minister has had some time to engage on that issue with business organisations, such as the Confederation of British Industry, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses, and with the Scottish Trades Union Congress. Perhaps he will say in his summing-up speech what discussions he has had with those organisations.

As Jim Mather and many others mentioned, the value of sterling and a variety of factors mean that, in plain economic terms, Scotland will be an attractive place to visit this year. With people feeling concerned about the economy, they will be more likely to stay in Scotland. The pound's falling strength against the euro and the dollar mean that going abroad will be a less attractive option for many Scots. However, we should not use fluctuations in currency as a central plank of our homecoming strategy or of our tourism strategy, just as we cannot use the blunt measure of how many people visit Scotland this year to gauge the success of the year of homecoming.

For those reasons, we will support the Conservative and Liberal amendments, which raise a number of pertinent points about the importance of how we measure the success of the year. We need to capture the information so that our tourism sector can respond effectively. If homecoming 2009 is to play a part in helping the sector to achieve its target of 50 per cent growth by 2015, such information will be important not just to tourism but to Government in determining the type and level of support that it gives to the sector in future. I hope that the minister can respond to that point when he sums up.

Iain Smith was right to say that the homecoming concept was designed in a different economic climate. Because of the challenging economic circumstances, the readiness of business to engage will have changed. I hear what the minister said about the support that is being given by the wider business community, but perhaps he will say a little bit more about how the Government intends to engage with the business community over the coming year to ensure that that support is sustained for the duration of the year and beyond.

I echo Margaret Curran's comments about the role played by Jack McConnell and ministers in the previous Executive in initiating the year of homecoming. I also echo Liam McArthur's comments about the role played by Donald Gorrie.

Cathy Jamieson highlighted what homecoming will mean for community groups not just in her constituency but across the country. I do not share her hope that an Ayrshire team will win the homecoming cup; as a representative for Mid Scotland and Fife, I have several teams that I could pick from. However, I must be careful, so I will not pick one out.

I believe that many Scots and visitors will welcome and support today's debate and the events that will be taking place all over the country, but the real legacy for our tourism sector and for businesses, communities and other areas will come not from those events but from the Government's policy decisions to support homecoming. That is why we will support the motion and all the amendments. We believe that the debate complements homecoming and the idea of where we want to go in the future.

I look forward to supporting events across the country as an individual. Many members have said that they will urge their friends, families and colleagues to do the same. I look forward to playing my part in homecoming over the coming year.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party 10:18 am, 8th January 2009

As John Park said, much that is fresh has been said in the debate. It has been very good to hear the diverse, cross-party paternity and maternity rights to homecoming being strongly established. We are a small nation, but we have a big history and a strong legacy.

A key component that has come through in the debate is homecoming's start-up act, which is the Robert Burns legacy. Unlike Michael Fry, I see our national poet as a true patriot, a true romantic and a cultural giant. I stand full square behind Cathy Jamieson and Willie Coffey on that point. Burns is the trigger for the 2009 year of homecoming, which, as Gavin Brown said, is now imminent. The year will kick off with the launch of the world Burns supper in Alloway, to which all party leaders have been invited. International focus will be provided by Nicola Sturgeon and Michael Russell in Brussels—they will be running a Burns supper there—as well as by the Lord Advocate in London, by Kenny MacAskill in Canada and by the First Minister in Washington. Some 1,700 Burns suppers will take place worldwide, moving the year forward. We will be able to celebrate Scotland's unique contribution globally and commemorate where we are and where we are going.

On intensifying that activity, I will talk first about the advert, which will be shown in the States during Burns week. PBS will run a version of the advert based on the Connery contribution; BBC America will run the full advert; the Discovery Channel in North America will also run the full advert; and Google TV will run the advert in the USA. In March, the advert will have another week-long burst in Scotland and other parts of the UK. On Saturday of this week, Jenni Falconer will do the voice-over on an advert that will be broadcast at all homecoming Scottish cup ties.

On top of that, an evocative home of golf video will be subtitled in Mandarin and shown on Chinese state TV, thanks to the good work of Madam Tan here in Edinburgh.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

I am glad to hear that homecoming will be properly advertised. However, has the minister taken into account the fact that people make their holiday plans now? Is homecoming being publicised enough abroad at the moment?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

As I said earlier, our websites are effective. The come to Scotland website is registering a new contact every 35 seconds—some 100,000 contacts had been registered by November. We intend to have another burst of advertising on the website this month. We have 9,000 corporate links. All of that is beginning to work very well indeed.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I am really short of time, as I have two minutes remaining in which to get my points across. However, I will take an intervention.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I am delighted that the Government has added further advertising to the campaign, following my intervention last month. However, I want to ask about another issue that I raised with the First Minister last summer.

The promotion of homecoming appears to be concentrated on the Commonwealth, North America and some European countries. It seems to me that the vision for homecoming should have at least some regard to the fact that the world's big new tourism markets will be China, India and elsewhere. Over the past few months, have additional events and activities been added to the programme to take account of that priority?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I thank the member for that lengthy intervention. If he had listened to what I said, he would have got the point that the home of golf video has been translated into Mandarin. We are also pressing the issue in 40 other countries.

As John Park suggested, we are specifically linking with business communities to ensure that we continue the intensification. We have a new point-of-entry campaign in all our airports. Each displays the homecoming theme along with key local strands. We are developing that flavour going forward.

To ensure that we secure a legacy from homecoming, we are measuring the data with the largest ever database, with links to 2.4 million Scots affinity organisations. We are taking specific measurement measures to ensure that we have things measured to the nth extent going forward. We are looking to have conversion studies on the effectiveness of the programmes as well as event organisation outcome reports. Omnibus surveys will be run throughout the country over the year to ensure that as many as possible in Scotland are aware of what is happening and to try to get beyond the 66 per cent awareness figure.

Next June, as Gavin Brown mentioned, Steve Forbes will bring global business leaders here for their annual European CEO forum. That gets to the nub of the issue, because the key message of homecoming is that Scotland is open for business. We have the hospitality, the skills, the culture, the expertise, the warmth and the innovation. We also have a hearty and very healthy obsession with ensuring that our visitors and inward investors find coming to Scotland a thoroughly rewarding experience.