I am pleased and honoured to move the motion in my name. It is an honour and a privilege to launch this debate on the Scottish connections framework, Scotland’s new approach to diaspora engagement.
The opening line in the “Scottish Connections Framework” states:
“Scotland’s diaspora is an extension of Scotland itself—our living bridge with people, organisations and communities around the world.”
Today, I will explain how the Scottish Government will bring reality to that pledge. I will give the background to that important work, explain why we plan to redouble our efforts to engage Scotland’s diaspora and set out some proposals.
I hope that the ambitions set out in our framework are welcomed across the chamber. I was delighted to see colleagues from the Scottish and United Kingdom Parliaments attend tartan week in New York this year, which shows support for engaging Scotland’s diaspora.
This Government pledged to expand our connections with the diaspora in the programme for government 2021-22. Given the amount of diaspora activity already undertaken by other Governments, and by members of the diaspora, we commissioned independent research to shape our approach and to learn from others. Both pieces of research are available on www.gov.scot. The research underpinned the “Scottish Connections Framework”, and I am grateful to all the researchers for their work.
The research suggested that upwards of 40 million people consider themselves to have Scottish heritage. Many represent Scotland in their own ways, from organising St Andrew’s societies, Burns suppers and Highland games to teaching traditional dance or the Gaelic language.
Scots have long travelled the world, which is evident in place names such as Neu Schottland or Nowe Szkoty in Poland and its namesakes in Nueva Escocia in Argentina and Nova Scotia in Canada. They travelled for different reasons: as traders, economic migrants or victims of the Highland clearances, or simply to make a better life for their families. Many were also part of Britain’s imperial adventures, including the transatlantic slave trade. We have committed to being open and to learning from less comfortable chapters in our history while embracing those who descend from those times.
Thousands of Scots migrated to countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, seeking better opportunities. Many families in Scotland therefore have links to those countries today.
More than 5 million Americans claim Scottish heritage. The Scottish Government’s office in Washington DC and Scottish Development International offices across the country collaborate with our trade envoys and GlobalScots to increase trade and investment between our two countries. They also work closely with a range of US-based organisations, such as the New York Caledonian Club, the American-Scottish Foundation, the Saint Andrew’s Society of the State of New York and the Clan Campbell Society, to deliver a spectacular and growing series of events at tartan week. Tartan week draws huge crowds, providing a platform for Scottish business, higher education, culture and tourism to be showcased to many Americans.
Canada’s 2021 census confirmed that 4.4 million Canadians claim Scottish descent. Our Ottawa office engages Canadian Scots across the country, from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia via Toronto and Montreal to Whitehorse, Yukon, on the edge of the Arctic. More than a quarter of Nova Scotians claim Scottish heritage, and many of them speak Gaelic and regularly celebrate Scotland’s culture. The province also dedicates two weeks of the year to Celtic Colours, a festival that took inspiration from Celtic Connections in Glasgow, which lets Scottish artists bring their talents to new audiences while supporting our own indigenous language.
More than 2 million Australians identify as having Scottish ancestry, as do many New Zealanders. I was delighted to receive the proposal from my colleague Stuart McMillan MSP that we promote Scotland via tartan week in Australia, and I look forward to discussing that further with him.
Large Scottish communities also exist in Argentina, which has been home to the St Andrew’s Scots school since 1838 and is home to Balmoral College, which was established in 1959. They also exist in Brazil, where Scottish traders and industrialists imported football, only to see their newfound compatriots improve the game.
I thank everyone who commits to keeping our country’s traditions alive around the world. As somebody who lived abroad for a decade, I understand the pull of home and desire to celebrate and gather with other like-minded diaspora Scots. That is why we have decided to expand our approach to adopt a broad and inclusive definition of diaspora. We want to strengthen and expand Scotland’s links not only with those with Scottish heritage, but with those who have lived in Scotland for any reason. That includes alumni of Scotland’s world-leading educational institutions and those who have lived and worked in Scotland, including our fellow Europeans who came here under European Union freedom of movement and contributed so much to our country.
Scotland’s relationship with Europe remains strong. The Caledonian Society of France celebrated its centenary in 2022. There is a Scotland hub at the university of Mainz, promoting Scottish culture. Diaspora and community is one of the priority areas in the Ireland-Scotland joint bilateral review.
Beyond that, we will reach out to those with professional, business, cultural or other links to Scotland—our affinity diaspora.
Expanding our definition of diaspora means that we must work across many geographies. Tens of thousands of students from China, India, Nigeria, the United States and many other countries—that figure was more than 82,000 in 2021-22 alone—benefit from Scotland’s world-class universities. That not only boosts Scotland’s economy by nearly £5 billion each year—let that sink in: £5 billion annually—but creates a global network of hundreds of thousands of professionals who know Scotland and, I hope, possess a fondness for Scotland.
The Scottish Government’s office in Beijing is strengthening the relationship between Scotland and China. An important part of that is engaging with alumni of Scottish higher education institutions. About 25 per cent of all international students at higher education institutions in Scotland—more than 18,500 in 2020 to 2021—are from China. I hope that that will lead to lifelong relationships with our country.
That is an excellent intervention and very timely, because the British Council hosted an event in Edinburgh last night that was attended by trustees from the British Council at United Kingdom level. They and I stressed the opportunities of their work internationally. I look forward to working with the British Council internationally to further the aims of the framework, particularly in that educational and alumni space. I am delighted at the positive interventions from various members.
I want to make a really serious point about the framework. I really hope that it is one that we can all adopt and be part of shaping. I hope that we can all help to get the framework’s priorities and alignment right to make it the success that I believe it can be.
The cabinet secretary is making a very positive speech and I congratulate him on that.
In relation to the Scottish connections framework, how will we know whether the framework is delivering what we expect it to deliver? What material things should we be looking for so that we can recognise whether it is a success? What does success look like?
T hat is another excellent question, and it is one of the reasons why we accept the Scottish Conservatives’ amendment this afternoon. We believe that it is right, when one is rolling out an initiative such as this, to ensure that there are metrics and areas for success, so that we can understand how the framework is being rolled out and whether its integration with the diaspora community is reaching its full potential. I am coming on to some of the technical suggestions, which will make it obvious how one will be able to reflect on the framework in future years.
Professional Scots are prominent in companies based in the world’s global business centres—New York, Singapore, Tokyo, the middle east and elsewhere. Some act as Scotland’s trade and investment envoys in Asia, the Americas and Europe or as GlobalScots in more than 60 countries. They are embedded in their own communities as well as being leading lights in local Caledonian societies, where they bring visibility and experience. We know that European Union nationals who made Scotland their home, when they were able to exercise their treaty rights here, have returned home. We now host more than 20,000 displaced Ukrainians in Scotland, who are welcome to remain here for as long as they need to. However, many will, one day, we hope, be able to return home to rebuild a peaceful Ukraine, following Russia’s barbaric invasion. We hope that, when they do so, those Ukrainians will remain connected to Scotland.
Each and every one of those people has a connection with Scotland. All are part of Scotland’s international community. Many already work with Scotland and promote our values around the world, and more may wish to do so. Others may want to find a sense of Scottish community overseas and build links with other members of our diaspora. That is the scope of Scottish connections: to create a truly global diaspora connected to Scotland and to each other.
We are not undertaking this work from a standing start. The Scottish Government, its agencies and its international network already work closely with our diaspora. Our 1,200-strong GlobalScots and the network of trade and investment envoys, working closely with our Scottish Development International offices around the world, volunteer their time to support Scotland’s economic ambition. They will continue to promote Scotland’s prosperity, and I extend a huge thank you to them on behalf of the Scottish Government and, I hope, everybody in the Scottish Parliament.
The Scottish Government’s international network of offices has strong local relationships with Scottish diaspora organisations and alumni networks. Our Berlin office works with Showcase Scotland Expo to promote Scottish music in Germany by building relationships in the country and promoting new and traditional Scottish artists in the German market, including artists performing in Scots and Gaelic. They will continue to do all of that because of the value that such activity brings for Scotland. However, the success of the Scottish connections framework will be to build on that existing work and create new relationships and new opportunities for Scotland and the diaspora. Our culture connects diaspora communities and Scotland. Our culture sector has been hit by Brexit and Covid 19, and now by the cost crisis, so developing international opportunities can help the sector’s recovery. I have committed to developing an international culture strategy to that end.
Scotland’s diaspora may be dispersed, but its members are well integrated. The Scottish Government will take concrete steps to engage as many people as possible by improving our digital offering. Connecting digitally will provide us with an opportunity to reach new members of our diaspora wherever they are in the world and, of course, it will mean that they can connect with us, too.
Ahead of this year’s tartan week, we updated our international-facing website scotland.org to provide a new home for Scottish connections activity. We updated several pages that cover the US and Canada so as to reflect our enduring and evolving relationships in those countries.
This year, we will launch two new online resources for our diaspora. We will create a digital directory, promoting hundreds of Scottish organisations worldwide. Any member of our diaspora will be able to find out about networks, organisations and services near them, so the directory will form a touchpoint for Scots who are new to a country or those who are already there and who want to connect with their community. The directory will also be a resource for organisations in Scotland that want to expand their international reach, whether they be businesses or performers looking to take their services abroad.
Later this year, we will create a means by which members of our diaspora can register themselves as members of Scotland’s international community. We expect that facility to be live by St Andrew’s day 2023. That new direct contact will supplement the excellent work of our international network, the SDI and agencies.
All of that work will be supported by a redoubling of effort to engage members of our diaspora. Recognising their efforts will be vital if we are to succeed. I have therefore decided to take a number of steps to strengthen their connections with Scotland to enable us to build the vibrant, visible and connected network that we strive for. Those will include piloting a Scottish connections fund. The fund, which is under design, will be open to bids from individuals and organisations from the Scottish diaspora to support the aims of the Scottish connections framework. Successful bids will support the creation or strengthening of Scottish community, alumni, cultural or similar groups, or will improve existing links between organisations and Scotland. The spending will have to show clear outcomes and strong levels of value for money.
I have also asked officials to provide recommendations on how a diaspora recognition award could encourage and reward the work of Scots around the world, either in services to their own countries or in what they deliver for Scotland’s interests.
Forgive me for not taking an intervention—I am running out of time.
In order to benefit from the extensive expertise that exists in Scotland and among our diaspora, I will appoint a Scottish connections advisory panel to advise on priorities, opportunities and specific initiatives to improve our diaspora activity. The panel will be diverse, will be based both in Scotland and internationally and will contain experience and expertise covering business, alumni and affinity diaspora, and those with specific cultural and tourism interests. The design of that group is under way.
I am also delighted to hear that the University of the West of Scotland plans to inaugurate a centre for diaspora, migration, citizenship and identity later this year, and I look forward to exploring how we can work together.
We have a lot to do. Our approach will be incremental and inclusive, and we will learn both from our experiences and from feedback from our diaspora, advisory panel and others. We will also continue to learn from those who are already active in diaspora work, especially in Ireland and Wales. The framework commits to reviewing progress biennially, so, in two years’ time—and, no doubt, beforehand, through parliamentary questions from members from across the chamber—I expect to be reporting on successes and lessons learned.
I hope that our efforts will encourage members of our diaspora to see and promote Scotland as a favourable
“destination in which to work, live, study, do business, or simply visit.”
I hope, too, that it will draw support from across the chamber. I want the Scottish connections framework to evolve on the basis of the involvement of members of all parties. I hope that it will become a platform for Scottish communities, businesses, universities and cultural organisations to build bridges with our global diaspora.
However, recognising and engaging members of our diaspora is an objective in itself, not a means to an end. Our framework shows how we can work together to build a truly global network of Scottish connections that will recognise, support and benefit everyone who wants to be a part of our nation.
That the Parliament cherishes Scotland’s global diaspora, which it considers to be an extension of Scotland itself; welcomes the publication of the Scottish Connections Framework, which seeks to build a more vibrant, visible and connected Scottish community around the world; affirms a broad and inclusive definition of “diaspora”, embracing those of Scottish heritage, lived diaspora, alumni of Scottish educational institutions, and anyone who has an affinity with Scotland; recognises the importance of including historically marginalised communities, including minority ethnic Scots, women, young people and the LGBTQ community, and of facing uncomfortable chapters in Scotland's history; celebrates the efforts of Scottish community organisations around the world for maintaining and promoting Scotland’s culture and language, including through marking St Andrew’s Day and Burns events; applauds the Scottish Government and Scottish Development International’s international network of offices for their efforts to increase Scotland’s global connections, the valuable contribution of trade and investment envoys, and the 1,200-strong GlobalScot network; stresses the importance of connecting with alumni of Scotland’s world-class educational institutions, and expresses its hope that the Scottish Connections Framework will encourage many more people to consider Scotland as a destination in which to work, live, study, do business, or simply visit.
Scotland’s greatest-ever export has always been our people. It is hard to overstate the impact and legacy that Scots have had, and continue to have, across the four corners of the globe. For a country of only 4.5 million people, our impact on the world, based on population, is without compare: our contributions to science, commerce, education, medicine, culture and politics across the globe are vast.
I welcome the tone that has been set by the cabinet secretary in his speech today. That tone is not always set in the chamber. I also whole-heartedly support the motion. The aim to
“build a more vibrant, visible and connected Scottish community around the world” is something that should unite us. I welcome the fact that we have a 1,200-strong GlobalScot network. I would like to see more and I know that the framework will help to deliver that. I share the aim that
“the Scottish Connections Framework will encourage many more people to consider Scotland as a destination in which to work, live, study, do business, or simply visit.”
Our amendment attempts to make two points. First, it recognises the importance of engaging the Scottish diaspora, within the terms of the devolution settlement. That is something that should, perhaps, be taken as a given. Secondly, and more importantly, we are very keen to have more details on the metrics through which delivery of the Scottish connections framework can be measured and how its impact will be monitored and reported on.
We will also support the Labour amendment. I am not quite convinced that we needed a reference to the Welsh Government; nevertheless, we can support the sentiment behind the amendment.
I am disappointed that the member finds possible offence in the reference to Wales.
This is not to add a point of discord in what has, so far, been a good debate, but it is a disappointment that students in Scotland cannot travel the world for university and further education as students in Wales can.
I am certainly a big advocate of studying abroad. Having studied in America for a year as part of my higher education, I think that study abroad is invaluable. That should be a two-way street, because we have a lot to give international students and we should be engaging with that global community.
With 40 million people worldwide claiming some degree of Scottish ancestry, maintaining Scotland’s links with our Scottish diaspora is crucial—both economically and culturally. In the Scottish Conservative’s 2021 manifesto, we made it clear that we would like the Scottish Government to make better use of the Scottish diaspora—which we believe is one of our greatest assets, both as a market and as ambassadors for Scotland—and our produce in order to reach larger markets abroad.
The Scottish Conservatives welcomed the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee’s call, as part of its recent inquiry into the Scottish Government’s international work, for more detail on how the Scottish Government intends to maximise its engagement with the Scottish diaspora. On that basis, we welcome the publication of the “Scottish Connections Framework” and we are very supportive of its intentions.
However, the commitments that have been made in the framework require further details. We call on the Scottish Government to provide more information on the metrics through which delivery of the framework will be measured and how its impact will be monitored, measured and reported on. I know that the cabinet secretary regularly attends committee and will look forward to the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee’s considered scrutiny. However, we are looking for more information on resource allocation, timescales, responsibilities and targets emanating from the framework.
Monitoring, measuring and reporting has been missing from the Scottish Government’s international work for some time, which is why the Scottish Conservatives have called for greater transparency and accountability in that work. Our call is aligned to a number of the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee’s recommendations in its inquiry into the Scottish Government’s international work.
In its inquiry report, the committee called on the Scottish Government to make the objectives of its international work clear and to detail how it will measure the impact of and report on its work. Furthermore, the committee highlighted that the Scottish Parliament should have a role in scrutinising the work in delivery of the Scottish connections framework. Ministers should take account of the committee’s views.
Transparency and accountability are required throughout the Scottish Government’s international work, so I welcome the commitment to those. The Government’s motion also expresses its hope that the Scottish connections framework
“will encourage many more people to consider Scotland as a destination to ... visit”,
and we welcome that. We stand ready to support the Scottish Government’s objectives in that, although surely the cabinet secretary must recognise that, in order to attract visitors to Scotland, we have to make Scotland an attractive place to visit. The latest regulatory changes in the tourism sector are, in my view, not aligned to the aspirations of the framework.
Within those considerations, does Maurice Golden agree that, although it is important to continue to remain attractive in terms of cost, if we do not invest in our offering as a country—which, of course, the transient visitor levy seeks to do—we are in danger of becoming complacent about what we offer here, in Scotland?
We need investment, but there is also an economic realisation that the sector has had much to deal with over recent years—not least Covid and the global cost of living crisis, which have increased the regulatory burden, which is increasingly problematic.
I visited an agritourism business yesterday, and the people who run it are at their wits’ end. The owner said to me that she just feels scunnered by it all. There is a role for investment, but we also need our regulations to support tourism, and, ultimately, to support Scotland as a destination that we would all like to visit. On that, at least, we are aligned.
Scotland has some of the most wonderful historical sites, which are top of the list for anyone visiting Scotland—especially people of Scottish ancestry. In a recent committee submission, Historic Environment Scotland highlighted that half of international visitors reported heritage as their key motivation for visiting Scotland and that, every year, more than £3 billion is contributed to Scotland’s economy by tourism that is generated by the historic environment.
However, it was reported last month that 90 historical sites are still closed or have restricted access. That issue has been on-going for years. In my region, we have Arbroath abbey, which is home to the declaration of Arbroath and is one of the sites that have been partially closed for years. There is no opening date in sight. Having such a historically important site closed for so long is incredibly troubling.
With the cabinet secretary being in the unique position of having responsibility for external affairs and culture, he should be best placed to recognise the importance of historical sites in attracting international visitors. Reopening our historical sites must be a priority if we are serious about attracting international visitors.
I have responsibility for elements of what Maurice Golden is talking about. In relation to high-level masonry, realising the programme to ensure the safety of visitors and staff at those sites has to be the top priority, which I am sure Maurice Golden would accept.
Does the member also accept that there is a fantastic visitor centre in Arbroath that provides really good interpretation, that people should not be put off by the partial closure and that we should ensure that people can continue to visit the really important sites?
Yes—of course, safety must be the number 1 priority. There is much more to Arbroath than just the abbey—not least the smokies, I hear from Stephen Kerr, or a visit to Gayfield, where a person can watch a match while perhaps having sea water drizzling on them, if they get lucky.
People should stop in Dundee on the way to visit the V&A Dundee or Verdant Works. There is lots more to see. The Dundee Museum of Transport is very good as well. It is well worth a visit. It has three halls and includes vintage cars.
Many businesses require support to grow and internationalise, so we need to ensure that there is support. For example, manufacturing in Tayside currently has no Scottish manufacturing advisory service support. That needs to change.
We have called on the Scottish Government to provide more information on how it will engage with the diaspora. We support the Scottish connections framework, and we stand ready to be part of the journey to create a successful international Scotland.
I move amendment S6M-09107.2, to insert at end:
“; recognises the importance of engaging with the Scottish diaspora within the terms of the devolved settlement, and calls on the Scottish Government to provide more details regarding the metrics upon which the delivery of the Scottish Connections Framework will be measured and how its impact will be monitored, measured and reported.”
Scottish Labour welcomes the debate and the publication of the Scottish Government’s “Scottish Connections Framework”.
I agree with Maurice Golden that Scotland’s greatest export has been its people. However, Scotland is also recognised around the world for our landscapes, our culture, our brilliant universities and educational tradition, our food, perhaps especially our drink, and so much more.
As Mr Robertson said, Burns nights are annual celebrations across the globe—in Blantyre, Malawi; in Hamilton, Bermuda; in Dunedin, New Zealand; in Glasgow, Kentucky; and even in Antarctica. Members might be interested in consulting the University of Glasgow’s outstanding interactive map of Burns suppers, which details more than 2,500 events in all four corners of the earth.
It is no wonder that many people around the world continue to feel affinity and love for Scotland. That is because we have been a diasporic nation throughout our history. For centuries, Scots have migrated across the seas and oceans in search of a better life. As the cabinet secretary said, at least 5 million Americans claim Scottish ancestry, and millions of Canadians do so, too. Some have estimated that up to 15 per cent of Canadians may be of Scottish descent.
Tartan week in April has been mentioned. That is a huge celebration of Scottish ancestry and heritage across North America.
Scotland’s global brand is incredibly proud and incredibly strong. Our diasporic links are enormous, and doubtless many are untapped or underutilised. With connections in all corners of the globe, the potential power of the Scottish diaspora network cannot be overestimated. A serious and strategic approach to the definition, support and deployment of the Scottish diaspora worldwide is therefore very much to be welcomed.
The framework correctly identifies a whole raft of areas in which there are potential benefits of engagement for the diaspora community itself and for those of us closer to home, whether that be in respect of heritage, culture, immigration, education, tourism or business.
There is much to welcome in the framework. I welcome the commitment to direct National Records of Scotland to prioritise the development of online and digital resources. We know that many in the diaspora wish to visit Scotland to trace their ancestry and heritage, and that is not always easy. That measure is therefore welcomed and supported. Many are unable to make such a trip, so the development of online and digital tools to aid people around the world in finding their Scottish connections is vital. So, too, are the framework’s professed aims to promote business and employment opportunities in Scotland for members of our diaspora and to offer a pathway for those seeking to make Scotland their home.
Scotland and the UK as a whole have been and continue to be greatly enhanced and enriched—socially, culturally and economically—by immigration. Demographic trends suggest that Scotland in particular needs immigrants, so I welcome the introduction of the talent attraction and migration service to bring talent to Scotland and the Scottish economy. There are also plenty of encouraging noises in the document about the use of the GlobalScot network to promote cultural connections and business links. I await the development of those proposals with interest.
Above all, the framework is to be applauded for stressing from the outset the importance of reaching out to historically marginalised groups such as minority ethnic communities and LGBTQ Scots and of promoting young people’s and women’s participation through Scotland’s international offices. Scotland’s national identity must always be defined in civic terms as being open to all who live here and regardless of a person’s race, gender or sexual identity.
In a similar vein, as the framework acknowledges, it is important not to whitewash Scottish history or to romanticise Scotland’s past any more than we should romanticise our present. I hope and believe that we are a welcoming and open society but, in 2023, minority ethnic communities are still experiencing racism, prejudice and discrimination in Scotland. My colleague Foysol Choudhury will speak about that. There is also still homophobia, misogyny and bigotry in our society.
Scotland’s role in global history is not one of unalloyed goodness—far from it. Scotland played an important role in the appalling history of slavery and the slave trade, as well as of colonialism. I welcome the framework’s acknowledgement of Scotland’s role in those atrocities and of the impact of emigration on other countries. The framework is to be applauded for its commitment to working with academic institutions
“to better understand ... these chapters in our history.”
In that vein, our rekindled relationship with Malawi, which was launched in the chamber in 2005 by the then First Minister, Jack McConnell, can perhaps serve as a model of how acknowledgement of past injustices can be channelled effectively in a positive, civically engaged and socially just direction.
The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture was right to highlight the importance of the Scottish Government working with universities and colleges to diversify the international student population and promote Scotland’s reputation internationally, as well as to promote alumni engagement.
Scotland has a proud history of education—of pioneering scientific discovery and pioneering social and political thought. I welcome the developments at the University of the West of Scotland that the cabinet secretary mentioned. The University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh were key centres of the enlightenment, in dialogue and engagement with cities and centres of learning across Europe.
It is therefore regrettable that contemporary Scottish students still do not have access to a proper replacement for the Erasmus programme. That is why our amendment calls on the Scottish Government to follow the Welsh Government’s example and establish an international education exchange programme by the end of this year.
I believe that all of us across the chamber would like better global engagement and to see the framework succeed. As other members have said and as the cabinet secretary recognised, concerns have been expressed about what we expect from the framework, how we measure success and what targets will be in place. I look forward to hearing details of the value of the Scottish connections fund and what it will be used for. I welcome what the cabinet secretary said about achieving value for money and putting in place checks for that.
Our amendment stresses the importance of physical connections and of good international air links. If we truly want to be an outward-looking nation that is globally connected, Scottish airports should be supported to develop frequent and accessible air services to key international destinations and economic hubs. I urge the Scottish Government to use its conversations abroad to promote Scotland’s large aviation industry and its role in enhancing opportunities for people to visit and work in Scotland.
The aviation industry is making great efforts to reduce emissions globally; that important work is being undertaken. Aviation will play a key part in improving Scotland’s connections around the world. Instead of people having to take two or three flights to get to parts of the world, we would benefit from more direct international flights. I urge the Scottish Government to use its conversations abroad to promote the industry in that regard.
Co-operation between the Scottish Government and the UK Government—
First of all, I assure my friend that I was not having a conversation. That might have been misinterpreted.
One of the things that is mentioned in Neil Bibby’s amendment—it is mentioned in the Scottish connections framework, too—is the need for us to leverage UK Government assets in countries, such as embassies and consulates. Does the member agree that we ought to do a lot more of that? Those assets can do much more to promote a positive image and vision of Scotland.
Yes, I very much agree with that. We must ensure that the Scottish Government is undertaking its role to promote Scotland abroad, but we also need the UK Government to be working better for Scotland and promoting the country across the globe.
As I said, co-operation is needed between the Scottish Government and the UK Government and its agencies to progress the framework, to progress the aims that I think that we, in this chamber, all share and to ensure that we are delivering on that.
Forgive me if I am a little sceptical, given the record on co-operation between the two Governments over recent years, but it is the duty of the Scottish and UK Governments, regardless of their political colours, to work in the interests of the people of Scotland and those of the rest of the UK. That should certainly include the promotion of brand Scotland abroad and in the diaspora.
Both of Scotland’s Governments should be working together to maximise the opportunities that our diaspora offers. Therefore, I call on both Governments to develop a plan to better use the Scotland Office and the global network of UK embassies to celebrate Scottish culture and support trade envoys.
The Scotland Office should be transformed into a powerhouse for Scotland, leading trade missions, hosting Scottish culture events around the world and using the UK’s global network to promote Scotland to the world. Whatever our politics, we can all agree that boosting Scotland’s place in the world lifts up every Scot. I encourage both our Governments to use the power of brand Scotland internationally to create jobs and opportunities at home and abroad.
We welcome the document, and we hope that the framework will be a success. We hope that the Scottish Government will respond to the issues that are raised today.
I move amendment S6M-09107.1, to insert at end:
“; recognises the importance of good international air links and believes that Scottish airports should be supported to develop frequent and accessible air routes to key international destinations and economic hubs; believes that there is more that could be achieved if the Scottish and UK governments worked together to promote Scotland internationally and calls for both governments to develop a plan to better use the Scotland Office and global network of UK embassies to celebrate Scottish culture and support trade envoys; regrets that Scottish students still do not have access to a proper replacement for the Erasmus programme, and calls on the Scottish Ministers to follow the example of the Welsh Government and establish an international educational exchange programme by the end of 2023.”
I thank everyone who is involved in the GlobalScot network for their immense contribution, time, effort and knowledge. They often provide that expertise on a voluntary basis during their free time to help people here and abroad. That great contribution should be appreciated, as should be the contribution of the staff team behind the connections framework. I think that there will be unanimity across the chamber in support of the framework.
The staff on the network are involved in impressive work connecting, informing and educating about the opportunities abroad. That is why we will be supporting the Scottish connections framework. I am sure that other parties will, too.
The network has a deep heritage. It has been around since almost the beginning of the Scottish Parliament. The Liberal Democrat-Labour Government sought to develop the network across the globe, and that has been taken on by subsequent Administrations, which is a great thing.
It is valuable to have the assistance of people with an affinity with Scotland to help people here to connect with the world, because learning new systems, bureaucracy and laws overseas can be daunting, especially at first and when someone has limited time. However, that can be filled with opportunities. Holding someone’s hand, making introductions and offering advice on the local sensitivities can be immensely helpful.
There is no doubt that our heritage is rich, that our reach is broad and that we have tangible connections across the world. We have genealogy—which has already been referred to—whisky, Burns, culture and the enlightenment. Those are all strong characteristics of our country.
I know that this is unusual for me, but let me be a little bit challenging in the next bit of my contribution. The work should be practical and helpful, not political or based on some misty-eyed concept of Scotland. For many people, character and culture are important but, for others, especially those in business and academia, it is not all about tartan and Burns. We need to ensure that our work has a broad appeal, because not everyone is motivated by or interested in Scotland the brand; some people are interested in the elements contained within Scotland, whether that be our excellent universities, the whisky industry, fish farms, medical trials or the excellent work that is being done—
I am grateful to Mr Rennie for giving way. I suspect that Mr McKee would have made the same point that I will make. Let me reassure Mr Rennie that, in my Government experience, I led a very successful delegation of university principals to India, which resulted in significant opportunities based on the strength of those institutions and their willingness to work with the Government to promote Scotland overseas. I assure him that what he is calling for is being actively delivered by the fantastic people in Scottish Development International who serve Scotland overseas.
I knew that I would immediately get a response from the former Deputy First Minister, who makes a very welcome contribution. It is important that people outside the chamber hear and listen to those assurances.
Let me take the example of the University of St Andrews in my constituency. It has an enormous global reach, and its alumni network is huge. The university attracts talented people from abroad, educates them and sends them back off into the world, often to change it quite dramatically. I hope that those individuals will join the GlobalScot network, but I am sure that they will be in the University of St Andrews alumni network, because they will have developed a strong allegiance to the institution and the town.
Scotland’s global outreach must not suffocate the connection with such institutions, because different people have different motivations. It is not just about Scotland the brand, as much as I support that brand. That is why the connections framework needs to be agile and to recognise the pragmatic and practical support that should be involved in helping us and them.
I will be helpful in amplifying Willie Rennie’s point. I suggest that anybody who is interested in the point that he is making should visit www.scotland.org, which is the portal that shows how Scotland is promoted internationally. Yes, it is about heritage and where people have come from, but it is also about cutting-edge technology, culture, education and all the other things that he is right to mention. Scotland is many things to many different people, and we will do our best to ensure that we speak to them all.
That is very welcome. I would argue that, for people who have been to the University of St Andrews and have connections to it, the university brand is far more important than the Scotland brand. The two are not necessarily inconsistent with each other, but we must recognise that talent and the economic potential for Scotland. That is why we need to protect our universities. We need to enhance and support them so that they can continue to be successful.
However, as the cabinet secretary knows, Scotland’s share of funding from the UK research council has dropped from 15 per cent to 12.5 per cent. That is one of the clearest indications that we are taking our institutions for granted. If they have a tremendous brand that reaches across the globe, we should be worried about that drop in funding, because it will undermine our connections framework in the long term.
The final point that I want to make is about the Erasmus scheme. The previous time we had an exchange with the cabinet secretary on that subject, he claimed that there were all sorts of problems with the Taith scheme in Wales. After that, I spoke to people involved in that scheme, and they were a bit surprised by that claim. The Taith scheme has been sending people right across the globe—to 23 EU countries and to 40 countries in the rest of the world. Five thousand people from Wales have been spread right across the world. The people involved in that scheme have offered to meet the cabinet secretary to discuss how that could happen here. Scottish students and educators have been denied that opportunity for one year, and they could be denied it for another year unless the Government gets its finger out and ensures that we have a replacement for the Erasmus scheme.
I hope that the minister takes up that offer—I can give him the telephone number to make the call—because, if we are to ensure that Scotland is truly connected, it is important that we use every possible lever to make that happen.
Before we move to the open debate, I advise members that we have some time in hand, should members wish to make or take interventions. Of course, that is entirely a matter for them. For the sake of clarity, if we get to a point in the debate at which we have run out of extra time, I will let members know. At that point, any interventions will require to be subsumed within the member’s speaking time.
I thank members for an excellent debate so far. I also thank the cabinet secretary for bringing the debate to the chamber and for his work on the framework, which covers all the points that are hugely important to taking forward the agenda. It is critical not just to Scotland’s heritage in relation to reaching out to the diaspora and to Scotland’s image and place in the world, but to the country’s economic impact. The points that Willie Rennie made in that regard are worth reflecting on. I will come on to talk about some of them—the economic impact of Burns and tartan—as I go through my remarks.
I welcome the digital focus within the framework and the ability that it gives to provide a one-stop shop for everyone. There is an important point about knitting together all the different groups that engage with Scotland at different levels of commitment and for different reasons within one framework, be it our trade envoys, who continue regularly to commit a phenomenal amount of time to supporting Scotland’s economic development, or GlobalScots. The same applies to our alumni and affinity Scots—people who have less of a time commitment but, nonetheless, are supportive of, and feel a deep affinity with, Scotland. It is important that all those groups and more are part of that framework and that it recognises the co-ordination.
I will focus on the economic impact of the framework and leveraging the broader diaspora. I believe that that is a huge untapped resource—as, I know, the cabinet secretary and the Government do.
I will reflect on a couple of experiences that I had during my time in Government. I remember going to an event in Jakarta organised by our excellent trade envoy there, Ainsley Mann, with alumni from many Scottish universities, including the University of St Andrews, in the room. Three hundred Indonesian alumni came to that event. We could have sold double or three times that number of tickets but that was the capacity of the hall. Ainsley Mann had organised a full orchestra with singers and songs in Indonesian, English and Gaelic, which was hugely impressive. However, the key point is that, almost to a man and a woman, those alumni were destined for high roles in Indonesian Government and business. Our connection with them is hugely important for developing Scotland’s place.
The second experience is an event that I was at in the United Arab Emirates with a group of GlobalScots, who filled the room. As they always do, they insisted that I give them more to do, because they wanted more work to do to help to support Scotland’s agenda and drive it forward.
One company that was there—Motive Offshore Group Ltd, which works in renewable energy and which I have met regularly in different parts of the world—has gone as far as designing and patenting its own tartan. I am honoured to wear its tartan tie today. That is a demonstration of how much it took its Scottish heritage forward and how it sees it as a key attractor in helping it to drive additional business.
I welcome the focus on ancestry. That, too, opens doors to economic opportunities for tourism and, more widely, foreign direct investment. An interesting statistic is that around 50 per cent of the opportunities for inward investment in Scotland that come through Scotland house in London are from individuals who have an affinity with, or connection to, the country. It is hugely important to build on that, and the work with the broader diaspora to make those people deepen their connection with Scotland and understand it more thoroughly is welcome.
I turn to a couple of points in the Labour amendment. The first concerns co-operation with the UK Government. I am a great believer in the principle that, if we are paying for it, we should use it. While we are paying our share of the UK Government footprint before we become independent, we should absolutely use it. That is a key point that was in “A Trading Nation—a plan for growing Scotland’s exports”. It is part of the wider network of resources that we should use and leverage.
Rest assured that, when I was on my travels on behalf of Scotland—I am sure that current ministers do likewise—I always made a point of leaning on the relevant ambassador to encourage them to run as many Scotland-themed events as possible, using their UK Government resources in support of that. I also took every opportunity to ensure that Scotland could be part of Nordic hubs where they exist, so it is not just the UK Government with which we work in the international co-operation field.
The other point is about air connectivity and its importance. Scottish Labour should know that on-going significant work takes place on that with VisitScotland, SDI and the sector. Again, it is a firm part of “A Trading Nation” to understand which routes are important for Scotland’s connectivity and to work to maximise the potential by persuading airlines to connect as much as possible. To pick up on Maurice Golden’s important point about net zero, I note that direct flights help to reduce the amount of carbon that is emitted in relation to people who make connections from Scotland to international destinations. In addition, Scotland is very involved in the on-going work on sustainable aviation fuel.
I have three specific asks of the Scottish Government that it can perhaps take forward and consider for the development framework. The first builds on the point that Willie Rennie made about the importance of universities and accessing alumni networks. We need them to redouble their effort to address general data protection regulation issues about sharing alumni databases with Government. Universities can be slightly protective of that data, but it is really important that we open it up in order to connect with and bring alumni—
The second ask is around the Government and Scottish Enterprise not being too controlling, for want of a better word, over the network. We should let the network flourish. We should let groups self-organise on a geographical or sectoral basis—as we saw recently with the GlobalScot space network—or as a wider diaspora. Where possible, we should delegate that, because it allows things to be tailored locally and work more effectively, and, frankly, it means that we do not have to have a big expensive team at the centre to manage what will, I hope, become a rapidly growing network at all levels. As part of that, we should also ensure that we use the excellent private sector networks that are out there, including the Scottish Business Network—I see that Russell Dalgleish is in the public gallery this afternoon to take in the debate. Such networks, with many thousands of members globally, have an important part to play.
The third ask is perhaps slightly more controversial, but I will throw it out there, anyway. Ireland has been mentioned as an example of how to do diaspora well. Anyone who has met Irish ministers will know that, for the week of St Patrick’s day, they leave one poor minister to run the country and everybody else gets on a plane and goes somewhere. I would like the Scottish Government to reflect on the opportunity to do something similar for Burns week. Let us move recess to the end of January, let us shut the Parliament and let us all go out and promote Scotland for the week.
I suppose that it is a debate, but we have not disagreed very much so far. Some people will think that that is a good thing, but I think that, in a democratic Parliament, it is good to have contrary opinions, and I wish to offer some contrary opinions in my speech. I would not want to disappoint my colleagues on the nationalist benches in that respect.
There has never been any doubt in my mind about the impact that Scotland has on the world. I have had the opportunity to travel far and wide in my professional life, and the reach that our country has around the world never fails to astonish me. There is something about the very idea of Scotland and Scottishness. Some comments have been made about romanticised imagery, but that has a powerful influence on the way in which many people see our country. Scotland captures the imagination and the hearts of people and, like many members, I am both proud of and grateful for that. There is also no doubt that “Scotland” and “Scottish” are valued brands the world over, which Willie Rennie alluded to, and they can co-exist with institutional loyalties and localised loyalties.
The more people who have different connections to Scotland, the better. We need to maximise that franchise and build on what we have. The diaspora and how we use it is an essential component of that. We have heard about the 40 million people around the world with Scots ancestry, but beyond that, many millions of people feel a strong affinity with Scotland. We all have stories about meeting people in the most unlikely places in distant lands who proclaim their affinity with Scotland. Generations on, they are still Scots at heart.
One group of people who have already been mentioned, but whom I want to touch on again because, if we do our job properly, they will spend the rest of their lives being Scotland’s unpaid ambassadors at large, are international students who choose to make Scotland their home while they study. It is true that international students in Scotland make a huge financial contribution to our country. They are a massive export industry in their own right and we need them more than ever. As Willie Rennie said, the SNP Scottish Government has been willing to cut the funding that goes to Scotland’s universities and at a cost. It is leaving our institutions vulnerable and dependent on international students. The paid tuition for Scotland-domiciled students does not even cover the teaching costs that go with each student. International students are therefore an important source of vital revenue. Their tuition fees underpin Scotland’s universities’ finances.
The member makes an important point. It also leaves our universities vulnerable, because they are so dependent on international students, who are welcome and who make a huge contribution. If those patterns change, it could leave our universities in a precarious position, which they almost were in during lockdown. We all need to think about that collectively. Does the member agree with that?
I agree with Daniel Johnson. He correctly cites the example of the shock of Covid, and I would cite the further shock of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. There are other great uncertainties in the world, particularly around China and Taiwan. We should be mindful of all these things. [
I am sorry, but that is the usual utter nonsense from the Government’s front bench. The statistics prove otherwise. Record numbers of international students are coming to the UK and Scotland, and we are seeing the benefit of that. There are so many red herrings being deployed in this debate and they usually begin with B and end with t—Brexit. I am afraid that it is nonsense.
, international students are worth £7.75 billion to the Scottish economy.
Beyond the financial calculations, international students are a soft power asset that circumnavigates the planet—a flowing tide of goodwill to be celebrated and harnessed. When one speaks to an international alumnus of a Scottish university who has returned home and made a life for themselves, as many will have done, the very mention of Scotland brings a smile to their face. That is an important power that can work to our advantage if we harness it. They love Scotland, they are some of the great proponents of Scotland and the greatest salespeople that we have and could ever hope for.
The idea of Scottish higher education is known around the world and our universities are renowned not only as being among the very best in the British Isles but as being world class.
In a similar, but separate, vein, I will forever remember walking into a convenience store in the middle of Tokyo and seeing a whole section of the shop devoted entirely to Scottish produce. Scotland’s food and drink sector is a massive cultural ambassador in its own right. For example, Scotch whisky has seen record exports of more than £6 billion in the past year, making up 25 per cent of total UK food and drink exports. I mention that because it is a reminder to my friends in the United Kingdom Government that, when Scotland’s unique heritage, industry, beauty and cultural independence are embraced by British institutions, British reputations are embellished.
Like any good relationship, the union also empowers Scotland. Through the UK’s membership of NATO, the G7, the G20, the Five Eyes and our permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council, Scotland’s voice is heard at the top level of international affairs, as are Scottish voices. With 162 embassies and high commissions, as well as 190 consulates and 35 other diplomatic representations, our position within the United Kingdom allows us to project Scottish influence at all levels around the world. British embassies represent the best of British, which means that they must, should and do represent Scots and Scotland.
The member will shortly be closing his remarks. I have said that there is time in hand, but that does not mean that every member gets to speak for an endless period of time.
Mr Kerr, please continue and please start to wind up.
I will bring my thoughts to a close by saying that the comments that I have just made lead to significant questions. What is the Scottish National Party’s true motive for spending scarce resources on new, separate offices in foreign capitals when we are not maximising the valuable asset that we already have through the presence of British embassies? Why did Angus Robertson need to be called out—
Mr Kerr, you really need to conclude your remarks. I hope that we are now on that trajectory. [
.] Thank you very much, members;. Thank you, Mr Kerr. Please conclude.
I have 30 seconds in which to conclude.
Let me close by concluding that question. Angus Robertson should not have to be called out for posturing as a foreign minister—which he is not—and for holding official talks on matters that are reserved. So, I say to the cabinet secretary in conclusion: do not waste the Scottish public’s money—do not do that. My colleague Maurice Golden is right to call for greater transparency—
I was actually getting quite worried for the first few minutes of Stephen Kerr’s speech, because I was agreeing with him, but then he reverted to type and, thankfully, I disagreed with the vast majority of the latter part of his contribution.
I am pleased to speak in the debate. Some of the opening speeches about Scotland’s international role from Maurice Golden and Willie Rennie seemed quite positive, and they certainly seemed to contradict previous comments by Donald Cameron and by Christine Jardine MP about Scotland’s outward investment.
To paraphrase the opening lines of the framework, I agree that, although international relations are fundamentally about relationships between Governments, ties between people and communities are also vital in increasing global peace and prosperity. That is why my speech will focus on two key opportunities that would, in my opinion, benefit both Scotland and our global diaspora.
The first relates to conversations that I have had with colleagues who are involved in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Through the CPA, I have had the privilege of meeting politicians from across the Commonwealth. I take my role in the Scottish parliamentary branch and on the international executive committee very seriously, as colleagues who have served with me in the branch will testify.
While away and engaging with folk, I like to make the time to network and engage with other members of the Commonwealth outside official business in order to learn more about their cultures, their politics and, crucially, their connections to Scotland. I am always looking for a hook to raise the profile of Scotland and of my Greenock and Inverclyde constituency, and to highlight the many opportunities that we have. As the official parliamentary piper, it is easy for me to strike up that type of conversation, as the role often leads to CPA members asking me about Scotland’s culture. I sometimes take my pipes with me when I go to events.
Those conversations have led me to think about ways that we could celebrate our culture and global diaspora on a bigger scale, and I keep coming back to the issue of tartan week in New York. It is a significant event that attracts a lot of Scots to New York from all over North America, and the various events often receive lots of press coverage both within North America and further afield.
However, America is not the only place with connections to Scotland. Through the CPA, I have learned that Australia has its own tartan day, which is held annually on 1 July. The date was chosen as it marks the anniversary of the repeal proclamation of 1782, which annulled the Act of Proscription 1747. That act had banned the wearing of tartan, which was punishable by transportation.
It appears from my engagement with colleagues from Australia that those celebrations do not have the same reach or impact as those in North America. However, with over 2 million Australians claiming Scottish heritage, I believe that there is a huge opportunity to elevate a tartan day event in Australia and to promote Scotland.
On the subject of tartan and Australia, this is a predictable point for me to make, but will the member comment on the clan network in Scotland and the wider clan diaspora? Every Scottish clan will have an international association and there is a huge network that the Scottish Government could use. It does not have to be only about tartan; it could be about exchange programmes and so on, which I know happen. Does the member agree?
Through an intervention, may I address Donald Cameron’s point? I report for those who are unaware of it that Donald MacLaren of MacLaren, who is one of those who are responsible for Scotland’s clan network, was in New York during tartan week and the organisers of that event welcome the involvement of Scotland’s historic clan associations. They form part of international outreach efforts, and we are grateful for it.
As the cabinet secretary touched on earlier, I wrote to him and the Presiding Officer with a proposal not to replicate what happens in North America, but to have something bespoke for Australia in the form of a tartan week type of event. With over 2 million people there claiming Scots heritage, I can only see such an event having a positive impact for Scotland and its diaspora.
I touched on my Greenock and Inverclyde constituency. It is interesting to note that Port Glasgow has a strong link with Australia in that the composer of its national anthem, Peter Dodds McCormick, was born in Port Glasgow in 1834. He was a teacher and also a composer.
I will not go into too much detail on the proposal as I am conscious of time. However, given the depopulation challenges that my constituency faces and the population challenges that Scotland as a whole faces, as per the recent Scottish Fiscal Commission report, work to engage more with the diaspora represents a huge, unique opportunity to entice others, whether they have a Scottish connection or not, to consider visiting or living here, or even investing here.
The second point that I want to touch on is one that I am sure that we can all relate to, when we meet tourists who are visiting Scotland or when we are abroad and meet people who have a connection to Scotland. I have often found that, particularly if they are visiting Scotland, people have traced their family history and are trying to visit areas where their relatives grew up, worked or lived. That is why making sure that we not only preserve but amplify our history is also crucial for engaging Scotland’s global diaspora.
On Sunday, I was invited by the Society of William Wallace to take part in the unveiling of the Wallace oak at Hunterston castle. During the visit, I spoke with Madam Pauline Hunter of Clan Hunter and told her that I would be speaking in this debate. Ivan McKee touched on the issue of heritage earlier. I was pleased to hear that Pauline Hunter welcomed the “Scottish Connections Framework” and its commitment to support heritage organisations and improve access to information targeted at Scotland’s diaspora.
Working with Clan Hunter, which has already engaged with Clan McMillan in my constituency and with Clan Buchanan, would be of great benefit not just for tourism but for engaging with Scotland’s diaspora and making those connections. Who knows where it could lead in terms of inward investment in jobs? International engagement is not just about talking about the past; it is also an investment in the present and the future.
Economic opportunities can open up if we are prepared to engage. Staying at home will certainly never succeed. In these tough and straitened economic times, it is more vital than ever that Scotland is outward focused, outward minded and out selling and promoting our nation. Anything less is failing the 5.5 million Scots here and the 40 million of the diaspora that we have across the globe.
Scotland, notwithstanding some dark moments in its history—its role in the slave trade and the British Empire, for example—has that lucky advantage on the world stage of being an instantly recognisable brand. It is identifiable as a nation even though we are not yet a completed nation—independent—and are therefore excluded from the United Nations and other international organisations and treaties.
It is not just about the piper on the shortbread tins, but do not underestimate shortbread or whisky: as Stephen Kerr indicated, global exports grew to more than £6 billion for the first time in 2022, according to figures released by the Scotch Whisky Association, up 37 per cent by value. All of that went into the UK Treasury coffers.
I hope that this is going to be worth while, Mr Kerr.
It is always worth while, I can assure you. The member is quite wrong. Scotland is not excluded from any of those bodies or treaties. We are there, very much, four square and centre as part of this United Kingdom.
Mr Kerr has a strange idea of what a nation is when you have to stand outside a door and ask permission of another nation to have your voice heard.
The skirl of the pipes is a national identifier, as are the songs of Burns, the clans and their tartans and the internationally recognised “Auld Lang Syne”, none of which we should apologise for. It is also the landscape, urban and rural, and often used for film locations, that shouts that this is Scotland. Despite more than 300 years of the union, we have kept our identity strong. I speak as one being English by birth but a proud Scot.
Any advertising company would give its right arm for just one such internationally recognisable badge, let alone a whole cupboard-full. Add to that the upwards of 40 million people across the world claiming Scottish heritage, and we have an enviable foundation on which to expand and build international relations through all spheres.
Let me correct Maurice Golden. The current population of Scotland is around 5.5 million and we are the beneficiaries of net migration. In 2021, from the rest of the UK it was net 10,000, and from overseas it was net 20,000. However, I recall from the mid-1950s that families of neighbours on either side of our council house emigrated, some under the £10 scheme to Australia and others to Canada and New Zealand, in particular. It is therefore not surprising that, in Australia, stats from 2021 indicate that 130,000 residents were born in Scotland and 2 million residents claim Scottish ancestry.
In Canada, in 2016, nearly 4 million people—14 per cent of the population—claimed Scottish ancestry. Today, the figure is estimated to be as high as 25 per cent. You can add another four to that figure, Presiding Officer, as one of my sons and his family emigrated there just last year—to Nova Scotia, of all places. For family balance, the other son emigrated to London. In New Zealand, although it is difficult to get accurate data, it is estimated that between 1 and 2 million people claim part or whole Scottish ancestry.
All of that provides a ready-made base of good will towards Scotland, which can be—and is—translated into economic benefits. That good will extends to our European neighbours—whom, of course, we did not want to leave. Interestingly, even Nigel Farage considers that Brexit has been a failure with no economic benefits. One might add to that the damaging economic consequences.
A recent YouGov poll has disclosed that only 9 per cent consider that Brexit has been a success, while 62 per cent consider it a failure. I am happy to take an intervention from Stephen Kerr on that point. No—he is in his seat.
I welcome Scotland’s overseas network of offices in Beijing, Berlin, Brussels, Dublin, London, Ottawa, Paris and Washington, and the more than 30 Scottish Development International trade and investment offices in around 20 countries to promote co-operation in areas of devolved responsibility at the national and sub-national level.
I return to Scottish culture, one of Scotland’s greatest exports, which can support our wider international connections, including trading relationships. Tourism is based inextricably in our history and culture, and it is also a key economic contributor.
I will be a bit parochial here, representing, as I do, the Scottish Borders. We have the eclectic Abbotsford, home of the talented and colourful Sir Walter Scott, who did much to revive tartan, and Melrose abbey, where the heart of Robert the Bruce is buried. How many here know the weel-kent children’s song “Ally Bally Bee”, which, I would suggest, is the first-ever advertising jingle and was the creation of a Galashiels weaver, the mischievous confectionery trader Robert Coltart. Then there are the common ridings, which bring expats back to their communities.
We have the history, we have culture, we have those millions with Scottish ancestry across the globe, and we have the saltire, which is recognised the world over as the flag of Scotland, but we do not have our own voice.
I congratulate the Scottish Government on the international measures that it is taking, constrained as it is by devolution. However, I say gently to Willie Rennie—and certainly not gently to Stephen Kerr—how much more we could do with our independence.
The cabinet secretary invited us to think about a fundamentally important question: what contribution do we want to make as a nation to the world? That question speaks to culture, but also to the economy. Often, Scots do not necessarily realise our true context. In some ways, Scotland is a much smaller country and the world a much bigger place than we realise, but, most importantly, we often underestimate our contribution to the world, both in the past and currently. That contribution is one that we can make a great deal more of, and, fundamentally, that is what the framework seeks to look at and expand on.
Let us take one facet in particular. We all take whisky very much take for granted, but it contributes 75 per cent of Scotland’s food and drink exports, 20 per cent of UK food and drink exports and 1.3 per cent of all UK exports. We should be celebrating that contribution, because whisky is serious business. Our key challenge should be to get other food and drink categories to the level of global ubiquity that is represented by Scotch whisky. This sort of framework, as part of a wider economic strategy, is key to doing exactly that.
I will ignore the Brexit point, but let me take the fundamental point, which is that we need to recognise and build on our strengths. Often, we do not do that.
Scotland has good standing in the world. Some people might want to refer to that as soft power, but it is about our place in the world. We have a legacy that is renowned the world over. There is our contribution to thought, from the Scottish enlightenment onwards, and to engineering, through James Watt. Perhaps less well known by Scots is our contribution to finance. The overdraft was very much a Scottish invention. Investment trusts may not have been invented in Scotland, but they were promoted and developed by Scottish banks throughout the 19th century. In medicine, there is the Scottish contribution to medical research and the development of the medical profession. Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular, has been key to that. Indeed, many parts of the world got to know Scotland as a result of physicians going there and helping. We made a contribution in the past and we continue to do so. A number of members have highlighted the pivotal role that our centres of higher education play in our on-going contribution to thought and to exporting that thought.
I was very pleased to note in the Government’s motion an acknowledgement of Scotland’s history. Historically, many of those contributions have not always been associated with positive things. Scotland played a key part in the Atlantic trade, which involved the slave trade. That is the reason why many of our street names, in Edinburgh and in Glasgow, refer to Jamaica and other places with sugar plantations, many of which were owned by Scots. We need to acknowledge that. Likewise, we need to acknowledge other elements of that global history, such as Messrs Jardine and Matheson—Scots who were pivotal in the opium wars. As we think about our global contribution historically, we need to acknowledge such facts.
C an I add to the list of things that we should be imaginative about embracing? In addition to the points that are, quite properly, being made by the member, there is a group in North America who have been overlooked as part of Scotland’s diaspora, and that is African-Americans. A difficult conversation needs to be had with that community about their connection to Scotland, but I have met African-Americans who are proud to have a connection to Scotland, and I think that we should fully explore that with them.
I could not agree more. It is one of those topics that we could avoid uncomfortably or deal with matter of factly. We might get a great deal better reception than we expect. We need to think about and acknowledge the topic—I think that it could be the source of future bonds.
A number of members have discussed these matters as not being purely about branding. As someone coming from business, I would say that I understand what they are talking about. There cannot be brand in a superficial sense, but it absolutely is about brand Scotland in the broader sense, because brand is much more than just window dressing. It speaks to deep-seated values and connections. That is what we should be focusing on. Scotland has good will, good standing and good fundamentals of geography, institutions and people. That is what the basis of our global contribution should be. Willie Rennie and others were absolutely right. The framework has to be grounded in practicalities and making sure that we add to what already exists.
The contribution that our universities make, especially through their alumni associations, is key to getting that right, as Willie Rennie rightly pointed out. They have always been a source of strength, and we should be seeking not to replace them but to build on them. As someone who views himself as a St Andrews alumnus first, before regarding himself as a Scot—that might be a controversial view—I can understand the point that Mr Rennie makes about the fundamental connection that many people have to certain institutions here.
However, we must also consider physical links such as our airports, and whether our overseas offices are in the right places and doing the right things—where they are located and what we task them to do are critical. That goes to Ivan McKee’s point that we should get what we pay for. If we are paying for an addition, let us make sure that it is genuinely adding value.
I want to focus a wee bit on America, the Scottish diaspora in the US and our connections there. Having lived in Los Angeles in California for 14 years, and having had experience of work and travel in many other states, I know the depth of feeling for Scotland that exists among people right across America. Whether they be among people with family history that is traceable to Scotland, others who work in business, finance and the arts who have links to Scotland, or those who work in academia, science and innovation, we have great connections with the US.
It is right that the Scottish Government should build on such connections and work with our diaspora to learn skills, gain experiences and share achievements to enrich our culture and society. As the motion states, Scotland’s diaspora is
“an extension of Scotland itself”.
The framework that the cabinet secretary has described considers the diaspora to be a
“living bridge with people, organisations and communities around the world.”
Scotland has influenced America in the fields of economics, engineering, architecture, philosophy, business, medicine, geology, politics, law, chemistry and sociology. Many cities and towns there were named by Scots who, after arriving in America, named their new locale after their home town. For example, the USA has eight Aberdeens, seven toons named Glasgow, eight Edinburghs and eight towns that are simply called “Scotland”. There is even a Dumfries in Virginia. In politics, 35 of the 46 US presidents were either Scots or Ulster Scots.
Just recently, I had a meeting with the Department of Corrections and its staff from Massachusetts. After the business part of the meeting, the staff were very keen to talk about all things Scottish. They wanted to recall their previous trips and upcoming visits to Scotland. They were more interested in talking aboot Scotland than they were in the business that I had to attend to. It was great to hear about the DOC’s willingness to work with the Scottish Government so that we can continue our connections in the justice area.
Last week, here in Parliament, I hosted students from the University of South Carolina. Business minister George Adam, Paisley’s MSP, joined me in the session. The students and staff remarked on how the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are directly in touch with people not only here in Scotland but right across America. If university students can pick that up after a few days travelling in the UK, it puts Scotland in incredibly good international standing. Indeed, in the most recent US census, more than 5 million Americans claimed Scottish ancestry.
The USA is both Scotland’s top international export destination and our largest inward investor. As co-convener of the Parliament’s USA cross-party group, I can say that we have heard many presentations regarding trade and Scotland over the past few years. Annual exports have been worth £6 billion in recent years, with sectors such as engineering and advanced manufacturing, food and drink—which other members have already mentioned—financial and business services, technology, digital and media, and energy all performing strongly. US companies account for around 25 per cent of total foreign inward investment in Scotland. More than 650 US-owned businesses employ around 115,000 people across Scotland. However, we do not just exchange goods; we also exchange ideas. The US is Scotland’s top global collaborator on research: 16 of our higher education institutions share 82 unique links with their US counterparts.
Given that the member has mentioned exchanging ideas, does she welcome the fact that the US is avowedly low tax, pro-business and pro-nuclear; strongly defends its oil and gas sector; and is undoubtedly a free market that believes in economic growth? Are those the kind of ideas that she would like Scotland to share with the US?
Scotland needs to be able to share ideas independently from other areas in the UK. We have a lot to offer and we should be allowed to be out there, right at the door and speaking to people so that our ideas can be conveyed—especially when we, in Scotland, are taking forward some fundamentally different ideas, such as the wellbeing economy.
We need to take every opportunity we have in Scotland to promote the strong cultural affinity between Scotland and the USA. Every year we welcome performers to the Edinburgh festivals and the world pipe band championships, as well as US military personnel who take part in the Edinburgh tattoo. Scots also make their mark in America, with innovative partnerships between National Theatre of Scotland and New York City’s Joyce theatre. Even our baby box has been on tour in the USA—it was featured as part of the designing motherhood exhibition. The muckle cultural ties between our countries are absolutely worth shoutin aboot.
As a Scot who has lived and worked in America, with many American friends, I support the framework and highlight its importance. I ask the cabinet secretary for a commitment that the Scottish Government will continue to take all action possible to support our Scottish-US connections and to work with the Scottish diaspora to share business, culture, science and innovation.
Finally, I had the privilege of meeting Jerry O’Donovan, the Irish consul general, a couple of times recently, and we discussed how to boost relations between our two countries, including through our minority languages Scots and Gaelic. It was insightful to hear from him. I look forward to continuing engagement, including through the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, of which I am a member.
Working with the diaspora and with countries across the globe has a proven track record of improving our relationships with other countries. I look forward to Scotland taking on that challenge as we build our own independent nation.
I am delighted to speak in this important and largely positive debate about how we enhance Scotland as an internationalist nation and the shared challenge and opportunity of engaging, nurturing and continuing to maximise the ancestral connections to Scotland and the affinity with our country of thousands of people from around the world.
That is manifested in many different ways. Today, I am wearing Macpherson tartan. I think of Clan Macpherson and the connections that that surname has all across the world. I also think of the business deals that will be done today, and toasted with a dram of whisky—the signature way to ensure that people come together after agreeing terms, from Singapore to Seattle and everywhere in between.
That is noted. I cannot argue with that, although I am not a good golfer myself.
I also think of the quiet moments that people are enjoying with their piece of shortbread, whether they are on an aeroplane or in a sitting room. Some of that shortbread is made at Shortbread House of Edinburgh, in Leith, in my constituency.
I will never forget the power of “Auld Lang Syne” in the many forums in which I have heard it. The song unites humanity as the year turns and has an instantly recognisable tune. Twenty years ago, I taught conversational English in China. I remember asking my students whether they had heard of Scotland. Some of them were a bit bemused until I whistled “Auld Lang Syne”, when there was instant recognition.
Those are a few examples of the very powerful connections that Scotland has around the world, which are part of brand Scotland. As has rightly been argued, although the imagination and connections of the heart from those initiatives, products and bits of history connect us to countries around the world and the wider diaspora, those who have emigrated or have been educated here are more practical and important elements of how we continue to grow those connections. That is why I welcome the framework and its commitments to enhancing the GlobalScot network, which already includes approximately 1,200 people.
I was interested to read about the Scottish connections contact point in the framework. I would be really interested in hearing whether the cabinet secretary can say any more about that when he sums up the debate, because how we practically build those connections in the diaspora is at the heart of what we seek to do here. The Conservative amendment is right to ask about reporting, and perhaps I could suggest that a year from now we meet again as a Parliament and reflect on the progress that has been made.
It is vital that the framework and today’s debate have highlighted the need for us all, including the Government, to play a part in enhancing those connections. First, the haste ye back initiative is vital in making sure that Scotland continues to be an attractive place for tourists to come and that, as a senior diplomat in Edinburgh said to me recently, it continues to be on everyone’s bucket list. The continued support of the festivals across Scotland, particularly here in Edinburgh, is a key element of how we continue to build those connections.
The talent attraction and migration service is an excellent new initiative, and I look forward to seeing it develop. It is about how we continue to encourage people to come here and make sure that they leave Scotland championing Scotland and continuing to grow the attraction that we already have. Part of that is about how we as Scots engage elsewhere, and part of it must involve Scottish Government ministers travelling, engaging and promoting Scotland. Some members—absent now—have said that that is a negative.
As a previous minister in the external affairs portfolio, that criticism could not be further from the truth. The comments of some members aside, there now seems to be an implicit recognition that Scottish Government travel is right. Stephen Kerr talked about being in Tokyo. The number of Government ministers who have been to Japan in years past to promote Scottish interests is significant; indeed, Mr Gray was there recently.
We would do better as a Parliament to accept, as the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the committee have done, that Scottish Government ministers travelling is a really good thing for us all.
I can confirm that the investment that has come off the back of regular engagement at ministerial and SDI level over years has resulted in more than £200 million being invested at the Sumitomo Electric Industries site in the Highlands, which is an incredible outcome that could have come about only through ministers leaving Scotland and engaging.
I absolutely endorse that point. That gives me an opportunity to commend the work of current and previous ministers, in particular the remarkable and tremendous work that Fiona Hyslop did over a long period of time in promoting Scotland in business, good relations and tourism.
During the period when I supported Fiona Hyslop as junior minister for external affairs and Europe, I attended a number of events and engagements with our hubs. It is important to emphasise to some members in the chamber that those hubs are often within UK embassies, so the idea of new estates is not applicable on many occasions. It is actually about Governments working together to promote and enhance the benefit of Scotland more widely, so we need to be accurate about that.
In that spirit—building on what Mr McKee suggested about ministers having the freedom to go out en masse, as the Irish do—perhaps we could agree, as a Parliament, that around Burns night we could all engage in that, as happens in tartan week. That would allow Opposition members to see the benefit of the Scottish Government’s hubs for themselves.
We have done great work—let us build on it together.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate and to follow Ben Macpherson’s very thoughtful contribution.
It was never the policy of devolution to prevent the devolved areas from reaching out with an international outlook. That has to be the commonsense approach not just at the country level in Scotland but in our cities and towns. Always looking inwards is very foolish and naive.
I am grateful to the Scottish Parliament information centre, which has stolen the quote that I was going to give in relation to the value of our diaspora. Michael D Higgins described the Irish diaspora as their greatest resource and said:
“through the contribution our people make to the nations they migrate to; through the bonds they forge with the peoples of those countries, our migrants have allowed Ireland to have global connections far beyond our size.”
That must be reflected in Scotland and in the cities. The ability to punch above our weight and to reach out through those who have visited here and those who feel historical connections to here is crucial to where this country, the United Kingdom and, indeed, the world need to go.
Ben Macpherson, the debate has been, in the main, a positive one. I very much welcome the cabinet secretary’s call at the start for constructive contributions. The network is truly a global one, and the framework sets out a cohesive and—I agree—a cross-cutting approach to diaspora engagement.
I apologise for mentioning Christine Grahame when she is not in the chamber, but she commented on the location of the origins of the saltire, which is, of course, Athelstaneford in East Lothian. The saltire’s birth was a bloody one, but it took place in East Lothian rather than the Borders. The small museum and the hill at Athelstaneford are well worth a visit by members of the Scottish diaspora and travelling tourists.
That echoes the intervention that I made about golf during
Ben Macpherson’s speech. Golf reaches out across the world, sometimes to individuals who find it easier to play and sometimes to those who find it harder to play.
I want to discuss the definition of the diaspora. I am very pleased to see that the Scottish Government is taking almost as wide an interpretation as can be taken of it. That is particularly important, especially with regard to those who consider themselves to be alumni from Scotland. Our education institutions are important. We have heard much about the networks that alumni can provide around the world. When we look at our further education and our brilliant universities, we see that it is through networks of research that the greatest strides forward are made. Breaking down those barriers is incredibly important.
It is worth commenting on Willie Rennie’s point about the value of an academic brand. People can have different identities without it taking away from any one aspect of those identities. Indeed, people will use different identities in different situations just to push the door a little further open in the hope of making a friendship or a business deal.
That brings me, sadly—there always has to be a “sadly”—to the Erasmus programme replacement and the fact that we are a long way behind where we were promised we would be. I ask the cabinet secretary to give some indication, when he sums up the debate, of whether the Scottish Government’s position is that that will not happen until independence. That is what a Scottish minister said last week. I deeply hope that that is not the case. An offer has been made to pass on the telephone number from the Welsh Government. I am confident that those who are responding to the issue already have those connections. We must step up and support our young people’s ability to travel abroad, to learn abroad and to make networks there that they will carry them through the whole of their lives.
In the short time that is left, I will mention the outreach from Scotland that occurred on Thursday last week at the 2,716th meeting of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in its 93rd session. Young people from Scotland spoke to the UN and gave evidence about human rights in Scotland. They stood as tall and were as eloquent as anyone else who gave evidence over the two and a half days for which the committee sat to hear evidence from a number of countries.
It is worth pointing out one aspect—I acknowledge that it is slightly to the edge of today’s debate—that talks about Scotland’s strength abroad. The UK Government was the official rapporteur to the UN committee but, through it, the Scottish representative said, in relation to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child:
“As soon as we are in a position to provide a likely timetable we will do so however it is important to underline that fixing the bill”— the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill—
“requires extensive engagement with the UK Government to mitigate the risks of a further challenge in the Supreme Court.”
We have talked today about soft power. One of the most significant risks is failing the world if we fail our children by not bringing back that bill to put it on the statute book.
I welcome the debate and the framework—especially its aim to use digital tools and social media to increase engagement and drive traffic.
Ireland’s success has been outlined, and I will simply highlight the successful framework and vision that were developed by Kingsley Aikins, from whom we can learn a great deal. For Scotland, the obvious touch points such as Burns and St Andrew’s day are being targeted, but there must also be one-off events, such as events this year to mark the tercentenary of the birth of Adam Smith, who is as well known as a philosopher as he is as an economist and who undoubtedly took Scotland to the world.
In that respect, much more can always be done. The coupling of sectors with cultural assets, such as music, brings benefit. Even a simple tune such as “Auld Lang Syne” has global reach. Many states—including China—imagine that it is their tune. Many people do not realise that the reason why it is so well known is not the words—there are multiple settings—but the fact that the tune is based on a pentatonic scale. Members can approach me in the corridor for a rendition of a pentatonic scale after the debate.
The work to map organisations that are affiliated with Scotland is welcome, but the scale of the on-going exercise should not be underestimated. I ask the cabinet secretary whether any need for extra resources has been projected.
I will make a few comments about brand. It can sometimes be quite the challenge to depict what Scotland is—a country that is not yet a state. The literature review that fed into the framework notes that
“Countries face challenges in connecting their nation brands to their national imaginary (how they see themselves, especially their values and symbols), to the perceptions of others (how others see them)”.
I will refer to that later in my short speech.
That brings me to my primary interest, which is international trade. Like everyone else, I celebrate the work that has been done to set up offices in the likes of Berlin, Beijing and Washington, DC and the office that is coming soon in Warsaw. That is welcome, as are the ambassadors from GlobalScot, which is supported by SDI. I trust that the clarity of purpose that Ivan McKee brought in his previous role will continue.
The recent book “Scotland: The Global History” by Professor Murray Pittock sets out the strong historical international trading activity from Scotland that predated the Act of Union. It is quite literally in our DNA. With that in mind, the network of trade and investment envoys will bring heft and open economic doors for us.
For a time, I had the opportunity to build knowledge in this area when working alongside my former colleague Roger Mullin. Trading as Momentous Change Ltd, we researched and published a report that was commissioned by Scottish Business Network, whose chair and co-founder was in the public gallery earlier. Our focus was from the outside looking in, and the report contained contributions from more than 1,000 members of our Scottish senior business diaspora who were trading across 74 countries. We used LinkedIn fairly extensively to reach into every corner of the earth to find contributors. As a tool, that has become much more sophisticated and can be used to target key sectors, individuals and locations with surprisingly accuracy. Therefore, my second question to the cabinet secretary is: will his staff globally include LinkedIn as one of their digital tools?
As our bard says:
“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!”
That always yields great insights.
The report, which is available from all good book stores, was published in 2020, so it is obviously out of date, but a few key themes still remain highly relevant.
Fundamentally, Scotland was viewed positively as a place to do business in and the Scots were viewed positively as people to do business with. The feedback that we received highlighted the soft values as part of our brand. Those include the perception that Scots are friendly, resilient, entrepreneurial, progressive and outward looking.
I return to my comments on the importance of brand. We had some commentary to do with there being a lack of simplicity. One respondent from Malaysia noted:
“Some people in Malaysia are unsure about what Scotland is and its relationship with UK/EU and Ireland. Some Scottish brands are marketed here as British so any distinction can be unclear for consumers”.
On this occasion, I am not making a political point, although it will not be a surprise to hear that I would wish to see Scotland the global brand shouting loud. I make that comment because another facet of our report was about trust factors. The trust factors in Scotland as a place to do business in and the Scots as a people to do business with are extremely high. Of critical importance is this statement:
“our respondents clearly believed that Scottish values, particularly around trust and honesty were not only part of our national psyche but influenced how we are seen to conduct our business around the world”.
For genuine environmental, social, and governance investments, business and sustainability, the underpinning ethics and integrity are extremely important. Scotland has traditionally stood out in that area from its early beginnings as investors who understood the importance of long-term patient capital. In contrast, the city of London is already viewed as one of the world’s major money laundering centres, as is set out so eloquently by Oliver Bullough in his book “Butler to the World”.
I have spoken often in this chamber about the use and abuse of Scottish limited partnerships, in which Scotland’s strong ethical brand name is being used to launder money via a multitude of dodgy deals. Scotland has no ability to affect change in the regulation and, thus far, Westminster has had limited appetite to affect changes. That has a fundamental impact on the cleanliness of Scotland’s brand and, ultimately, having too close a connection can impact on the perception of us and therefore of our brand value. That is another reason for having a properly differentiated brand—or, in political speak, a proper, normal and independent country like everyone else has.
I welcome the document. I welcome the reaching out and pulling into the warm, welcoming arms of a global Scotland. It is a substate for the present time, but that is only temporary.
I am very happy to speak today and welcome the publication of the Scottish connections framework, which seeks to build a more vibrant, visible and connected Scottish community around the world.
At this time, it is vital that we continue to find ways to cement our place on the world stage and to connect with our diaspora across the globe. As the cabinet secretary and Martin Whitfield mentioned, we have taken quite a wide definition of diaspora. I think that that is a very good thing.
There are different types of diaspora. There are those who share a common national civic or ethnic identity, who have left their territory and become residents elsewhere; there are descendants of those immigrants who are interested in their heritage; and there are also affinity diasporas—those who do not have ancestral ties or a shared national identity but who feel some affection for a nation state, often acting on its behalf while resident in the state, after they return home or from a third country.
International students make up a significant part of Scotland’s affinity diaspora, and they will be the focus of my speech. International students support the range and quality of education provision in Scotland. They bring different perspectives and help to create a multicultural learning environment that is beneficial to all students. Each year, Scotland welcomes many international students. Talented people from more than 180 different countries make Scotland their home for all or part of their degrees. That represents a significant global network.
Some of those people stay longer and raise a family here. Scotland faces significant demographic challenges, with an ageing population, so international students who stay here could play a key role in mitigating those challenges.
Others go home or move elsewhere, but they can do a great deal to support Scotland’s reputation and visibility on the global stage. As we have heard, there is a strong network of alumni with an affection for Scotland that helps to advance Scotland’s international, economic, social and cultural connections. That important diaspora needs to be nurtured. The relationship between the homeland and the diaspora is a partnership and is reciprocal, so we must explore what the diaspora wants and needs from Scotland.
How can international students and alumni continue to feel like a welcome and valued part of the diaspora if we make it difficult for them to come to stay or to return? As Neil Gray pointed out earlier, Brexit has led to the end of the Erasmus programme. It is undeniable that Scotland’s prestigious universities—such as St Andrews, Glasgow and Stirling, to name but a few—are attractive to international students, but we face increasing competition from others for the best global talent.
The Scottish Government has pointed out that the UK’s immigration system must be improved to allow Scotland to retain students after they have graduated and draw them into the workforce through an inclusive migration system that includes a post-study work offer that meets Scotland’s needs.
I absolutely take that point on board, but we probably need independence so that we can get back into the EU and overcome some of those challenges.
Westminster has claimed that the level of migration is too high. Just today, Suella Braverman announced plans to bar the partners and children of graduate students on research programmes from applying to live here during those courses. Prospective students will face difficult choices, as coming to study here will mean leaving loved ones behind. Ultimately, many will decide not to come to the UK and, therefore, not to come to Scotland, which will be to our detriment. Scotland’s attractiveness as a place to work, live, study and do business in is at risk of being overshadowed by such exclusionary immigration policies from Westminster.
The motion states that the Parliament
“stresses the importance of connecting with alumni of Scotland’s world-class educational institutions, and expresses its hope that the Scottish Connections Framework will encourage many more people to consider Scotland as a destination in which to work, live, study, do business, or ... visit.”
I welcome the Scottish connections framework and look forward to seeing how that broad and cross-cutting plan will support international students as an important part of our affinity diaspora.
We welcome the Scottish connections framework and the picture that it paints of Scotland as a global nation. However, the UK and Scottish Governments should work together to maximise the opportunities that the diaspora network can bring. Much more could be achieved if the Scottish and UK Governments worked together to promote Scotland internationally. The failure of the Tories and the SNP to find common ground on anything to do with Scotland could hinder the impact and reach of our international efforts.
I will continue. I have a lot to get through.
A UK Labour Government would ensure that it used all means to help boost Scotland’s international standing to create jobs and opportunities at home and abroad. I hope that the Scottish Government sticks to its commitment to work with all Governments in the UK to make that happen.
As my colleague Neil Bibby mentioned, the Scottish Government’s commitment to direct the National Records of Scotland to prioritise the development of online and digital resources is welcome. It will allow many of the Scottish diaspora to trace their ancestry and connections to Scotland.
Scotland is rich in history and culture. Christine Grahame rightly pointed out that culture is one of Scotland’s greatest exports. We have a lot to offer the world in shortbread, whisky, the Gaelic and Scots languages, medicine and much more. My colleague Daniel Johnson spoke about how important all those contributions are to the world.
He also spoke about the still-present evidence of Scotland’s key role in the transatlantic slave trade in our street names and monuments. As the framework outlines, we cannot and must not whitewash Scottish history. I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to deliberately reach out to historically marginalised communities and groups and work with economic institutions to better understand our role in their history. It is long overdue.
My colleague Neil Bibby already stressed that Scotland’s role in global history is not one of absolute goodness. It is important that we focus on addressing Scotland’s role in slavery and colonialism at home as well as abroad. Educating people about the legacy of Scotland’s colonial past will help us to overcome the racism and xenophobia that, unfortunately, still exist in our society.
As Martin Whitfield and Willie Rennie said, one crucial way in which Scotland could be better promoted in the international arena is through an international student exchange programme. The UK’s withdrawal from the Erasmus programme meant the loss of opportunity for thousands of Scottish students to travel and study abroad. The opportunity was also lost for the thousands of international students who would have wanted to visit and study in Scotland. If the Scottish Government is serious in its ambition to
“build a more vibrant, visible and connected Scottish community around the world”,
it must replace the Erasmus scheme. The Welsh Labour Government has already implemented the Taith scheme to replace Erasmus, with funding of £65 million over five years.
On Foysol Choudhury’s comments regarding an international exchange programme, I note that I was an Erasmus student, and I think that it is desperate that Scotland no longer has access to Erasmus because we are no longer in the EU.
On international students coming here, and further to the point that Evelyn Tweed just touched on regarding the comments of the Home Secretary, there are 30 students from Nigeria living in my constituency. They are here with their families. I have not heard the Home Secretary’s comments but, judging by what Evelyn Tweed has said, if those families are now no longer allowed to come, that would mean that those 30 students would no longer live in my constituency, and it could potentially mean no more students anywhere else in the country. That would have a very damaging effect on my community and this country.
I agree and, as I said, withdrawing from such programmes can damage relationships.
An estimated 15,000 participants from Wales will take part in the Taith scheme by the end of August 2026. The Scottish Government must implement an international educational exchange programme now to ensure that Scotland stays visible and connected in terms of education.
My colleague Maurice Golden spoke about how the framework will encourage people around the world to consider Scotland as an area to visit, and it highlights the importance of our historical sites in teaching visitors and tourists. He rightly pointed out that the closure of so many such sites in Scotland should not hinder our tourism sector.
As my colleague Neil Bibby pointed out, Scotland must seek to improve our international air links to continue to promote Scotland and its heritage sites. Our airports are our link to the world. Proper investment into and the promotion of our international airports will encourage people to choose Scotland as a travel and holiday destination. This month, Glasgow airport is still running at only 86 per cent of its pre-Covid capacity, which leaves Scotland’s largest city with poor connections to international destinations and economic hubs. The Scottish Government should maximise the potential of our airports through direct flights to ensure a sustainable aviation industry in Scotland.
We welcome the publication of the document, and we wish for every success for the framework. We welcome the Scottish and UK Governments’ co-operation in achieving its success.
We are all proud Scots here, and we should all do our part to promote Scotland internationally and seek new ways to enhance the Scottish brand. We are lucky to be from a country that is so universally recognised and held in such high regard. I take great pride to live in Alloway, where our national bard, Robert Burns, was born. He wrote the poem “Auld Lang Syne”, which is known worldwide and recited at big celebrations and especially at new year. The cabinet secretary mentioned tartan week, which is celebrated in New York, and the Burns suppers that are held around the world every year in January.
We should also recognise where we can do better. I note that the Government document that was published ahead of today’s debate, the “Scottish Connections Framework”, points out that we should work with devolved and UK Government counterparts, and I welcome that collaboration.
Ivan McKee also talked about learning from others and spoke of Ireland.
The document highlights that UK diplomatic missions engage with Scottish communities across the globe and that they have links to various cultural and educational networks, and Scotland is free to tap into those.
I will just finish my point. I certainly believe that we could do more to turn people’s passion for Scotland into positive action and create more jobs, investment and trade right here on our own shores.
That is where we take our lessons from. We can work with Ireland and learn from each other, but we can also work along with the rest of the nations of the United Kingdom.
I welcome the approach set out in the document that includes everyone who sees themselves as Scottish in some way. Sometimes, we find it amusing when people claim to be Scottish because of their great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, but we should welcome their pride and encourage others to be proud of their Scottish connections, even if they have spent only a short time here in study or work.
We can also promote Scotland through our creative industries such as encouraging diehard fans of the show “Outlander” to come here, as is mentioned in the report. That show has helped to attract tourists to Dunure, which is just down the road from me, which was a key filming location for seasons 3 and 4 of the show. I do not see why we should not seek to exploit and encourage more projects like that.
Scotland has a lot to offer as far as the creative sector is concerned. For example, Edinburgh is famous for being the birthplace of the Harry Potter books by J K Rowling and it is sometimes easy to forget that we are not in the movie set when we are strolling through the streets of Edinburgh. We only have to look at the roaring trade that New Zealand has done on the back of the “Lord of the Rings” movies to see what is possible for Scotland.
The “Scottish Connections Framework” also speaks of the Government aiming to
“Collaborate across our full network” although I hope that that includes the UK Government and its officials, particularly given that so many of the SNP’s trade hubs are housed in UK Government embassies, as Ben Macpherson said earlier.
I had hoped to hear more details about the Scottish connections fund today, although I know that the cabinet secretary did touch on it in his speech. We could probably all get behind a fund that promotes Scotland’s reputation and interests. However, without any information about how that funding will be used, it is difficult to evaluate it. I note that the document promises to publish details of the fund this year, and I look forward to that, but we need to see more than funding details. There must be a mechanism to measure the success of the fund and see whether the framework meets its aims.
Although there are points that we all agree on, we must confront some of the challenges that Scotland faces. First, how can we take full advantage of our wonderful heritage to attract tourists when so many Historic Environment Scotland sites are still closed long after the pandemic ended? The Federation of Small Businesses has said that the closures have a detrimental effect on local towns.
Secondly, as was mentioned earlier, we need to look at immigration. We should be asking ourselves why so many Scots move abroad and do not come back, especially when our workforce numbers are declining. We should also be asking why we do not attract as many international immigrants as elsewhere in the United Kingdom, especially when we have major skills gaps in many industries. The Government should reflect on how it could make Scotland a more positive place for foreign investment or for Scots to set up a business, as that is one area in which we could be doing better.
I now have Suella Braverman’s statement from today. Point 1 states that the Government measures include:
“Removing the right for international students to bring dependants unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes.”
There are vacancies in the NHS. The 30 students I talked about earlier are here to train in the NHS. They are here with their families.
According to that statement, they will no longer be allowed to come here to train or to stay to help fill some of the job vacancies that Sharon Dowey just spoke about.
I do not know the details of what the member is talking about, but net migration is up and we welcome anyone who wants to come to the country to work and to contribute to society. I do not know the details that the member has, but we are happy to have anyone come to the country by legal routes and to help.
The Government should reflect on how it can make Scotland a more positive place for foreign investment or for Scots to set up businesses, because that is one area where the Government could be doing better. We must do more to remove barriers to investment. For example, it would be worth looking at the regulation of short-term lets, business rates and the red tape that may be putting off investors.
The SNP Government must do all it can to show that Scotland is open for business. Attracting investors to Scotland and encouraging them to set up shop here is made all the more challenging when they face difficulties such as the bottle deposit and return scheme. We must learn from that by listening to businesses and working with our colleagues in Westminster and in the other devolved Administrations to see how we can take a unified, best practice approach.
Daniel Johnson mentioned the success of Scotch whisky and how we must help other parts of the food and drink industry to reach that level. A positive business environment in Scotland would make a real difference. Although the framework is a good start, it would be great to hear more detail from the cabinet secretary during his closing remarks about a timeline for the Scottish connections fund and about the international strategies for culture and education.
There have been many worthwhile contributions today from across the chamber and I have time to highlight a few. My colleague Maurice Golden spoke about Historic Environment Scotland, which has itself highlighted that half of all international visitors report heritage as their key motivation for visiting Scotland and that tourism contributes £3 billion to the economy.
The cabinet secretary mentioned the Ukrainians we have welcomed to our country and into our homes. They are welcome to stay as long as they need to, and we hope that some will choose to stay here, but I am sure that we all wish for an end to the war, to enable them to return to their own homes.
Neil Bibby said that we need a strategic approach to include all marginalised communities and also spoke about the importance of Scotland’s aviation sector.
William Rennie spoke about the great team behind the report and about the amount of work that is done by the GlobalScot network. He also spoke of the ending of Erasmus, mentioned the 5,000 Welsh students who are spread around the world and talked about the need for us to get our finger out and set up a replacement scheme.
Stephen Kerr spoke of our reach around the world and the importance of international students, which was also mentioned by Evelyn Tweed, because of the amount of money that those students bring to the Scottish economy and the soft power that they have. He also mentioned his concerns about university funding.
Emma Harper spoke of her experiences in California.
I may be running out of time. In summary, we applaud any attempt by the Scottish Government to promote Scotland internationally, but we must see more detail about the fund behind the framework and the tools that will measure whether it is delivering the desired outcomes.
I thank colleagues for their contributions to what has been a largely positive debate; I will turn to Stephen Kerr later in my remarks.
In his opening speech, Angus Robertson outlined the importance of the Scottish connections framework and how it will support our huge diaspora around the world. Better engaging our diaspora and Scotland’s global family and friends is the right thing to do for its own sake and is also important in supporting Scotland’s wellbeing economy, our culture and our reputation.
Work under the Scottish connections framework can promote Scotland as a place to visit or to study, live, work or do business in, and I am confident that those ambitions are shared across the chamber. We already have a strong international network that reaches out to the world, talking to our diaspora and promoting Scotland’s interests. Our international offices, including those of Scottish Development International, our GlobalScots trade and investment envoys, and our public bodies such as VisitScotland, Screen Scotland and others all engage with our diaspora and play a critical role in promoting Scotland overseas.
Scotland’s international network has served and been supported by ministers from a range of Administrations over the past two decades, as Willie Rennie rightly pointed out. Our offices have delivered significant benefits, connecting to the global Scottish diaspora and boosting trade and investment.
Will the minister also recognise the tremendous contribution that our national companies make in promoting Scotland? In this, its 60th anniversary season, Scottish Opera’s production of “Ainadamar” has been picked up by the Metropolitan Opera in New York and its production of Puccini’s “Il Trittico” is to be picked up by a number of opera houses across the rest of Europe and the world. Those performances enhance Scotland’s reputation as a centre of international culture.
I absolutely concur with Jackson Carlaw. Members across the chamber have spoken about our cultural identity, our heritage and our traditions in Scotland and how there can sometimes be barriers to us internationally. I disagree; I think that, for the reasons that Jackson Carlaw has cited, our cultural institutions demonstrate the power of Scotland internationally and the doors that they can open. I will turn to why that is the case shortly.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that this debate has helped to cement the view within Parliament, among all shades of parliamentary opinion, that the network of international offices that we have on Scotland’s behalf, many of them set up by the Labour and Liberal Executive before this Government came to office, are a formidable asset for Scotland? Some of the critique that we have heard in recent months from the party over there—the Conservatives—will perhaps be silenced by the eloquence of this debate on the subject.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I absolutely agree with John Swinney. I was going to turn in response to Maurice Golden’s comments to the fact that no other party sought to amend the Government’s motion today, and one of its key elements is to recognise the role that our international network plays. I hope that the parochial, petty political attack on our international engagement will stop today. It absolutely must.
Our network plays a vital role in helping us to build relationships, gather insights, identify new opportunities and ensure that Scotland’s distinctive voice and offer is heard on the world stage. The Scottish Government’s international network of offices works alongside SDI’s 34 offices across 23 countries to promote Scotland on the world stage. SDI’s trade and investment specialists help to support Scottish companies to trade and grow globally and people to set up business in Scotland and attract investment opportunities into Scotland.
That approach is working. Ernst & Young’s latest annual attractiveness survey shows that Scotland is outperforming the rest of the UK and Europe with the growth in the number of inward investment projects that are attracted. On trade in goods, the latest HM Revenue and Customs data shows that Scotland continues to outperform the UK when oil and gas are excluded.
My recent visit to Japan and those of my predecessors such as Michael Matheson, Fiona Hyslop and John Swinney are great examples of our successful engagement overseas. Sumitomo’s proposed investment in Scotland can promote rapid expansion in the renewables industry by connecting hundreds of offshore wind turbines. That £200 million investment into the Highlands will create 150 highly skilled, green jobs from a business with a strong record in producing high-voltage underground cables. I cannot stress enough how important the direct, in-person engagement by ministers and SDI was in getting the Sumitomo investment to this stage.
Scotland’s international footprint is also critical in showcasing Scotland at major events. Scotland’s presence at the Dubai Expo, which focused on our energy transition, space and digital health sectors, is forecast to deliver around £90 million in investment and revenue for Scottish companies that participated.
Turning to the importance of our international networks, I note that we have over 1,200 GlobalScots operating in over 60 countries. Those 1,200 influential business leaders, who are located throughout the world, are motivated purely to give something back to Scotland and they act voluntarily to support Scotland’s economic ambitions. I thank them all once again.
GlobalScots support companies by advising and mentoring, giving them the benefit of years of international experience. They also advocate Scotland as a place to live, work, invest and study in. They tell Scotland what we need to do to remain competitive but also talk Scotland up, promoting our culture and winning more friends and connections for our country. Our GlobalScots are increasing engagement with international alumni of Scotland’s world-renowned universities, especially in high-growth markets.
I am conscious of the time. I will try to come back to Martin Whitfield if I can.
The Scottish Government’s network of 11 trade and investment envoys based in our priority markets provides us with critical business insights, intelligence, introductions and advocacy focused on building trade as well as inward and capital investor relations. They open doors and identify strategic opportunities to support our export, capital investment and foreign direct investment efforts, and they provide critical business insights. They will build on those successes and galvanise a more engaged, vibrant and diverse GlobalScot network that will support our trade and investment ambitions, alongside our envoys and working ever closer with our alumni, affinity and ancestral diaspora.
Much of my focus has been on our international representation—those working around the world to promote Scotland—but I would also like to mention those coming into Scotland. Tourism is one of Scotland’s most important industries, creating wealth and jobs and strengthening our international reputation when those visitors return home.
In 2019, almost 3.5 million people visited Scotland from around the world. We know that many visitors identified their Scottish heritage as a key motivation for choosing to travel to Scotland. People may have been inspired by the regular appearances of our landscapes in film or television. Our festival performers, who travel to Scotland in the summer, are in themselves a community—a strand of our diaspora who return every year. Each and every interaction with our international network, a member of our alumni or our GlobalScots raises Scotland’s profile a little bit more, so we continue to work with VisitScotland and other key partners to maximise tourism opportunities and achieve our aim of being a leader in 21st century tourism.
For those looking to come to Scotland more permanently, we look forward to promoting our talent attraction and migration service, which Ben Macpherson referenced, when it launches later this year. That service will improve Scotland’s ability to attract and recruit people with the skills that our economy and public services need, now and in the future, and, in the process, it will create even more connections between Scotland and the world.
The debate was, as I say, largely consensual. I really appreciated Maurice Golden’s contribution saying that our greatest export asset has always been our people. That is why the framework is so important.
Neil Bibby spoke of the University of Glasgow’s Burns night spreadsheet. We need to tap into that knowledge and expertise and make sure that we understand and take advantage of it. He also rightly challenged us—as did others including Foysol Choudhury—on our colonial past, challenging homophobia, misogyny and racism.
In that vein, I really appreciated the work done by the empire, slavery and Scotland’s museums group, chaired by Sir Geoff Palmer, who I was pleased to meet alongside Foysol Choudhury a couple of months ago. He referenced co-operation between the Scottish and UK Governments and he is absolutely right. The evidence is clear that our network advances the work of UK embassies; it does not undermine it and actually leads the way in many areas, not least on net zero. Therefore, it is unfortunate and counterproductive for the Foreign Secretary to seek to undermine it. Mercifully, it would appear that many ambassadors and consuls general around the world are seeking to ignore that nonsense direction.
Willie Rennie was right that our culture and heritage often help to open doors, as Stuart McMillan also said, but it also leads to the areas of working together that he wishes to see. I hope that Mr Rennie will have been reassured by Mr Swinney’s intervention around collaboration in India, which I was able to see in evidence in the collaboration between Gujarat Biotech University and the University of Edinburgh. That is at a very advanced stage and included within the sapphire grants scheme.
I also thank Ivan McKee for his contribution not just to the debate but to the work, previously. We will be looking to take forward all three of his asks.
I want to reference many more very strong contributions including those from Christine Grahame—her usual tour de force—Daniel Johnson, Emma Harper and Martin Whitfield, but I have to return to Stephen Kerr. I am well used to Mr Kerr seeking to be the contrarian in the room, more so in this place than when we were together down the road, but nonetheless he seeks to play that part here. He spoke nonsense about our network and ministerial involvement, and it belittles the Conservative Party to talk about global Britain when it looks to undermine Scotland’s role internationally. It is crazy.
Stephen Kerr suggested directly in response to my intervention—
—that I was talking nonsense about the impact of Brexit on the number of international students coming to Scotland. Mr Kerr may well wish to know that we have seen a 75 per cent drop in the number of students accepted into Scottish universities from European countries since Brexit. It has had a direct impact on our international student numbers—
Otherwise, it has been a very positive debate. I am grateful for it and I look forward to our international network continuing to play the strong role that it does, supporting Scotland’s economy and our cultural institutions.