Scottish Government Overseas Offices

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 10 January 2024.

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Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

2. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the work of its overseas offices. (S6O-02927)

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

Last month, I was pleased to publish an annual report on the work of our overseas offices covering the period 2022-23. That showed how Scotland’s international network delivers crucial benefits to Scotland’s people, businesses and institutions at home and abroad.

From international investment and growing our exports to facilitating cultural exchanges, promoting tourism and building our diaspora network, we continue to enhance our international reputation across the world. Most recently, that included delivering a successful series of events to celebrate St Andrew’s day and preparing a programme of events for Burns night later this month.

I hope that Graham Simpson will join me in thanking all our international network staff and GlobalScots and wishing them well for 2024.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

It is good to see the cabinet secretary in Parliament today. I wonder whether, this year, he plans to beat his record of travelling to six countries in the first seven months of last year, which cost £5,500.

The Scottish National Party Government’s budget for its overseas offices is increasing to £7.8 million. That is happening while budgets for transport, councils and housing are being slashed. What is the return on that investment?

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

T hat is a very good question. I point Graham Simpson to the report that I mentioned. It is clear from the tone of his question that Graham Simpson has not read that report, because it lists the benefits, which are significant. For example, the work of Scottish Development International is predicted to generate £1.7 billion of trade revenue. The report goes on to list other benefits: the creation of 1,000 Scottish real living wage jobs through investments from the United States of America; the creation of 500 such jobs as a result of Chinese investments; £120 million of capital investment is planned as a result of our presence in Canada; and 190 new connections for Scottish businesses have been made through our Ireland office. I could go on.

I would welcome some consistency on the matter from the Scottish Conservative Party, because while its front-bench members request that we increase our presence internationally, its back-bench members criticise us. I make no apology for promoting Scotland internationally. I wish that members on Graham Simpson’s side of the chamber would welcome that.

Photo of Colin Beattie Colin Beattie Scottish National Party

Can the cabinet secretary provide any updates regarding what assessments have been made as to the real benefits that Scotland’s international network brings to our economy?

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

I repeat that the report that was published last month on the work of our overseas offices is extremely important, and I recommend that all members take the opportunity to read what it says.

I pay tribute to—I am sorry that we did not hear this from the Conservatives, even though they had the opportunity to say it—and welcome the hard work of the people who work on our behalf, whether in Scottish Government offices, Scottish Development International offices, our GlobalScot network or as trade envoys. They are out there day in and day out, week in and week out, promoting Scotland, promoting our economy, promoting jobs and promoting tourism. We should get behind them rather than undermine them.

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

Scotland’s international offices provide a great opportunity to connect Scotland with its diaspora and to share Scotland’s unique culture across the world. They also provide a unique opportunity to seek out funding and collaboration opportunities for projects in Scotland. When the Scottish Government last reviewed the location of its international offices, did it measure the availability of funding opportunities in the countries in which it has such offices in comparison with those countries where it has no international offices?

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

I commend Foysol Choudhury not just for his positive question and for recognising the good work that is done to promote Scotland, our economy, our culture and our tourism sector but for his thoughtful query about the network and where we have offices and people in situ. Incidentally, it is very positive that the Scottish Conservative Party’s front-bench spokesperson has asked about that in committee.

There are parts of the world in which we do not yet have a presence, and I think that it is worth our while looking at that. We are committed to maintaining the network as it currently exists, and we are committed to establishing a presence in Poland—there is widespread agreement on why that is a good thing.

Beyond that, questions have been raised—for example, by Donald Cameron—about our having a presence in South America or in Africa. Given his expertise in the region, I have no doubt that Foysol Choudhury would make a strong case for our having a presence in the Indian subcontinent, to cover India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. That is very much worth looking at, and I welcome the positive contribution by those who wish to promote Scotland internationally, as opposed to those who want to undermine our international position.