Robert Burns in the Scottish Economy

– in the Scottish Parliament on 21st January 2020.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-20403, in the name of Joan McAlpine, on Robert Burns in the Scottish economy. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the findings of the year-long research study by University of Glasgow,

Robert Burns in the Scottish Economy

, which has been led by Professor Murray Pittock of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies; notes that it found that Burns generates over £200 million a year for the economy and that his brand is worth nearly £140 million; believes that this news is timely, coming just ahead of the annual birthday celebrations for the Bard on 25 January 2020, when people recognise what is considered to be his genius as a poet, his passion for Scots language and culture and his commitment to humanitarian values; understands that the research, which was funded by the Scottish Government’s Economic Development Directorate, is the most comprehensive such analysis to date and was commissioned after a parliamentary debate in January 2018 that discussed the economic potential of Burns; notes that the economic sectors reported to benefit from Burns include food and drink, retail, hospitality and tourism, while his international brand helps develop business and trade relationships, but acknowledges that the study argues that much more can be done and notes its recommendations, which include the need for further plans to promote Burns at home and abroad, recognition of the Robert Burns World Federation, supporting teaching about the Bard in schools, in light of the view that current pupils will be the next generation to sell him to the world, improving signage and infrastructure to enhance access to Burns sites across the South Scotland region, profiling his core appeal to visitors to Dumfries and Galloway and updating the approach for Ayrshire, encouraging regional economic partnerships, for the South of Scotland Enterprise Agency to work together with local government to improve data on Burns-motivated tourism, for greater alignment between food and drink and cultural tourism, improving the connectivity of Burns-related sites, using his potential to reinforce community wealth building, developing initiatives such as joint marketing and ticketing, embedding the story of Burns in the 2020 Year of Scotland’s Coasts and Waters and the UNESCO biosphere and learning from Austria’s investment in Mozart-related cultural tourism; believes that there is no contradiction in valuing Burns as a great poet and using his legacy to support the economy, and considers that Burns, who it believes knew about the hardship of poverty, would welcome what it sees as such respectful initiatives to add to the prosperity of the people and places that he loved.

Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

It is now two years since I last led a debate on this subject, to which many members contributed. On that occasion, the motion stated that we needed more information about the value of Burns to our economy at regional, national and international levels.

Following the debate in 2018, and the publicity that it generated, the Scottish Government’s economic division funded research by the University of Glasgow’s centre for Robert Burns studies. The report of that study—entitled “Robert Burns and the Scottish Economy”, by Professor Murray Pittock with additional research by Dr Joel Ambroisine—is a substantial piece of work and was launched at the Robert Burns birthplace museum this month. I take this opportunity to welcome Professor Pittock and his university colleagues to the public gallery. I also thank all members who signed the motion and who are speaking in the debate.

The study found that, each year, Burns generates £203 million for the Scottish economy. In addition, the brand of Burns enhances our standing in the world to the value of £139.5 million each year. The Anholt-GfK Roper nations brands index, which ranks the reputation of countries, puts Scotland in 15th place out of 50. Scotland is strongly associated with Burns, who, in turn, is strongly associated with values such as humanitarianism, egalitarianism, creativity and quality. The global soft power of the poet cannot be overestimated.

The report says that the past 15 years have seen a more co-ordinated approach to Burns tourism. The best example of that is the £23 million Robert Burns birthplace museum, which has transformed the visitor experience without compromising on scholarship. Among visitor numbers for writers museums in the United Kingdom, those for the Alloway attraction are second only to those for Shakespeare’s birthplace.

The report points out that cultural tourists stay longer and spend more money than other tourists. It also notes that historic sites enhance the attractiveness of communities—not only for tourists, but for residents. They can improve property prices and boost wellbeing and community pride, so investment in cultural and heritage tourist sites can enhance the built environment for everyone.

We need to ensure that our attractions are well known and marketed. The Robert Burns birthplace museum in Alloway, with 266,000 visitors, is second after John Muir country park in terms of visitor numbers to attractions that are associated with a historical individual. The Robert Burns centre in Dumfries also makes the top 10. However, the number of visitors to other places that are associated with Burns remains too low. His home in Dumfries, the monument in Kilmarnock, Souter Johnnie’s cottage in Kirkoswald, Ellisland Farm outside Dumfries and the Bachelors club in Tarbolton are wonderful and unique destinations that could, if promoted well, bring many more benefits to their communities and to the Scottish economy.

The tourism sector now accounts for 5 per cent of Scotland’s gross domestic product and 8 per cent of employment, accounting for 207,000 jobs. Burns-related tourism brings in just under £155 million, almost two thirds of which—£121 million—goes to Ayrshire and Arran. That is significantly ahead of the £21 million that is generated in Dumfries and Galloway, where Burns lived and died, so there is huge potential to promote the fantastic offering, perhaps through better marketing and by linking sites across geographical areas.

Burns festivals throughout Scotland have an estimated value of £7 million. The Scottish Government’s winter festival programme has been enormously beneficial in that regard, and I take this opportunity to welcome the annual big Burns supper in Dumfries and Galloway, which is part of the winter festival programme and which opens this Friday.

Across Scotland, Burns night has a turnover of £11 million. Professor Pittock points out that the success of the haggis industry is inseparable from the popularity of the brand. Burns-related food and drink is estimated to be worth £20 million, and better links between cultural tourism and the branding of produce is one of the report’s key recommendations. A good example of that being done already is the Grace, which is a celebration ale by Sulwath brewery in Galloway. It is named after the famous “Selkirk Grace”, which was written in the Selkirk Arms in Kirkcudbright and has been recited millions of times every January since then. That is one example that we can learn from, but there is so much more that we can do.

The report points out that, as a brand, Mozart’s value to Austria has been estimated at £3.5 billion, which is way ahead of our Burns effect. It says that, in Vienna alone, about 300 product lines are associated with the composer—there is everything from sweeties to toiletries.

The report recommends a number of measures to promote Burns more effectively in Scotland. Renaming Prestwick airport as the Robert Burns international airport is a key recommendation. It also proposes greater alignment between food, produce and cultural tourism, including Burns tourism, in Ayrshire and Arran and Dumfries and Galloway regional tourism strategies. The report recommends improved signage on the M74, better infrastructure and connectivity, and more joint marketing of Burns attractions. The report says that the Government’s new south of Scotland enterprise agency, which opens its doors in April, can help in that regard, as can the regional inclusive growth deals. I know that that is very much on the radar of the chairman of the new enterprise agency, with whom I discussed the report just last week.

Of course, the report also highlights the many successes, including the work of David Thomson and Teresa Church, who are the owners of Annandale Distillery and the Globe Inn in Dumfries. The distillery, which was magnificently rebuilt after almost a century, is already a major visitor attraction in the town of Annan. One of its malt whiskies, “Man O’Words”, is named for Burns, as is its young spirit, “Rascally Liquor”. The Globe Inn, where Burns romanced the barmaid Anna Park, has been sensitively restored by David and Teresa as a fine-dining restaurant, but the famous snug bar where Burns drank has been maintained. That will help to fund the curation and protection of the rooms that are associated with him, including the famous poet’s chair.

Such entrepreneurs and cultural leaders are vital in Scotland’s rural areas. What David and Teresa have done is really exciting, and there is more happening. There is enormous potential for Ellisland Farm, which was Burns’s first marital home, to bring more visitors to Nithsdale, and plans are already afoot thanks to development money from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Of course, it is not all about money. The report emphasises the role of education and recommends improvements to the teaching of Burns in the school curriculum, with the help of the Robert Burns World Federation, so that future generations can proudly and knowledgeably promote him.

University research and education on the bard are also vital, and are estimated to bring in half a million pounds a year already. The University of Glasgow’s centre for Robert Burns studies—which carried out the research—is important here. In my view, it shines intellectual light on not just the work of the poet, but the literary, social and political context in which he worked in Scotland in the 18th century. The report points out that images from that time also contribute to Scotland’s brand value in the world.

There is no contradiction between honouring Burns as an artist and recognising his commercial worth. Mozart is no less a great musician for having marzipan-coated chocolates named after him, which apparently sell in their hundreds and thousands in Salzburg. Burns was a genius, just like Amadeus. His value is, first and foremost, as a cultural icon; however, as well as enriching our culture, he can also enrich the people and places that inspired him. As a humanitarian who knew the pain of poverty, Burns would surely propose a toast to that on his birthday on 25 January.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

I congratulate Joan McAlpine for once again bringing us our annual Burns members’ business debate in the Scottish Parliament. It is a fitting debate with which to honour and celebrate Burns and his continuing contribution to the social and economic wellbeing of Scotland. I have spoken in previous debates on Burns, and it is always a pleasure to do so.

The economic impact that Joan McAlpine mentioned in her speech—£203 million in direct impact throughout Scotland and a further £140 million in brand value—might well be the tip of the iceberg. The vast array of material in Burns’s songs and poems seems to find its way into a huge variety of settings in everyday life—from the obvious tourism route, to other areas including education and the creative arts, and even philosophy, justice, business and farming. He even appears on the tail fin of one of the airline Norwegian’s aircraft.

The internationalisation of Burns’s works and his brand seems to go from strength to strength. You name it, Burns had something to say about it. The University of Glasgow report that Joan McAlpine mentioned is, of course, an absolute gold mine for Burns enthusiasts, but it is also a gold mine for policy makers, local authorities and local businesses. It points us towards new opportunities for making Burns’s legacy more relevant in today’s modern economy.

I particularly like the ties to the Ayrshire growth deal and Prestwick airport, and the thinking on how we might further capitalise on those. At £121 million, the estimated economic impact in Ayrshire is already substantial. However, further possibilities are surely there for the taking, if we embed Burns in some of the strategies that we are deploying. Renaming of the airport at Prestwick as Robert Burns international airport—which is, I think, supported by all the currently serving Ayrshire MSPs, including our friend and colleague, John Scott—would be a magnificent step forward in the marketing and promotion of Ayrshire as a first-choice destination for people coming to Scotland.

Perhaps inevitably, even in the context of Robert Burns, Brexit rears its ugly head, with the Glasgow university report warning that we can expect a decline in the number of European Union residents working in the tourism sector, and warning of the consequent impact that that will have on our economy.

I wonder whether Burns was thinking about Brexit in his wonderful piece, “To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough”—which was published, of course, in the Kilmarnock edition in 1786—when he said:

“I backward cast my e’e.

On prospects drear!

An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,

I guess an’ fear!”

Prophetic comments, perhaps—but enough of politicking, in this debate.

I would also like to mention the very generous donation of $225,000 that was made by Mr Frank and Mrs Susan Shaw, of Atlanta USA, to the University of Glasgow’s centre for Robert Burns studies. Mr Shaw has Scottish origins, and that wonderful gesture will allow the university to carry out further work on Burns and his potential.

On my local area, I cannot let pass an opportunity to mention our own wonderful Burns monument centre in Kilmarnock, which offers a variety of services, from family genealogy to wedding services. It is in a beautiful location and has wonderful and knowledgeable staff. It is also home to the Robert Burns World Federation, and I pass it almost every other day.

I hope that, when Ayrshire’s wider community of interest takes in the university report, we will hear some new thinking on Burns and new ways to exploit his genius. We cannot really afford not to. Perhaps there could be a shop and visitor centre in Kilmarnock town centre that could print copies of the world-famous Kilmarnock edition, and with a connection to whisky—which Kilmarnock, of course, gave the world in the form of Johnnie Walker, 200 years ago this year. One can only dream.

I will give a quick plug for the “Burns on the beach” free event in Ayr on Friday night, which will be a unique experience of light, sound and music, It is not to be missed.

Robert Burns’s legacy is substantial, and it is growing and has huge potential to make an increasing contribution to the Scottish economy. We owe it to his memory to keep his name and his works alive, and we owe it to our communities across Scotland to make the best of the golden heritage of his wonderful work. We will be the beneficiaries if we get this right.

I thank Joan McAlpine again for bringing Burns to the attention of Parliament tonight.

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

I congratulate Joan McAlpine on securing the debate and on her key role in getting the report written. The publicity for it is very welcome for many people across the south of Scotland, in the areas where Burns was active.

As has been demonstrated by the motion and the speeches that we have heard, there is potential for the whole country.

I also join colleagues in thanking Professor Pittock and his colleagues for the work that has gone into the report. At first sight, some suggestions seem to be simple, but that asks of us all the question why they are not already happening. It is good for us to have a substantive evidence base, so that we can go to the bodies that are involved in making decisions to passionately advocate for improvements to Burns’s place in modern Scotland.

It is interesting to look at the tension between celebrating Burns’s artistic and cultural contribution and finance. From my knowledge and understanding of Burns, I cannot help but feel that he would not have had any problem with our looking at the economic benefits of his work. He would be sad that much of that money had not made its way to his pockets—but that is probably for another day.

It is positive to see the events that have already been highlighted locally in my Dumfriesshire constituency. The Big Burns Supper is now a key feature, and it is hard for many people to remember a time when it did not exist. It brings much culture to Dumfries; it brings artists together and it brings to the town performances that would not otherwise take place there. There is no doubt that the Burns branding has helped to cement it not just as a local institution, but as one that has gained a national profile.

The same applies to business. It is no coincidence that Annandale distillery chose Robert Burns to be the face of one of its two principal malts, the other being named after Robert the Bruce. It tells us something very significant if businesses that are investing millions of pounds in the region recognise that Burns is a key selling point. We have a lot of catching up to do with regard to public policy and how we spend public money, and I hope that the South of Scotland Enterprise Partnership will look at the work that those innovative businesses are already doing.

Other members are right to have made the point that we need to join up the various attractions; we have an excellent centre in Ayrshire, but we need people to see Burns as a trail through the south of Scotland—to follow the route of his life and to visit all the wonderful attractions. If we do that, there is real potential to increase the value of Burns and to make sure that they are all there into the future.

I have spoken in a number of Burns debates, and I always end with the same piece of poetry. It is very good and highlights that, although it is not all about money, money is important for the economy and local people.

I will read part of “Epistle to Davie, A Brother Poet”:

“It’s no in titles nor in rank;

It’s no in wealth like Lon’on Bank,

To purchase peace and rest;

It’s no in makin muckle, mair:

It’s no in books; it’s no in Lear,

To make us truly blest:

If Happiness hae not her seat

And centre in the breast,

We may be wise, or rich, or great,

But never can be blest”.

It is important to remember that Burns is very much in our heart, as a country, but as we have said today, that does not stop us taking financial advantage from Burns.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I thank

Joan McAlpine for securing tonight’s important debate. This week, I and a number of members will be making speeches about Burns’s rich contribution to our cultural heritage at the many Burns suppers held across Scotland. As Joan McAlpine’s motion rightly highlights, it is important that we also recognise the economic contribution of Burns’s legacy and, in many ways, its untapped potential.

Like Joan McAlpine, I have the privilege of representing South Scotland, where our national bard spent much of his life and penned his finest work. Before I was elected to this Parliament, I also had the honour of representing the Nith ward on Dumfries and Galloway Council. My ward included Burns house on stinking vennel in Dumfries—fortunately, the street has had a name change since Burns’s time—and St Michael’s kirk where Burns was laid to rest when he died in 1796, at the young age of 37.

I remember that, in a primary school in the ward, pupils were asked what Dumfries is famous for. One wee lad answered as quick as a flash that it is the death place of Rabbie Burns. He is right, but I hope that Dumfries is known for more than that—there is certainly more to Dumfries than it being Burns’s final resting place.

When I was a local councillor, I chaired the economy committee. In 2014, we launched the Burns trail. This week, I was pleased to see that people can still get a copy of the trail leaflet from the local tourist information office.

At the time of the trail’s launch, I had hoped that it would be the start of a wider promotion and recognition of the breadth of the physical legacy of Burns’s time on offer to visitors to the south-west. In many ways, it was in line with the wider trail proposed by the authors of the excellent University of Glasgow report, “Robert Burns and the Scottish Economy”.

The trail goes across Dumfries and beyond, not just to Burns house and St Michael’s kirk, but to Scotland’s oldest working theatre, the Theatre Royal Dumfries, where Burns was a frequent visitor, and to the Globe inn, where he was an even more frequent visitor. That is one of the many Burns traditions that I continue to follow avidly. Visitors can go to the upstairs bedroom that Burns often slept in and see the verses that he etched on to the glass windows.

The trail also visits the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre in the town on the banks of the River Nith, which tells the story of Burns’s time in Dumfries, the Burns statue and the statue of his beloved and very tolerant wife, Jean Armour.

Out of town, people can visit Ellisland farm, which was built and farmed by Burns in 1788 and is where he penned many famous verses including “Auld Lang Syne”. People can also visit the Brow well—renowned for its healing qualities, although, in truth, bathing in the freezing waters probably did Burns more harm than good. Fortunately, healthcare in Dumfries has improved markedly since then.

The University of Glasgow research report highlights the worth of those many attractions on the trail. Crucially, it also highlights the missed opportunities. It places the value of Burns, as Joan McAlpine mentioned, as a tourist brand in Dumfries and Galloway at £21 million. That is a sizeable sum, but it is just a sixth of the £121 million generated by Burns-related tourism in Ayrshire and Arran.

Those figures show that, although Burns makes a vital contribution to Dumfries and Galloway’s economy, as the report states:

“Dumfries can ... with some conviction be presented as the Burns Town as much as Ayr.”

In particular, the report highlights Ellisland farm—the home that Burns built to bring together his family for the first time. That is already well worth a visit, but the Ellisland Trust has developed exciting plans to preserve Burns’s legacy and transform his home into a world-class visitor attraction.

The report describes the proposals as potentially

“transformative”, and says that delivering them

“would alone do much to increase Burns visitor concentration in the Dumfries area”.

I whole-heartedly agree. The potential is enormous, but there will need to be support in order to deliver it. I strongly urge the Government to consider carefully the report’s recommendations, particularly how it can get behind the plans for the Ellisland Trust to help deliver the full economic and cultural legacy of Scotland’s national bard.

In the meantime, there is already much to see in Dumfriesshire when it comes to Burns—starting this weekend, of course, as has been mentioned, with this year’s Big Burns Supper festival in Dumfries, which runs from 24 January to 2 February. I will be going along to many of the fantastic events. I strongly urge all members to join me.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I congratulate Joan McAlpine on securing this evening’s debate. I apologise to those in the chamber, because I have to leave after my speech, as I am hosting a life and chemical sciences manufacturing strategy leadership master-class programme at 6 pm.

In Robert Burns, Scotland produced one of the world’s greatest cultural and literary icons. With his works having been translated into every major language and “Auld Lang Syne” being covered by the likes of Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix, it is no wonder that we proudly celebrate Burns not only on 25 January but all year round.

It should also shock no one to learn that our national bard is worth over £203 million annually to Scotland, according to a report published on 10 January by the University of Glasgow, which assessed the cultural importance of Robert Burns and his contribution to the Scottish economy. Burns’s brand has been enhanced by an ever-increasing global profile and better facilities for visitors in his native Ayrshire.

Over the past two decades, Scotland has transformed the way that we celebrate and recognise the poet. As we heard from Joan McAlpine, today there are more and more Burns-related festivals, such as Edinburgh’s 2019 Burns&Beyond event, products such as Annandale Distillery’s Man O’Words whisky and, in my constituency, the Isle of Arran Distillers Robert Burns single malt, which have significantly improved Burns’s cultural and economic value to Scotland.

In 2010, the Robert Burns birthplace museum opened in Alloway. It attracts up to 300,000 people annually, making it the second most visited writers’ museum in the United Kingdom, after the Shakespeare museum in Stratford-upon-Avon. Two thirds of Burns-related tourism is centred in Ayrshire, whose recent growth deal names Robert Burns on its first page. I am sure that most Scots have plans for Burns night and, globally, some 10 million people attend Burns suppers each year. Across Scotland, combined ticket sales, kilt hires, food, drink and so on bring in millions every year and sustain employment. Who knew that a plate of haggis, neeps and tatties could so benefit our economy?

In 2007, the University of Glasgow opened the centre for Robert Burns studies, with the largest concentration of Burns experts anywhere. Its mission is to develop the research, scholarship and teaching of Burns and related literature, including the culture of the period in which he lived. Since 2010, the centre has worked on “Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century”, a 15-year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. By 2024, all his works will have been published in a multivolume edition.

The project has so far attracted research and development funding in excess of £4 million. Perhaps even more valuable is the community aspect. Through social media, those working on the project have reached out to the wider Burnsian community to gain more information and insight. Even in 2020, Burns continues to connect us.

The university report is promising, but it argues that there is still much to be done to

“harness the Burns brand to drive economic growth for Scotland.”

The report recommends that the Scottish Government set up a Burns humanitarian ambassadors programme to award and recognise work here and abroad to support the values with which Scotland and Robert Burns are associated, and that Glasgow Prestwick airport be named after the bard in line with others honouring local legends, such as George Best Belfast city airport and Liverpool’s John Lennon airport. I lodged a motion calling for the renaming of Prestwick in May 2011, which was supported by 35 MSPs, including Joan McAlpine. I lodged a similar motion seven years later, so such a name change is long overdue and it is one that I clearly support.

In short, Burns’s legacy creates and sustains hundreds of jobs and delivers millions of pounds for Scotland’s economy. It is heartening to see that, more than two centuries after his death, Robert Burns’s work is still being celebrated and revered today.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Mr Gibson. Mr Gibson sought prior consent to leave the Parliament as he is chairing a meeting that starts at 6 pm. Given the delayed decision time, that became necessary—I just wanted to make sure that members understand why he is leaving early.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

As the only Welsh woman in the chamber this evening, I say, as we approach Burns night, that it is very fitting to celebrate the bard in the Scottish Parliament. I look forward to replying on behalf of the lassies to Colin Smyth tomorrow night.

I thank Joan McAlpine for bringing this important debate to the chamber, and I welcome Professor Pittock and his colleagues. My constituency of Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire can lay claim to a piece of Burns history, for it has been suggested that during a service at Duns kirk, Burns garnered the idea for his famous poem “To a louse”, drawing inspiration from the eponymous bug crawling from the hair of a well-coiffured lady sitting a few pews in front of him.

Perhaps Joan McAlpine and I can fight over whether Jean Armour spent more time in her constituency or mine. I am sure that many places across Scotland can lay claim to a lot of Burns’s inspiration for his work. Nonetheless, it is incredible that, over the centuries, Burns has remained Scotland’s favourite poet, with the immense global appeal of his work continuing to grow all these years later.

As we know, cultural heritage has the immense potential to bring in tourists from all over the world and boost our economy. As Joan McAlpine mentioned, the legacy of Burns generates a whopping £200 million per annum for the economy and the brand itself is worth £140 million.

I want to see Burns’s legacy drive more tourism, especially in rural areas such as my constituency and that of my colleague Oliver Mundell, where so much of Burns’s poetry and songs are rooted. Burns tourism offers a fantastic escape from the bustling frenzy of Edinburgh in peak season or from the tours of various castles and distilleries.

Countries around the world have invested heavily in celebrating their national cultural heritage. Joan McAlpine mentioned Austria, which has ploughed immense investment over the years into celebrating and promoting Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salzburg dedicated seven years and €7 million to preparing for the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. For the first time, the acclaimed Salzburger Festspiele staged all 22 of Mozart’s operas during its six-week run in the summer and throughout the year. More than 500 projects, exhibitions and events were hosted across the country. There is nothing to prevent Scotland from doing the same with Burns, and indeed other iconic Scottish figures and literary giants such as Sir Walter Scott, in places from Abbotsford across to Alloway.

It was interesting to note that Professor Pittock’s analysis included regional inclusive growth deals such as the borderlands and Ayrshire deals, which play an important role in promoting Robert Burns. I believe that a case could be made in the borderlands deal to facilitate the expansion of Burns tourism. In his recommendations, Professor Pittock suggests that agencies such as South of Scotland enterprise should pursue an integrated approach, drawing on all aspects of the tourism industry to promote business-led inclusive job growth, which colleagues have mentioned this evening. The United Kingdom and Scottish growth deals offer large-scale projects the chance to secure funding. I believe that a business case must be put to the likes of the South of Scotland Economic Partnership. I was pleased that Joan McAlpine mentioned that to Professor Russel Griggs last week. We must also feed into the discussions about the borderlands growth deal, because we cannot miss an opportunity such as this.

I have mentioned Joan McAlpine a lot. There are many words in the motion, and Joan spoke eloquently about it tonight. She has recognised the importance of highlighting the main transport corridors in Dumfriesshire and Ayrshire, where the lack of tourist signage has been an issue on the M74 and M6. Constituents have contacted me—and others, I am sure—about their frustration that prominent tourist sites and routes are missing. We need to show off our countryside, especially that which Burns wrote so eloquently about. Instead, tourists travel up the M6 and M74 without a clue where they are going or could go. If anything comes out of this debate, I hope that it is that we seize the opportunities that tourism has to offer. That is why I call on Transport Scotland to review the guidelines on general signage and brown signage.

I know that I have gone over my time, but, once again, I thank Joan McAlpine. I hope that a well-co-ordinated Burns tourism plan will be published soon.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I am very relaxed tonight about members going over their time. You must have noticed that.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

I thank

Joan McAlpine for securing the debate, and I thank all the members who have spoken so eloquently in memory of Robert Burns, our national bard and one of our most important cultural figures. It is apt that the report from the University of Glasgow has been issued in Burns season. It reminds us of not only Burns’s creative legacy but his enduring values: humanitarianism, love of nature and innovation. Those are values that resonate with the identity of modern Scotland.

We welcome the report, which was funded with £46,000 from the Scottish Government, and congratulate Professor Pittock on producing it. The report highlights the significant contribution, worth more than £200 million a year, that the legacy of Robert Burns makes to our economy. Professor Pittock estimates that tourism accounts for the majority of that, at £155 million. Burns festivals in Scotland contribute £7 million, Burns night contributes around £11 million, and spend on Burns-related food and drink—

“And drouthy neebors, neebors meet”— contributes £20 million.

Professor Pittock highlights the contribution of Burns to tourism, particularly in Ayrshire and the south of Scotland. I welcome that, and hope that we can continue to increase the value that Burns brings. I hope that we can spread those benefits throughout Scotland and society through the inclusive economic growth strategy that is at the core of the Scottish Government’s approach to growing the economy sustainably and promoting the wellbeing of everyone in our society—something of which I am sure that Burns himself would have approved. Our economic action plan sets out exactly how the Government plans to address that. We know that we can do that, because we know that our research, innovation and creativity continue to be world leading, with demand for Scottish products and services increasing across the globe.

Professor Pittock said that we need to continue to leverage Burns for our international markets and I agree. As trade minister, I know that the importance of Robert Burns to Scotland the brand is particularly resonant. Our historical and current success as a trading nation is a matter of not only pride, but economic necessity. The most recent figures show that our exports continue to grow; exports of goods and services increased in the latest figures to £32.5 billion.

The European Union is a major trading partner, with exports of £15 billion, which, as Willie Coffey highlighted, Brexit puts at risk—the best laid plans of mice and men. Despite that, we remain ambitious. Our export growth plan, “A Trading Nation—a plan to grow Scotland’s Exports” sets a target of increasing international exports from 20 to 25 per cent of GDP over the next 10 years. It is estimated that achieving that target will increase GDP by £3.5 billion and support 17,500 jobs, with an increased tax take of around £500 million per year. “A Trading Nation” highlights the importance of Scotland’s cultural assets and sectors in underpinning much of our export activity. As the report notes, one of the key ways that Burns contributes to our economy is through culture, especially at this time of year.

Our celebrations of Robert Burns mark the end of Scotland’s winter festivals, the period from St Andrew’s day, through Hogmanay that culminates on Burns night, here in Scotland and all over the world. The winter festivals are positively and purposefully entangled and entwined with boosting Scotland’s international profile, enhancing our collective confidence and affirming and promoting our values of fairness, kindness, inclusivity and internationalism.

There are Burns night activities across our international network this month as far afield as Beijing, Montreal, London, Dublin, Paris, Brussels, and across the United States, including a concert tour using the violin that Burns learned to play on. I will give an address to the haggis at a World Trade Organisation Burns supper in Geneva later this month:

“Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace

As lang’s my arm.”

I do not have time to go through every point raised in the motion and the many that are covered in the report.

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

I thank the minister for giving way. I wonder, although he said that he does not have time to address every point, whether he has any specific reflection on the recommendation that Prestwick airport be renamed.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

Thank you very much to Oliver Mundell for that intervention

“The trembling earth resounds his tread.”

I will pick up on many points and at this particular point I will pick up the renaming of Prestwick airport. The member will be aware that Prestwick airport is run on a commercial basis and that renaming is a commercial decision that must be made by the airport operator, which is at arm’s length from the Scottish Government. The point has been well made by many members. I know, as Kenny Gibson said, that the issue has been on the table for a while. State aid and other rules mean that the issue is for the airport operator.

Scottish Government officials have discussed the report at length with Professor Pittock. We want to ensure that we pick up whatever learning we can from it, whether the response is for the Scottish Government, local authorities, our agencies or the private sector businesses that link to the life and works of our national bard.

I want to pick up on some key points. Professor Pittock acknowledges the potential of regional economic partnerships to drive greater inclusive economic growth. We welcome that recognition and have supported the partnerships’ development across Scotland. Most of the country now has regional economic partnerships that bring together local authorities, enterprise agencies, education and skills providers, the third sector and, crucially, the private sector, to drive inclusive economic growth. Community wealth building was also mentioned. There is a community wealth-building pilot in Ayrshire—Burns country—with £3 million of funding from the Scottish Government as part of the Ayrshire growth deal.

Community wealth building seeks to drive more local value and jobs from large anchor institutions—both public and private sector—in the region. Not only might that approach utilise Burns-related produce, as the report suggests, but it could well have met with his approval.

The new south of Scotland agency is also referenced. I am pleased to say that officials are working towards the agency commencing work on 1 April, as planned. I look forward to the agency driving forward inclusive economic growth throughout the south of Scotland, including by embedding a community wealth-building approach.

Among other recommendations and comments, there are some for local authorities and regional partnerships. We encourage them to consider those and to speak to our officials about where we can offer assistance in delivering on the potential of Burns to local, regional and national economies.

I thank all members for their contributions and Joan McAlpine for bringing the debate to the chamber. It has been a great reflection on the continuing value of Robert Burns to Scotland. Burns’s legacy helps to support our economy, and his spirit and his values as a humanitarian and internationalist resonate still more. He might urge us, as he did his friend in a letter of 1789, to

“Dare to be honest and fear no labour”.

At the opening of this Parliament, these words were sung, and they reflect our desire that our society be one where the barriers to participation and opportunity are removed and where all our people are treated fairly and have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

“Then let us pray that come it may,

As come it will for a’ that,

That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth

Shall bear the gree, and a’ that.

For a’ that, and a’ that,

It’s comin yet for a’ that,

That Man to Man the warld o’er,

Shall brothers be for a’ that.”

Meeting closed at 18:16.