- The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan):
The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-1838, in the name of Linda Fabiani, on the international framework.
- The Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture (Linda Fabiani):
It is good to have the opportunity today to discuss the Scottish Government's international framework. The debate gives the chamber the opportunity to discuss the principles that underpin the Government's approach to its international activities.
I want to address, right at the start of the debate, the important question of international development policy and the amendment in the name of Malcolm Chisholm. As I discussed with the European and External Relations Committee last week, the Government's international framework is exactly that—the framework from which fall detailed action plans and specific policies. I am pleased to have published the international development policy today, which reflects the commitment made in the framework for an increased international development fund. The policy document is available at the back of the chamber and I look forward to discussing it in detail with the European and External Relations Committee at our forthcoming session. Although I recognise absolutely the sentiment and commitment behind the Labour amendment, I ask that Mr Chisholm consider withdrawing it in the spirit of the framework and the international development policy.
I was happy to discuss the framework and the accompanying draft action plan on European engagement with the European and External Relations Committee on Tuesday last week. It seems there is consensus about much of the work that is undertaken at international level. The committee is due thanks for its work in convening evidence-taking sessions on the Scottish Government's approach to international activities. Those sessions were extremely valuable to us in finalising our strategy.
The sessions that the Government held on our international framework and our China plan were also extremely valuable. I am pleased to announce that the refreshed China plan has been published today. It shows how aspirations can become concrete actions by developing joint opportunities in education, trade, science, tourism and culture. I expect that members have picked up a copy from the back of the chamber. I look forward to discussing the plan with the cross-party group on China, as I confirmed to my colleague, Gil Paterson, at the European and External Relations Committee last week.
I am clear that the objectives that I have set for the Scottish Government's international activities are tied to the Government economic strategy. The objectives are: to create the conditions for talented people to live, learn, work, visit and remain in Scotland so that Scottish population growth matches the European Union average; to bring a sharp economic growth focus to the promotion of Scotland abroad so that the Scottish gross domestic product growth rate matches that of the United Kingdom by 2011; and to manage Scotland's reputation as a distinctive global identity—an independent-minded and responsible nation at home and abroad that is confident of its place in the world.
Although there is alignment of our resources around the GES targets, our activity has a fresh emphasis. We will develop closer relations on international work between the Scottish Government, Scottish Development International, VisitScotland, EventScotland and creative Scotland. The recent strategic, better-targeted, more business-focused, efficient and cost-effective Scotland week in North America is an early example of that strategy. We are willing to challenge the UK line to ensure that Scotland's voice is heard, while being proactive in using the UK resources that are at our disposal. We will recognise where Scotland's excellence lies and focus on those areas. We are confident about focusing on Scotland's reputation as a nation, not a region.
The pursuit of trade, tourism and inward investment remains at the heart of our work and persists as a reason for having Scottish affairs offices in North America and China. That, in turn, entails positioning Scotland as a great place to live, learn, visit, work and remain in.
The framework document does not seek to list all the international work across the Scottish Government. We agree with the Scots who have told us that Government and the public sector should be agile and fleet of foot. We will monitor and evaluate the activities that we undertake, although we will take a strategic viewpoint and get involved when there is good reason. Activity for its own sake is not productive; the work of Government is to provide the conditions for exchange, not to risk hindering others as they seek to make the civic, Scottish, UK, EU or global partnerships that are the platform for their success.
We will focus Government intervention on areas that will pay dividends, such as the work that I kicked off last week with the consular corps in Scotland. I made a commitment that the Scottish Government will work with the corps in a structured and professional way—and to our mutual advantage—to ensure effective communication of our aspirations with regard to Scotland's place in the world.
Although our scope for taking part in international affairs is constrained by the current devolution settlement, we have offices in Brussels and officials who work solely on Scottish affairs in the UK embassies in Beijing and Washington. Alongside them, around 80 staff work in offices abroad for Scottish Development International, the arm of Government that promotes international trade and inward investment. However, that still means that fewer than 100 people work professionally for us furth of Scotland.
The key message, therefore, is the need for a flexible pragmatism. Scotland looks to the Scottish Government to provide strategic direction, to be able to identify key points of leverage and to respond swiftly. The framework focuses the actions and policies of the Scottish Government and other public sector players to maximise their impact on the performance of team Scotland. As I have said, last month's Scotland week in North America delivered the most ambitious programme of events around tartan day ever undertaken by Scottish ministers—and at around half the cost of previous years' celebrations.
Adopting a fleet-footed, agile approach does not mean that we will cease to work closely with our existing partners. However, I am convinced that the targeted memorandum of understanding for education purposes that the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning signed last month with the Chinese Ministry of Education delivers mutual benefits more effectively than wide-ranging co-operation agreements. We will continue to work on projects of benefit with regions where we have previously had such agreements. However, we will be led by benefit and opportunity. Under this Government, exchanges between Scotland and Shandong, Victoria, Catalonia and other areas have continued.
A more responsive approach requires the Scottish Government to work in an integrated way across the public sector and to find new, agile ways of reaching out more widely to civic society in order to share information. Of course, the action plans and policies that fall from the international framework will set out our detailed aims and targets for our key policies. However, people with experience have told us repeatedly that, instead of focusing on a multiplicity of targets, we must put our energy into taking a more responsive and coherent approach.
That brings me to the Conservative amendment in the name of Mr Brocklebank. By quoting back to us from our framework document, Mr Brocklebank and his colleagues seem to have recognised the value of this Government's strategic approach and our commitment to working with all relevant partners to achieve the best for Scotland. I am therefore pleased to accept the amendment.
I am sorry, but I cannot say the same about the Liberal Democrat amendment in the name of Mr Smith. Let me make it plain: this Government for Scotland has a vision and aspirations for our nation that are explicit in their clarity, truthfulness and direction. Scotland expects no less from the Scottish National Party, the First Minister and his Government. No less should be expected from Government in any democracy—I would have thought that liberal-minded politicians of any party would take that as a given. For members to suggest that ministers in this Government would flip-flop around, change their minds on a daily basis and hide things from Scots shows that they have no understanding whatever of the deeply held beliefs in conviction and honesty that are at the heart of this Government.
I ask members not to play that silly Lib Dem game but to keep watch on today's main target—an international framework that we all agree can increase Scotland's competitive edge by supporting the conditions for talented people to live, learn, work, visit and remain in Scotland. I am sure that members will want to feed into the framework and I look forward to hearing from them about how we can work together towards that end.
That the Parliament recognises the importance of ensuring that Scotland is competitive in an increasingly globalised society; agrees that creating the conditions for talented people to live, learn, visit, work and remain in Scotland is crucial to helping to deliver the goals of growing Scotland's population and economy in a sustainable way, and welcomes the Scottish Government's International Framework as a means to extend, focus and align the actions and policies of the government and public sector partners to these ends.
- Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
I accept that the debate will focus on the six or so pages of the international framework document but, given that there is a short paragraph on international development at the end of the document, I was surprised that the minister asked me not to move my amendment, which refers to international development. If the Parliament is to make a statement about its international framework or strategy, it is important to make it explicit that work on international development is a crucial part of that.
I cannot disagree with the sentiments in the motion on promoting Scotland and in particular on growing the Scottish economy. However, our international strategy always had two strands. One strand, of course, was about promoting Scotland and growing our economy; the other strand was about ensuring that we fulfil our obligations to the rest of the world. It would be quite wrong to agree to a motion that does not contain both elements.
We cannot have an international framework that does not encompass international development. For example, it might be good for this country's economy to attract nurses and other health care workers from certain countries in Africa, but that would not be good for those countries. We must consider the issue holistically. I hope that the minister will change her mind in that regard.
I cannot object to what is said in the motion and the framework, but I must express disappointment with the framework, not just because—how shall I put this?—it is not the best Government document in its structure and clarity, but, more fundamental, because its content is extremely thin. I applaud the phrase,
"where we assert excellence there must be substance to those claims",
but the new international framework is markedly less substantial than the previous international strategy.
Although the Scottish Government's claim that it will extend, align and provide new focus for its actions in the international arena sounds innovative and progressive, its policy contains little that is new. The emphasis on economic growth, for example, was the top priority of the previous international strategy. The statement about the importance of marketing Scotland
"as a great place to live, learn, visit, work, do business and invest"
is an almost-verbatim quotation from the previous strategy.
There is confusion on page 1, where it is suggested that our international activities will contribute to sustainable economic growth by
"Creating the conditions for talented people to live, learn, visit, work and remain in Scotland",
rather than by promoting Scotland as a good place for talented people to be. The conditions themselves will largely be determined by economic and social policies in Scotland. Elaine Murray will talk about such policies.
The confusion between international activity and wider economic policy is evident when we consider how the framework's success is to be evaluated. Although the key targets of population growth and GDP growth, which are set out at the beginning of the document and referred to in the motion, are useful and important, the international framework fails to set out how we can ascertain the extent to which the policies that it contains have contributed to those economic objectives.
How the third key objective of
"Managing Scotland's reputation as a distinctive global identity"
is to be measured and evaluated is even more unclear. No attempt is made to address that question in the central section, "Scotland's Story", nor is there any clear, overarching sense of how to brand Scotland consistently around the world.
At the same time, substantial and important components of the previous strategy are being lost. Partnerships between schools, cities and businesses are being put at risk by the decision not to renew the long-standing and productive co-operation agreements between Scotland and key regions in Europe and around the world. There is no longer any emphasis on the importance of promoting Scotland's cities as competitive international centres through urban design and regeneration and effective branding and marketing. The establishment and promotion of transport routes to and from Scotland is no longer a priority on this Government's international agenda, and yet that is essential in creating the optimum conditions for economic growth through business and tourism.
This Government has frequently been accused of adopting a style-over-substance approach, and yet even the style of the framework document leaves a lot to be desired. Not only has the Government omitted to include vital areas of importance while offering little that is really new, but it has failed to provide any detail on how it will implement the few pledges that it has made. For example, both policies—the previous Administration's policy and this one—make mention of education, lifelong learning and research in their international agendas. The previous strategy set out at least 10 clear objectives—the Executive detailed how it would enhance the profile of Scottish education and research institutions to attract overseas students, researchers and investment and, at the same time, promote links between academia and industry. By contrast, the new international framework acknowledges only that
"Promotion of Scotland's institutions and their innovative capabilities should therefore be a key facet of our overall brand promotion strategy abroad",
without providing any information on how it is intended to achieve that end, whether that general statement is the only target and—crucially—what measures will be put in place to monitor and evaluate progress.
- Linda Fabiani:
Does Mr Chisholm, or do his colleagues, understand the concept of a framework or of Government ministers right across the board working together for what is best for Scotland without needing to tick boxes and have directions every step of the way?
- Malcolm Chisholm:
Of course, I understand the concept of a framework and accept that three action plans sit underneath this framework document, copies of two of which I was handed five minutes before I came into the chamber. We are not debating those plans today but, that said, it is fair to say that none of them covers the topic that I am addressing and I will move on to mention others that the action plans do not cover in any way. If the Government had covered those topics anywhere else, I would not have a complaint but, as far as I am aware, they are not covered. Education and lifelong learning have been seriously downgraded in the new framework, but I do not have time to go into the examples that I had hoped to mention.
I turn to the "New priorities" section, towards the end of the document. The arc of prosperity countries are mentioned alongside those of the Commonwealth, and yet the statement of intent warrants barely three sentences of what is—admittedly—a short and flimsy document. Of course, I have no objection to getting more detail somewhere else. If there are to be no further action plans or other supporting information on the arc of prosperity countries, perhaps the minister will say more when she sums up. Perhaps she will say exactly how she intends to co-ordinate our efforts in those countries and what the focus and geographical extent of those activities will be.
In her evidence to the European and External Relations Committee, the minister said:
"There are approximately twice as many residents of India in higher education as there are people in Scotland."—[Official Report, European and External Relations Committee, 29 April 2008; c 602.]
With that in mind, surely we need more information on the Government's announcement in the framework that a priority will be to
"strengthen links with India".
We have one SDI office in New Delhi. What further resources will be made available in India? Will the geographic focus continue to be on New Delhi? What further new initiatives does the Government plan in India?
I do not have time to quote from the evidence that Sir David Edward gave to the European and External Relations Committee on 22 January 2008. However, an international development organisation asked me to raise the issue: why India and not Pakistan, too? I could raise other similar questions, but I said that I would raise that one.
- Linda Fabiani:
Will the member give way?
- Malcolm Chisholm:
I do not think that I can, as I am in the final minute of my speech.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
The member is concluding.
- Malcolm Chisholm:
My amendment mentions working in co-operation with the United Kingdom Government. I was pleased to see in the section entitled "A Fresh Approach", at the end of the framework document, that there is an intention to make full use of UK resources. I had thought, rather naively, that the minister would accept my amendment and I hope that she will reconsider.
I move amendment S3M-1838.2, to insert at end:
"in co-operation with the UK Government and including international development objectives as a key priority."
- Ted Brocklebank (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con):
Governments should be aspirational, so we can associate with much in today's motion. The Scottish people have always been aspirational and they deserve no less from those who seek to represent them. Equally, the Scots have always been restlessly international and the new worlds of the United States, Canada, Australasia and South Africa owe much to the contribution of Scottish settlers. Two Scots—James Wilson, from near my home town of St Andrews, and John Witherspoon, from East Lothian—were signatories to the American declaration of independence. Canada's first Prime Minister, John A Macdonald, spent his early years in Glasgow, and the founding father of Australia was Lachlan Macquarie from Mull.
Of course, our aspirations and internationalism have occasionally led to disaster. I wonder whether, had the Darien scheme not collapsed so spectacularly in 1699, facing the nation with bankruptcy, the Scottish Parliament would have voted so convincingly to join the union in 1707. However, as part of and, arguably, because of the union, Scotland has had an importance abroad that is totally out of proportion to its size. The great Canadian writer Hugh MacLennan, whose people came from Kintail, went as far as to claim that, without the Scots, there never would have been a country called Canada. They were the mortar that allowed the English and the French to bind together, he wrote. And so it was elsewhere. We have blood ties around the world and, sadly, on the European continent, much spilled blood.
According to some estimates, as many as 40 million people of Scots descent may be scattered around the world, so the Government is right to seek ways in which to ensure that Scotland is competitive in an increasingly globalised society and to involve the diaspora in every way possible. We in the Conservatives totally support the aspiration to influence people to choose Scotland as a great place to live, learn, visit, work, do business and invest. I am glad that the minister confirmed that those efforts should be within a UK context, making full use of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Council, as outlined in my amendment. To seek to go it alone in international affairs or to act in too much of a gung-ho manner would be counter-productive for the nation and for the fledgling Scottish National Party Administration.
We applaud the minister's stated reluctance on direct intervention and associate ourselves with the policy of creating the right climate to support links and opportunities with stakeholders. We, too, believe that excellence should be at the heart of what we seek to achieve and we welcome the various tourism, population and economic growth targets that the Government has set. We remember all too clearly the dreadful economic legacy that the SNP inherited from the previous Executive, under which Scotland fared woefully in regional and international economic comparisons. However, it is only fair to point out that, according to a survey that was published today by the University of Glasgow and the University of Strathclyde, it is most unlikely that the SNP Government will hit its key economic targets by 2011.
- Liam McArthur (Orkney) (LD):
Does Ted Brocklebank accept that, despite his counsel of despair, Scotland was voted the European region of the future by the Financial Times Group's fDi magazine in 2004-05?
- Ted Brocklebank:
I can only say that, in every other league table that I looked at in that time, we appeared to end up bottom.
Dealing with the world outside the European Union, we welcome the commitment to a more focused American and Canadian presence. We have the minister's assurance that the recent Scotland week mission was more cost effective than similar missions by the previous Administration, but we look forward to having the factual evidence. How much business was actually done and what tangible benefits will accrue?
We support the refreshed China plan and believe that the Government is right to identify excellence in research as a priority for young Chinese people choosing to study in Scotland. In that respect, I am delighted to welcome Fife Council's decision to grant planning permission for the University of St Andrews's new medical research centre. The project has already attracted an £8 million investment from Singapore. With St Andrews being the only Scottish seat of learning that currently features in the UK top-10 list, many more students from the far east are likely to make use of those state-of-the-art facilities.
India, Pakistan and the other Commonwealth countries are natural spheres of influence for Scotland. As an executive member of the Scottish branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I have learned just how high Scotland ranks among visiting Commonwealth parliamentarians. We should never underestimate those links, and we should constantly seek to develop them.
On international aid, we totally support the initiative of the previous Executive in developing links with Malawi. We welcome the extra funding that the Government has made available for international development, and we are sure that that kind of internationalism will be mutually beneficial.
On Europe, things are not so straightforward. We accept the recent committee report's finding that Scotland must get in early when European Union laws are being formulated, to make their implementation easier at home, but we remain deeply sceptical that the current approach of the United Kingdom Government is likely to have a significant impact on Brussels. All we can do is rely on the Irish to throw out the wretched constitutional treaty once and for all.
The minister continues to be disingenuous about the possibility of the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment ever leading negotiations on fisheries in Brussels. Although his input is clearly important for Scottish fisheries, I cannot see how a UK minister could ever accept a representative from one of the devolved countries negotiating on behalf of the other parts of the UK. Scotland has conflicting fishing interests with the Irish, the Welsh and the west countrymen for starters, so I am afraid that Richard Lochhead will have to concentrate on what is attainable rather than what is aspirational.
I support important aspects of today's motion, but I close by moving the amendment in my name.
I move amendment S3M-1838.1, to leave out from "a means to extend" to end and insert:
"part of the means to extend, focus and align the actions and policies of the government and public sector partners to these ends while stressing the need to "make full use of the UK resources at our disposal", including "the Foreign and Commonwealth Office network around the world to maximise business, cultural and educational opportunities for Scotland", and "engage more directly with the British Council in our priority markets with a view to maximising the opportunities to showcase Scotland's cultural and educational excellence abroad", as outlined in the International Framework document."
- Iain Smith (North East Fife) (LD):
Sadly, today's debate is being held under the shadow of the massive human tragedy unfolding in Burma. The scale of devastation—with tens of thousands dead and at least 1 million homeless and in need of food, water and shelter—is massive, and relief efforts are not being helped by the repressive military regime. I am sure that this Parliament will give its support to the efforts of relief agencies and Governments across the world to break through the barriers and try to support those hit by the cyclone.
Today's debate is about Scotland and its place on the international stage. It is about how we best promote Scotland and our partnerships within the UK, with Europe and with the rest of the world. There are times when one might be forgiven for thinking that it has been only since last May that Scotland, the Scottish Government and this Parliament have had any engagement with the international community. Obviously, we are all deeply grateful to the First Minister, who set out last month on his Golden Hind and discovered America. Actually, we did know that it was there before. In the years since devolution, we in Scotland have been positively engaged with America and with other parts of the world, which has had many positive benefits for Scotland.
To be fair, the "Scottish Government International Framework" document seems to recognise the very valuable work carried out by the previous Administration. Much of the document is about taking that work forward.
Scotland has always been a nation that looks outward. Scotland and Scots have made an impact on the world that far outweighs our size. We are world leaders in many fields and a potential world beater in others—maybe in football one day; who knows?
We have a strong global position in economic sectors such as financial services and biosciences. We have the potential to lead the world in renewable energy technologies, particularly in wave and tidal power. Our universities, and particularly our oldest university in St Andrews, have a worldwide reputation not just for the quality of teaching and learning but as centres of excellence in cutting-edge research.
Even our colleges lead the way in developing new ways to deliver Scottish education to international students. Elmwood College, based in Cupar in my constituency, has pioneered partnerships with a number of universities in China to develop and deliver golf education courses, based on Scottish qualifications.
However, we must bear in mind the fact that Scotland's international reputation in teaching and research is threatened by the underfunding of further and higher education by this Scottish National Party minority Government. We cannot act on the international stage unless we ensure that our domestic house is in order.
On economic development, SDI has been internationally recognised as the world's most consistently high-performing agency—a reputation that, sadly, is under threat by the failure of the SNP Government to fill the vacancy at SDI's head. My colleague Liam McArthur may say more about that.
VisitScotland has a vital role in promoting inward tourism, particularly next year with the year of homecoming. I am sure that, whenever we meet members of the diaspora, we all remind them of that year.
Scotland's influence on the international stage is greatly enhanced by being able to influence and work in partnership with UK agencies and take advantage of the facilities at UK missions abroad. That includes the work of the British Council—which is referred to in the Conservative amendment—in supporting and promoting Scottish culture around the world. The work includes support for the international tours of the National Theatre of Scotland's production of "Black Watch", which has been a great success worldwide.
The international framework document does not contain a great deal that is new and there is little on the surface with which anyone could disagree. However, when we scratch beneath the surface, we see the real priority of the SNP Government's international agenda: it is not about promoting Scotland but about promoting nationalism.
Take, for example, the "Action Plan on European Engagement", which forms part of the international framework. No one can disagree with the premise that Scotland should seek to maximise its influence on the European Union and its policies, particularly those that have a direct impact on Scotland. One would expect the Scottish Government's action plan to focus exclusively on how we can best influence the development of policy in key areas—such as energy, maritime strategy, climate change, fishing and farming—and how we can best exert our influence on the European Commission directly and through the United Kingdom. Instead, it takes the focus away from protecting and promoting Scotland's interests to talk about an independent Scotland in Europe. It promotes a nationalist conversation in Brussels, which is unlikely to result in Scotland being taken more seriously by the decision makers there. Indeed, it is likely to have the opposite effect: Scotland being taken less seriously.
There is a great deal of good will towards Scotland around the world, and a great deal of good will in the Scottish Parliament for us to work together as team Scotland to promote Scotland and its interests. However, those who seek to pursue a narrow agenda that does not enjoy the support of the Parliament or of the people of Scotland undermine that good will. There was one sour note in the team Scotland efforts in North America for Scotland week: the words that were put in the mouth of the distinguished master of ceremonies—whom I will not name to avoid embarrassing her—by SNP spin doctors at the start of the tartan day dinner on Capitol hill. They were wholly inappropriate and I found them embarrassing.
Alex Salmond has shown that he is happy to tout for support for his nationalist ambitions from any despotic regime anywhere in the world at any time. The Scottish Government must put Scotland's national interests before the interests of the Scottish nationalists. The key focus of the Government's international framework should be promoting Scotland by developing its economic, education, tourism and cultural links and protecting its interests in Europe. That will all be undermined if time and resources are wasted in promoting the minority agenda of an independent Scotland, which serves only to confuse the international community about what Scotland is and has to offer.
Nationalist politicians are free to waste their own time promoting their negative independence agenda abroad, but it is not the role of the Scottish Government to do that. Its job is to stand up for all Scots and to work within the United Kingdom to promote and protect the interests of Scotland at home and abroad. Let us be clear: the Parliament represents the people of Scotland and the Scottish Government is answerable to it. That is democracy.
I move amendment S3M-1838.3, to insert at end:
"but does not consider it in the best interests of Scotland for the Scottish Government to promote policies which do not command the support of the Parliament and, in particular, does not believe that the International Framework or any of the related documents or actions of the Scottish Government should contain any reference to Scottish independence, for which the minority Scottish Government has no mandate nor any authority from the Parliament to promote."
- Christopher Harvie (Mid Scotland and Fife) (SNP):
Yesterday, as a member of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, I observed through lashing rain scores of people splashing around in milky, sulphurated coolant water from a power station in an atmosphere that said rotten eggs very loudly. That was Iceland's blue lagoon, which draws more than 330,000 visitors annually—equivalent to the entire population.
Some aspects of Icelandic economics are, let us say, a bit vertiginous—although probably no more so than what the city of London gets up to—but the blue lagoon is great for skin disease and proves that it is possible to have fun and draw tourists in sub-zero temperatures with four hours of winter daylight. It is a triumph of the ingenuity of a small state, so I thank Linda Fabiani for highlighting the need to ready Scotland for similar challenges in these islands, the EU and beyond: to develop that level of ingenuity, the perfervidium ingenium Scotorum. Small, acrobatic countries do it well; old, post-imperial countries are not so smart.
Did the Icelanders know about our iconic equivalent—the Falkirk wheel? I asked religiously in the ministries, but they had never heard of it. People such as Iain Smith ought to take this into account: if one looks up Scotland in the index of any European Union handbook, one discovers that, on the whole, it is lucky if it gets any more mentions than San Marino in front of it and Somalia behind it. Being independent registers; being in the limbo of a culture nation or a culture region does not.
- Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD):
Does Christopher Harvie acknowledge that, when a delegation from the Parliament visited Iceland two years ago, the strong message from the Icelandic Government was that it was extremely concerned that, when the Americans remove their military base from Iceland, the economy will be extremely fragile? The Icelanders have relied for the past 30 years on the American military for their economic development and international position.
- Christopher Harvie:
The Americans have withdrawn their base, but I was not conscious, when I was in Iceland, of any great determination there to seek reunion with Denmark.
Independence puts a country on the map. It involves a choice of partners to suit our strategies—smaller states that are interested in technology and third-world partners, rather than military allies and supposedly high-spending, wealthy clients. We are not a gated community.
We need instruments that facilitate technical and cultural twinnings, in particular using our advantages in holding a petroleum supply that is steadily increasing in price and using the future prospects of renewable energy technologies—which will come from EU nations and Japan, rather than from diplomats or London-based bureaucracies. Again, that draws on Scandinavian practices.
Our immigration and settlement policy must meet our social, economic and demographic needs, rather than responding to panics induced by the south-east of England media. I am currently trying to get an extension of stay in Britain for someone who qualified in a Scottish institution of higher education, but it is simply ruled out by the immigration policy of the south.
We need effective press and media in Britain. What might be called "Metrolit", or the old BBC—and indeed the old British Council—are, in these commerce-driven times, much more likely to reflect the priorities of the English south-east. We require something to strengthen the projection of Scotland abroad in a way that we will simply not get through those institutions. We must overcome not English opposition but a powerful establishment, which The Guardian has called the United Kingdom of London, with its own powerful international connections. The bonuses that are paid in the City of London in a year could electrify all the railways of Scotland. The cost of a bog-standard branding campaign would probably equal most of the advances that have been paid to Scottish authors—with only one exception—for a quarter of a century.
As we saw in Iceland, autonomy can inspire imagination and new synergies. The requirement is to have money, guidance and executive competence ready to be directed to specific goals according to a specific timetable. I see no alternative to independence—although I have trodden the federal road in the past, albeit with remarkably few Labour or Liberal companions—followed by what I would call variable geometry links with Britain and Europe.
Next year is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. We must remember how international radical Rab was, and we should take our language from our democratic intellect. If nothing else, we might be able to expel tsars and icons coming from a not particularly democratic culture in favour of more "Sense and Worth" and self-determination in future.
- Irene Oldfather (Cunninghame South) (Lab):
I welcome the opportunity that the debate gives us to consider Scotland's engagement on the European and international stages. It is appropriate to have such a debate in the run-up to Schuman day on 9 May. In the spirit of peaceful co-existence, I have decided to try to be positive and consensual, and to consider how far we in Scotland have travelled over the past decade.
I am proud of my Scottish heritage. I live in Scotland because I want to. Almost all my family live in the United States and South Africa, but I am here because I am very proud of being Scottish. We are a nation rich in culture, steeped in history and heritage and blessed with landscapes and countryside of remarkable natural beauty. We are renowned the world over for our innovation and our poetic and literary genius. We think of Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott—and, coming from Ayrshire, I have to mention Robert Burns.
Our Scottish Parliament is not just one of our top visitor attractions; it is a visual reminder, if ever one was needed, of the importance of delivering democracy and accountability for the Scottish people.
We have much to promote and to be proud of. I pay tribute to Jack McConnell, who, through the previous Executive's national and international development strategies, showed vision and commitment and enabled us to fly the flag for Scotland and to be more self-determined than ever.
Let us remember that 10 years ago, devolution and the Scottish Parliament building were but a twinkle in the eye of the UK Government. Only 10 years ago, there would have been no forum in Scotland to debate an international strategy or to express solidarity with other Europeans on Schuman day. Now, we have the opportunity to provide Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. The UK Government has delivered that for Scotland.
In the past decade, the world has changed. UK and Scottish companies must face up to the challenge of globalisation, competition and new technologies far beyond what we could ever have conceived of in 1998.
I acknowledge what the minister said about the international strategy being a framework. However, it is important to consider how it will play out on the ground. The Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism will sum up, and I ask him to provide more detail on how we will assist manufacturing companies based in Scotland, such as GlaxoSmithKline in my constituency, which is to lose 270 jobs over the next year and is facing the real uncertainties that competing in the global marketplace brings. How can we translate growing the Scottish economy into taking action that will safeguard Scottish manufacturing jobs?
In Ayrshire, where we are desperate to diversify from the electronics industry into other areas, we have been hit further by the withdrawal of the route development fund. I have serious concerns about the implications that that might have for Prestwick airport. As the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism knows, supporting transportation routes to and from Scotland is about not just transport but economic development and tourism. I am acutely aware that, in attempting to look for opportunities outside manufacturing and electronics, we in Ayrshire have placed a considerable number of eggs in the aerospace basket. If anything should happen at Prestwick, we would be in an extremely vulnerable and fragile position, which I think could have wider ramifications throughout Scotland. I hope that the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism will support our endeavours and give us a bit more detail on that when he sums up.
That brings me to marketing and branding Scotland. When the previous European and External Relations Committee undertook an inquiry into promoting Scotland abroad a few years ago, we found that the Welsh promote their country in the vital North American market as being a gateway to mainland Europe. The considerable increase in the number of routes from Scotland to Europe's capitals could provide us with an opportunity to market Scotland in the US as a starting point for two-centre holidays. Americans are nervous about the language and cultural challenges that they face in mainland Europe and they are sensitive about security matters. Therefore, I think that it would be attractive to them to bypass airports such as Heathrow and come straight to Scotland via Prestwick international airport. We should use that potential to demonstrate Scotland's—and Ayrshire's—three great niche markets: golf, genealogy and green tourism.
I had wanted to say a bit more about Europe and Schuman day. It is important to remember that Schuman's speech was about building on solidarity, peace and the social agenda. Contemporary Europe is not without its extremist tendencies and peace cannot be taken for granted. It is important that we all hold dear to our common values and principles: our belief in democracy; our commitment to equality; and our desire for better government and effective use of the principle of subsidiarity in the new treaty. In those values and principles lie our greatest strength.
I support the amendment in the name of Malcolm Chisholm.
- Hugh O'Donnell (Central Scotland) (LD):
Scotland has always been an outward-looking nation and has never focused its attentions on the narrow navel-gazing of nationalism. Therefore, as my colleague Iain Smith said, the legitimate objectives of raising and improving the international recognition of our country and our economic and cultural place in the world must not be used as vehicles for promoting the SNP's independence agenda, which does not have majority support in Parliament.
I read some of the "Scottish Government International Framework" before I came to speak in this debate. As Malcolm Chisholm said, given the shallow nature of the framework, it is a bit difficult to criticise it.
I was interested to note that one of the documents that are available to members at the back of the chamber contains a fetching photograph of Tom McCabe. It is encouraging to see how much the minister is continuing the efforts of the previous Administration.
My comments about internationalising Scotland and the independence agenda aside, I will make more constructive observations on our role. Our role in international relationships must not be solely about seeking economic advantage, although that is crucial. It must also be about reaching out with a democratic and diplomatic hand and challenging some of the countries that we engage with over their records on human rights and equalities. As Amnesty International said recently, there is no doubt that engagement is a more productive tool than isolation, but that does not mean that human rights should be the elephant in the room in discussions with international partners, nor should the Government allow such engagement to legitimise behaviour by any country that is contrary to our belief in human rights or our democratic tradition.
I am therefore a little concerned and disappointed because—as far as I can see from her letter to the Presiding Officer in April—the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning was content to enter a memorandum of understanding with China on education and barely makes passing reference to China's record on human rights.
I am also concerned—I hope that the minister can provide clarification—that there seems to be a tendency in the documents to look for what could be called big returns from the big players. We tried that in economic development back in the 1980s by importing electronics factories to get the unemployment figures down, but it backfired on us. I would like us to cast our net wider and look at other options.
For example, there seems to be a basis for developing education and business links with a country such as the United Arab Emirates. There is already involvement with it in the higher education sector, as several Scottish universities are already exploring or developing links with the UAE. Emirates had the courage to start direct flights from Scotland, which I do not think any other national airline has done. A number of Scottish companies already deal with the UAE and we should consider such links—there are major opportunities. The Dubai Government's strategic plan, which was published in 2007, identified six key strategic development aims, which are compatible with the aims and objectives that have been laid down by the Government for growing Scotland. The key areas that Dubai aims to develop are travel, tourism, financial services, professional services, transport and logistics, trade and construction. Scotland is well placed to make the most of those opportunities and some companies are beginning to do so. However, a step change is required in the Scottish Government's approach. That is where the framework is lacking in detail and I hope that the minister will be able to provide further clarification.
One thing that we have in Brussels and elsewhere that might help within the UAE is a Scotland department to develop those links. We have benefited in many ways from educational and business visits from various existing partners in the UAE. Such developments need to be explored and my understanding is that, thus far, approaches from the UAE have not been particularly well received. It would be easy enough to develop an understanding in respect of education or any other field of endeavour with the UAE and many other countries—time prohibits me from referring to them.
I encourage the Government to ensure that its energies are focused on putting the interests of Scotland first and on widening the net of the international agenda that it has set.
- Shirley-Anne Somerville (Lothians) (SNP):
I welcome the development of a framework for engagement in international activities, and the recognition by the Scottish Government of the need to place Scotland as a responsible nation on the world stage. I want to focus on one particular aspect of the strategy, which is the need to create the conditions for talented people to be able to visit Scotland and to live, learn, work and remain in Scotland.
Nation states, devolved areas and federal regions across Europe and beyond are all looking to attract skilled workers in the highly competitive global marketplace. It is therefore absolutely essential that Scotland be able to compete in order to fill our skills gaps, boost our population growth rate and improve our underperforming economy.
Watching our political opponents at Westminster scuffle over who can be toughest on immigration has demonstrated once again that Scotland's needs are not being met by the UK policy: Scotland is still sitting on a demographic time bomb. Prior to the accession of the eastern European states to the EU, we had the fastest-declining population in Europe, with a projected fall in the population of 10 per cent by 2041. The welcome influx of workers from eastern Europe has brought more optimistic projections in the short term, but we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball. The levels of European migration that we have seen since 2004 are not expected to continue—indeed, many of those people are already returning home, which will leave Scotland as the only part of the UK whose population is expected to fall in the medium to long term.
Equally serious is Scotland's ageing population. The ratio of persons under 16 or over pensionable age to those of working age is predicted to significantly increase.
I welcome the Scottish Government's target to match the average EU population growth over the period from 2007 to 2017—and, as my pregnancy is the fourth among SNP MSPs and their partners since we came to power, we are clearly doing all that we can to fulfil that Government commitment.
- Hugh O’Donnell:
Not all of you.
- Shirley-Anne Somerville:
We can work on the rest of the group.
I also welcome the refreshingly proactive approach that the Scottish Government is demonstrating to building relationships, engaging with the international community and expanding the use of our cultural assets to promote Scotland to a wider audience. However, the action that the Government can take to tackle skills shortages is limited in its scope, because immigration and asylum remain outwith our control. The Scottish Parliament was formed to allow us to find Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. This is surely an example of an area in which policy here must diverge from that in the rest of the UK.
To give it its due, I should say that the former Scottish Executive made a start on that with the launch of the fresh talent initiative. I was pleased to see Linda Fabiani's announcement last month of further investment in projects to prepare international students who are studying in Scotland to move into work here, too. However, the fresh talent initiative falls woefully short of what is required to tackle Scotland's skills shortages, and has even fallen far short of its own limited expectations. Since the scheme was launched, just over 6,000 people have successfully applied to live and work in Scotland. That is far fewer than the project's own initial target of 8,000 new skilled immigrants per year. However, even if the fresh talent initiative had succeeded in bringing 8,000 extra skilled immigrants to Scotland each year, that is still far fewer than our proportional share of UK immigration.
This spring sees the fresh talent initiative being incorporated into the UK-wide points-based system for managed migration, which will mark the end of the much-needed—albeit limited—competitive advantage that the scheme provided for Scotland. Far more has to be done if we are to reverse our declining and ageing population and fill Scotland's skills gaps.
The lack of flexibility within the UK arrangement is in stark contrast to the powers over immigration that are enjoyed by other devolved governments. For example, Australia recognised the benefit of area-specific migration policies more than a decade ago and has since 1995 successfully implemented various state-specific migration mechanisms. Those have enabled states with acute population problems to decide on the suitability of applicants to contribute to the economy of their areas, even when they fall short of national criteria, and for visas to be issued for that state alone. That has been hugely successful: between 1996 and 2003, the number of skilled migrants to states increased by some 600 per cent.
The Canada-Quebec accord of 1991 lays out the roles of federal and state Governments on immigration into Quebec. The level of control over the volume and profile of immigrants has allowed Quebec to begin to tackle effectively its problems of population decline. Since that accord was signed, migration into Quebec has increased, which the Government has welcomed.
As the examples of Australian states and Quebec show, it is not the case that only a nation state with full control over its borders can operate a successful immigration policy. Devolving immigration in the UK would allow the creation of a Scottish green-card system that was designed for economic immigrants, which would address our demographic problems and our skills gaps. That would allow us to meet skills shortages in Scotland rather than have our needs subsumed by those of our larger neighbour.
The development of an international framework is another positive step by the Government, which is proving that even with its limited powers it has the talent to build Scotland's international relationships and to develop a more positive and outward-looking nation. Members can imagine what we could do if we had more powers and did not have one hand tied behind our back.
- Helen Eadie (Dunfermline East) (Lab):
The Scottish Government's international framework interests me considerably. While reading the Official Report of some of the European and External Relations Committee's proceedings on the international strategy, I was struck by several contributions that ring true to my knowledge and experience.
My top line in the debate is to support the views of Sir David Edward, with whom I agreed strongly when I read his comments in the Official Report. He said:
"Another area on which we need to focus is the emerging democracies that aspire to be part of Europe."—[Official Report, European and External Relations Committee, 22 January 2008; c 316.]
The John Smith Memorial Trust does a lot of work on that, and a body with which Sir David is connected—the International Association of Business and Parliament, of which the Scottish Parliament and Business Exchange is a component—does a great deal of work in Georgia, Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine. Those are not developing countries; they are emerging democracies. We have not only an interest in them, but a duty to devote attention to those countries.
As Malcolm Chisholm said, international development is interlinked with and is an integral part of the very being of Scotland's people, churches, missionary work and voluntary organisations.
- Linda Fabiani:
I make it plain that in the international framework—I emphasise that it is a framework—international development is a priority. From that, we have the international development plan, which details all the policy and matches our increased resources. I also make it clear that the Indian sub-continent is mentioned in the international development policy.
- Helen Eadie:
Thank you. Getting a hold of development plans has always been difficult; one was published only today.
Janet Brown of the Scottish Qualifications Authority agreed with Sir David Edward's sentiments. From an education perspective, we can add value in the countries that I mentioned as they develop.
Sir David Edward and Janet Brown expressed one of the most important points at the round-table discussion that I read, which Malcolm Chisholm chaired: it was that for any society and business to flourish, there must be stable democracy. Achievement of that remains our challenge in many countries. Our experience of the oil and gas industry in the UK has been built on a stable political environment—at least until now. Whether that is set to change remains to be seen. We can learn from Quebec a slightly different lesson from that which Shirley-Anne Somerville taught us. A major bank has moved out of Quebec in the face of political instability there. It is not the only company to have done so.
The European and External Relations Committee's round-table discussion also dealt with eastern Europe. The Official Report documents Gil Paterson talking about the low cost of, and ease of access to, the emerging markets in eastern Europe for Scottish businesses, relative to the Chinese, Indian, Asian and North American markets. He made the important point that smaller businesses in Scotland are more likely to access eastern Europe than the other markets that I cited. However, I read in the evidence to the committee that support for businesses in eastern Europe is almost non-existent and that all resources are siphoned off to China and the other places that I mentioned.
According to Professor Nikolai Zhelev, who lives in Dundee and is the honorary consul for Bulgaria and president of the Scottish Bulgarian Association, it has been estimated that 30,000 Brits have bought properties and businesses in Bulgaria. That is relevant to languages issues and support for business. Last year, having written to every university in Scotland, I discovered that not one of them offers either Romanian or Bulgarian language learning.
Of course, the market in China offers lucrative returns on investments that go well beyond those that are offered in eastern Europe, but greater risks and costs are attached to such investments. I hope that the Scottish Government will seriously address such issues in the action plans that are to flow from the international framework. It is apparent that stakeholders who took part in the round-table discussion take such issues seriously. I am concerned that the framework does not incorporate languages—which are important—as a main theme. Business representatives who attended that discussion said that the ability to engage socially using another language is important.
I note from the framework that the Scottish Government has identified that linking proactively with other countries will be a priority, but ministers do not even visit Brussels or EU partner countries. I have lodged up to a dozen parliamentary questions that have asked for details of Scottish Government ministers' visits. To date, there have been visits by the First Minister, Kenny MacAskill, Richard Lochhead and the Solicitor General for Scotland. That hardly represents an energetic and proactive commitment. I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government plans to encourage more visits, but I note from the Official Report that 60 European Council meetings have been held since the SNP Government took office. It can be seen from the evidence that I mentioned that only one minister has attended a Council meeting, which is lamentable. That hardly smacks of a Scottish Government being committed to promoting Scotland energetically.
- Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP):
I will try to inject a little more energy into the SNP's contribution to the debate—not that there was no energy in our contribution before.
It is important to be aspirational in the international framework because the scenario is constantly changing. The minister mentioned the limited resources that we have under devolution. It is obvious to me that ministers in the current Government have been to Europe and other places far more than were previous ministers. Indeed, we should deal with our engagement with the EU—Mike Russell led a ceilidh in Brussels just last week, for goodness' sake. Helen Eadie had better find out about such things in the answers to her questions. I should say that Mike Russell led that ceilidh after business.
When he came back from the United States of America, the First Minister stated that following such a successful visit at a modest cost, the next move would be to have a Scottish week in Russia. That is a great idea. Markets have been identified in China and India in the far east, but we are missing out on a huge nation that is becoming an important part of our lives, as part of Europe. The Nazis slaughtered 20 million people when they invaded Russia. As Dick Gaughan said, the Russians
"died fighting on our side".
We have a lot in common with Russians. We stood alone with Russia during the war and Russia has felt enormously isolated in the world. Its birth as a capitalist country was harsh, and many of its younger leaders regret the impositions of the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, and the turbo-capitalism that was imposed on it. They want to forge links with the social democratic countries in western Europe that are their natural allies. Our international strategy can help to develop such links. We already have quite a lot of economic links with Russia; after all, London relies to a great extent on gas from the middle of Russia and beyond.
I have had the pleasure of meeting senior officials from the province of Yugra, which is three hours east of Moscow by air, beyond the Urals. Yugra is the richest oil province in Russia. Some 1.5 million well-off people there work in an industry that is powering the Russian economy. Those people are not just looking for economic links, although I hope that they will get them through Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise outlets, so that we can start to get that trade. Tens of thousands of Russians are coming to this country. I quote a document that was produced under the previous Administration just before the G8 summit, entitled "Scotland's Links With Russia", which says that 20,000 visitors from Russia come to Scotland every year and that Russian tourists spend more than twice as much as tourists of any other G8 nationality. The potential for us to seek out such markets is something that our international strategy cannot afford to ignore.
The same document talks about "Celebrating the Saltire" in acknowledging our links with Russia. It states:
"Both Scotland and Russia have the same patron saint St Andrew. The saltire became a potent symbol of nationhood when Peter the Great, used it as the principal Russian order of knighthood. Fife born Samuel Greig served in the British Navy joining the Russian Navy in 1764. He was responsible for transforming the Russian Navy during the reign of Catherine the Great and today the saltire is the emblem of the Russian Navy."
Members should note that the saltire was a potent symbol of nationhood in 1764 and it is an even more potent symbol of nationhood now that the Scottish Government is independently minded and is going out to the world to deal with our friends, welcoming them as friends to a Scotland that aspires to be a normal country.
If people ask us about our national conversation and how the people see our future, I do not think that they want to talk about our doing nothing or being unambitious. The Liberal Democrat amendment is therefore completely misplaced, as it would not allow the free flow of ideas that comes naturally from a confident Government. I like to think that it is possible for our Government to be out there with its policies uninhibited by the silly and petty-minded approach of the Liberal Democrats, who today look even more last century than they did before.
In the European context, extending the European Union towards Kiev and Moscow would be good for us, and we can play a part in that. However, at the moment, we are also playing our part in the European Union by holding out the hand of friendship to Iceland—which was mentioned earlier—and Norway. Such countries have so much in common with us that our international strategy must embrace them. It is now possible for us to have a Government that tries to build those friendships by perhaps encouraging those countries to join the European Union. Our common interests in our natural resources—fish and energy—make it necessary for us to harness such friendships in north-western Europe, which has so much to contribute to the continent.
I am delighted that the new strategy looks out towards such things. It must look for some of the great opportunities that exist, particularly in Europe and Russia.
- Liam McArthur (Orkney) (LD):
The motion is in Linda Fabiani's name, but the reference to the need
"to extend, focus and align the actions and policies of the government and public sector partners"
surely betrays the invisible hand of the high priest of mind-mapping, Mr Mather. I dare say that Linda Fabiani will insist that that is all part of joined-up government. However, it is what the motion does not say that is most revealing about this minority Government's approach and its determination to stick to the Swinney mantra of downplaying independence at home while pursuing a narrow, partisan agenda overseas when the opportunity presents itself. There is no mandate for such an agenda: it does not command the support of the chamber and, more important, it commands little and diminishing support among the wider public in Scotland. The amendments that have been lodged by Iain Smith, Malcolm Chisholm and Ted Brocklebank address that concern, set the proper context and rectify what is surely an oversight on the part of the minister.
As with the Government's economic strategy that was launched last year, I found much in the framework with which I whole-heartedly agree. That is perhaps no surprise, as a great deal of the framework borrows heavily—indeed, as Malcolm Chisholm said, some of it is lifted directly—from the strategies that were adopted by the previous Executive, despite more of the minister's year zero rhetoric, highlighted by Iain Smith. For example, who can take issue with the need to develop a globally competitive and successful Scotland? Whatever has been done to date, I do not dispute the need for Scotland to do more to remove the barriers to attracting high-quality talent to Scotland and to take steps to retain the talent that we have already attracted by improving the integration of new Scots into our society, but the framework provides little by way of detail on how those laudable aspirations will be achieved.
Like other members—perhaps not including Shirley-Anne Somerville—I recall the less than fulsome endorsement that the SNP gave to the establishment of the fresh talent initiative when it was in opposition. We remain in the dark as to how the Government intends that further success will be delivered—although I pay glowing tribute to Ms Somerville's personal endeavours.
Likewise, I welcome the recognition that major events such as Glasgow 2014 and the Ryder cup can be real drivers of economic growth. Building a lasting legacy from those events will not be straightforward, however, and will take more than warm words. Relentless focus and commitment will be required. In that regard, the Government's record on sportscotland does not bode well.
In acknowledging Scotland's financial services sector as a genuine success story of recent years, the framework may be stating the obvious, but it could have served a useful function if it had gone on to identify how the Government intends to support and develop that sector internationally.
The Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism talks incessantly about how he is getting various groups together in a room—sometimes rooms with mirrors, usually rooms with flip-charts but always rooms resounding to the echoes of brains being stormed. However, no group of stakeholders and no section of the business community or of academia have urged him or his ministerial colleagues to pack the passport and set off on a mission to talk up Scottish independence.
Scotland is distinct and our brand in overseas markets is strong, although perhaps not always as strong as we like to think. In sectors as diverse as tourism and life sciences, we have a first-class reputation that provides a solid foundation on which to build further success. Indeed, from ministerial visits overseas in which I participated, I know the positive perception and level of awareness that exists about what Scotland can offer. I remember one European deputy foreign minister—albeit that, I admit to Christopher Harvie, he was not Icelandic—who declared that he would give his right arm to be in Scotland's position. That strength of brand—of what Scotland is and what it can offer—is not diminished in any way by our being part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, that has enabled Scotland to have a presence and influence and generally to punch above its weight worldwide. Ted Brocklebank spoke learnedly about the extent to which that is an historic phenomenon.
In opposition, SNP members were critical of ministerial visits abroad; in office, SNP ministers have overcome that aversion and even developed a bit of a taste for such visits. Where those involve the First Minister embarking on ego-trips to Brussels to promote his one-way national conversation to MEPs—who, perhaps in anticipation, had taken themselves off to Strasbourg—no useful purpose is served. Where a confusing message about Scotland's place in the UK and EU is promoted by a minority Administration that has no mandate to do so, active damage can be done.
Scotland achieved the status of European region of the future in 2004-05 and again for 2008-09. It was also northern Europe/UK region of the future in 2006-07. Those awards require clarity about our position in the UK and in the EU. Talk of independence and EU membership negotiations may play to the gallery at SNP conferences, but it works against the interests of Scotland and Scotland's economy. That fact cannot have escaped SNP ministers as they have trotted the globe. The extent to which they have been able to draw on the resources, support and market intelligence of the UK's embassies and councils across the world must have driven that message home.
Within that context, Scottish Development International has a vital role to play. I have seen at first hand the excellent work that SDI does for Scotland in key international markets. I know the value that is placed on that by Scottish businesses. That the Government has left the organisation without a permanent head for more than a year is deeply regrettable. For all its talk of clarity of visions and decisiveness, the Government's actions smack rather of dither and delay.
As Iain Smith said, the Government's decision to reduce higher education's resource funding in real terms next year is also likely to have an adverse impact on an area in which Scotland has enjoyed a competitive advantage overseas.
The Government's international framework and supporting strategies have much to commend them. They echo the approach of earlier documents, although they still require some fleshing out. However, the insidious pursuit overseas of an independence agenda causes confusion, damages our interests and has nothing to do with our country's aspirations and sense of ambition.
In the spirit of Schuman day, which I am grateful to Irene Oldfather for mentioning, I urge Linda Fabiani to think again.
- Gavin Brown (Lothians) (Con):
In summing up for the Scottish Conservatives, I want to touch on four main issues. First, I will reiterate the point that my colleague Ted Brocklebank made in both his amendment and his speech about the importance of relying on UK resources in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Secondly, I will touch on the positive aspects of the international framework, which includes some good work. Thirdly, I will highlight areas in the framework where there are gaps and where more could be done. When summing up the debate, the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism may want to take on board one or two of the issues that I raise.
Fourthly, I will comment briefly on the monitoring and tracking that must take place in the future, because a document, framework and policy is only as good as its delivery in practice. Clear monitoring arrangements must be in place. In her opening speech, the Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture stated that Scotland week had been a big success and that we knew categorically that it had delivered good value, but it would be interesting for us to hear exactly what analysis of the event has been done. Obviously, the Government can tell us how much was spent on Scotland week, but it would be much more useful for us to know exactly what its short, medium and long-term benefits for the whole of Scotland are.
It is important that we work carefully in tandem with the UK Government and use existing resources carefully. Mr Brocklebank mentioned the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Council, which have offices and experience across the globe. They have an impeccable track record of delivering for Scotland and the UK, and it is important that we rely on that. The difference between the positions of Mr Brocklebank and Linda Fabiani is one of emphasis. It is true that our amendment reiterates a point that is included in the document, but the purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the point is emphasised properly and made a priority. At the moment, it is tucked away on page 6 of the document and not highlighted as a genuine priority to be taken forward. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Council can help us to create business, cultural and educational benefits in the future.
There is not much in the document with which we disagree. It contains a lot of good stuff and tells a positive story about Scotland. It talks about our educational establishments. Although we will have disagreements about the funding of those establishments, the bottom line is that they punch well above their weight internationally. We should be proud of what they do now and of what they can do in the future.
The document talks about the businesses that we have. We should be proud of our businesses, especially financial services, food and drink, life sciences and a host of others that punch well above their weight.
The document discusses the potential for tourism. Every party represented in the chamber supports the target of 50 per cent growth in tourism by 2015. The document also talks about events that we know that we will host. I make a personal plea for us to bid for a good football event in the future, possibly the European championship, but it remains to be seen whether that will happen.
I turn to the gaps in the document. Mr Mather will understand that the people who are most likely to give us business in the future are people who have given us business in the past. The countries from which we are most likely to get tourists in the future are countries that have provided us with tourists in the past. It is right that we should go after new markets and seize opportunities, but we cannot give away ground in areas where we are already strong.
I will focus for a moment on tourism, as I have some knowledge of the issue. The countries from which most tourists to Scotland come are the USA, Germany, France, Ireland, Canada, Spain, Australia, Italy and the Netherlands, in that order; I cannot remember the other country in the top 10. Only three of those nine countries are mentioned in the international framework document. It talks about having relations with EU institutions and better relationships with Finland, Norway and Iceland—I have forgotten the collective term for those countries—but there is no mention of the countries with which we need to have stronger bilateral relationships. We are much more likely to get future tourists and business from Germany, France and Spain than from some of the other countries that have been mentioned. That is a gap in the document.
The document touches briefly on events south of the border. We must be mindful that we are more likely to do business with businesses and people south of the border than with the European countries that I mentioned. People south of the border are those most likely to move to Scotland and help us to create a better future. English tourists provide £1.7 billion a year to the Scottish economy; the rest of the world provides £1.4 billion. An international framework document should reflect the countries with which we already do business and the ones with which we are most likely to do business in future. Monitoring and tracking will be key. It will be good to hear about any monitoring of the USA visit and Highland 2007, so that we can apply the lessons learned from them to homecoming 2009.
- Elaine Murray (Dumfries) (Lab):
As other members have said, the sentiments in the international framework are not new; they were in the previous Executive's international strategy, which itself was underpinned by individual strategies for the United States, China and Germany. The success of the previous strategy was acknowledged by several contributors who gave evidence to the European and External Relations Committee earlier this year. As Malcolm Chisholm and Hugh O'Donnell pointed out, the framework is, if anything, less comprehensive and possibly rather less well expressed than that of the previous Executive. Like the Government's economic strategy, the framework is full of high-level aspirations with which many of us would agree, but it is short on the detail of how those aspirations might be achieved or how the framework's success will be assessed.
As the Labour amendment recognises, the framework contains little on international development and our responsibilities as a wealthy nation. International relations are not only about growing Scotland's economy; they are about how we contribute to tackling international issues such as poverty, climate change and food insecurity. The Scottish Government's international development policy, which was published today, contains welcome references, such as the continuation of Scotland's relationship with Malawi and the commitment to becoming a Fairtrade nation. I wonder why the Government feels unable to accept our amendment, which appears to be in agreement with that policy.
- Linda Fabiani:
I am quite relaxed about the amendment, but I think that it is superfluous because we state clearly in the international framework our responsibility for international development. The separate policy on international development follows from the framework. I am worried that there is a lack of understanding on Labour's behalf about what a framework is and how action plans work.
- Elaine Murray:
I assure the minister that there is no lack of understanding. The motion should refer to international development.
The international framework is intended to co-ordinate the Government's international activities with the priorities of the economic strategy. We will shortly hear from the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism, who I am sure will sum up for the Government in the motivational style for which he is renowned. I was beginning to think that he had been holding master classes for his colleagues. Linda Fabiani spoke of "flexible pragmatism" and
"agile ways of reaching out more widely to civic society".
Chris Harvie talked of "Small, acrobatic countries" and we heard Rob Gibson's revelation about Michael Russell as the dashing white sergeant leading a ceilidh in Brussels. I began to wonder whether the Government had some sort of job lot of glucosamine.
Whether the Government's actions equate with the rhetoric of the framework or, indeed, the Government's economic strategy, must be examined. There sometimes appears to be a dichotomy between Government rhetoric and action on Scotland's economy. The framework refers to VisitScotland's role in promoting Scotland overseas but, at the same time, the Government is reducing VisitScotland's funding in real terms by 0.5 per cent per annum over the period of the spending review. The Government has also removed support for tourism-based modern apprenticeships.
The framework refers to encouraging investment in Scotland, but the Government proposes to make Scotland the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom—a proposal that has not found favour with business. The final sentence of the framework aspires to
"influencing people to choose Scotland as a great place to live, learn, visit, work",
but the Government has failed to come up with a successor to the route development fund, which developed direct air links with Europe, the United States and the middle east, benefiting both tourism and business. My colleague Irene Oldfather has raised concerns about the consequences for Glasgow Prestwick airport and presented a vision of how that airport could be used to promote Scotland overseas.
The Government's draft action plan on European engagement claims—the Liberals made much reference to this—that without independence the Government is seriously limited in its ability to represent Scotland's interests in Brussels. However, despite our encouragement, and despite concern from business that the current uncertainty over Scotland's constitutional status ought to be resolved, the Government is curiously reluctant to accelerate its proposals for a referendum on independence.
Reference is made in the international framework document to the successes of the financial services and life sciences sectors, but I am unclear as to how the Government intends to address the concerns that those sectors have about skills shortages at many levels—not just at undergraduate or graduate levels—in areas such as IT, science and pharmaceuticals, on which those sectors are crucially dependent.
The document has, of course, the mandatory references to the arc of prosperity countries and the Celtic lion—sorry, the celtic lion. I must have my Queen of the South Football Club hat on. However, in his intervention, Jeremy Purvis illustrated the dependence of Iceland on the United States of America and the effect that that has on Iceland's economy. The same is true for Ireland. Indeed, in Ireland, house prices fell by 9 per cent in the year to February 2008 and there is disillusionment with the euro, a significant slow-down in economic growth and even talk of a slump. The celtic tiger could be forgiven for feeling that it might be becoming an endangered species.
Aside from the oft-quoted Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development statistics, there is evidence that Scotland compares well against other countries and has good prospects. The Financial Times group's fDi magazine awards for European cities and regions of the future 2008-09 rates Scotland higher than any of the arc of prosperity regions overall. It rates Edinburgh as the top European city, Scotland as the second most business-friendly region next to London and Edinburgh as the second-best city for human resources next to London. That is not to suggest that we should be complacent, but it indicates that Scotland appears to be going in the right direction. That is partly due, of course, to Governments at all levels, past and present, but in particular to the business community in its widest sense.
There have been references to other questions that require answers. For example, Irene Oldfather raised at the European and External Relations Committee the issue of the attendance of ministers at European Council meetings in the past year, and Helen Eadie raised the issue again in the debate. I could ask ministers what future they envisage for Scottish Development International. The Minister for Europe was unable to explain that to the European and External Relations Committee last week. Perhaps the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism can enlighten us.
At a meeting of Co-operation Development Scotland this morning, I was particularly interested to hear that the turnover of the top 300 global co-operative enterprises in 2006-07 was equivalent to that of the world's ninth largest economy. The Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism aspires to increasing the contribution of co-operatives and social enterprises to the Scottish economy to match the contribution of such enterprises in Finland, Switzerland and Sweden. Many members in the chamber share that aspiration. I wonder whether the minister can advise what is being done to try to encourage those big global co-operatives to invest inwardly in Scotland.
I am pleased that this Government is taking forward the work of the previous Executive and I am happy to support the focus on sustainable economic growth in Scotland, but that needs to be balanced by a commitment to international development.
- Linda Fabiani:
Will the member give way?
- Elaine Murray:
I am in my final few seconds.
Again, I ask ministers to consider accepting our amendment so that the motion that the Parliament agrees refers both to the international framework and to the commitment to international development that is shared across the Parliament.
- The Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism (Jim Mather):
The Scottish Government's international framework document sets out a strategic objective for international activity. The approach is based on consultation with stakeholders who believe that flexibility is superior to a rigid adherence to targets for a long list of activities. That view has come up time after time when we run any session with any sector. The approach aligns the international framework with the national focus on increased sustainable growth. Therefore, the framework augments the work that my department has been doing with Scottish industrial sectors, an aspect of which has been to boost confidence in overseas locations as a source of sales, investment, talent and joint ventures and to build a stronger, more vivid, more meaningful Scottish brand.
The Scottish Government's international development policy and refreshed China plan focus on enlightened national self-interest and on altruism. We want more people, increased trade and higher GDP, more inward investment and more tourism—we want the year of homecoming in 2009 to be a resounding success—but we are also releasing Scottish values, interactions, capabilities, facilities and moneys as forces for good in the world.
We should regard the Government's role as catalytic. We will always strive to create the optimal conditions, which will ultimately enable links with the business, scientific and education communities, with cultural and civic Scotland and with the third sector to flower and to drive progress. That is the engine that will drive population and GDP goals and international activity. The international framework will help by enabling more people to see the merit of coming together to promote and benefit from the Scottish brand, thereby fulfilling their ambitions and boosting the national interest.
Our role is to facilitate and encourage more such exchanges and to identify key points of leverage at which our intervention can help to move things along. If there were more pairing in the Parliament, we could do even more—I would certainly welcome that. However, even as we play the ball as it lies we are getting across the message that Scotland is on the move. The enterprise networks have been reformed, international engagement is taking place, the Council of Economic Advisers is elevating debate and we are raising the profile of Scotland and its constituent parts at every opportunity.
This year's change of name and focus for Scotland week was hugely well received and sent the right signal, creating a platform for us to do the new and exciting things that get international attention, such as announcing the saltire prize with the National Geographic Society. I made 16 house calls on businesses and attended two receptions in the United States in six days and I found people over there to be open and receptive to us, big style.
Members' speeches were useful and I have tried my best to capture the ideas and challenges that they contained. Irene Oldfather's mention of Schuman day was welcome. I am all for systems thinking and for pulling people together, and her patriotic analysis of landscape, literature and democracy in Scotland did her and the country credit. I acknowledge that Jack McConnell played a useful role in helping to internationalise Scotland; Henry McLeish and Donald Dewar did, too. First Minister status seems to promote a desire to make international connections, which I welcome. I remember Donald Dewar telling us that the Scottish Parliament was not an end in itself but a means to an end.
Irene Oldfather challenged us on how we help Scottish companies, particularly manufacturing companies. We are working more closely with companies sector by sector and we are getting people to see opportunities for joint ventures and outsourcing, for example. We are working hard with SDI to make international calls, to sell Scotland abroad better and attract investment, but ultimately it is the claim of right on economic powers that will make the difference. If there is fragility, it is a legacy; we see strengths and we will work on those strengths.
- Liam McArthur:
Does the minister accept that SDI's work is undermined, if not hobbled, by the lack of a permanent head? Given that we are a year into the current Government, should not that issue have been addressed?
- Jim Mather:
The key point is that SDI is an important organisation, which is vital to Scotland, so it is critical that we get the right person in place. The recruitment process is on-going and the interim leadership is doing a stellar job—I am talking about 26,000 added-value jobs last year. We take the issue seriously. It would have been devastating to have made a facile early appointment that was wrong for Scotland and we were determined not to do that.
The international development issue has been raised and raised again in the debate, but members have not yet recognised that the budget has doubled. That is the significant contribution that we have made. I say to Helen Eadie that the key point for a small country such as Scotland is the need to focus and move forward. In meeting one of the life sciences companies in Seattle last month, I was told:
"Cash may be king, but focus is Queen."
We will focus and drive Scotland forward accordingly.
- Jeremy Purvis:
Will the minister give way?
- Jim Mather:
I have taken a Liberal Democrat intervention. I want to move on to contributions from the Conservatives.
Ted Brocklebank was aspirational and internationalist. He gave the chamber an epic history lesson, but I wish that he could be a little more positive about the counter history. Scotland would have survived and done well under any set of circumstances. We will have to get Mr Brocklebank to improve his handling of good news.
Liam McArthur spoke about Scotland's status as EU region of the future, but he should have treated it much more seriously and vaunted it much more strongly. I do not have any such issue with Gavin Brown, who was optimistic and positive. Essentially, even when he talked of gaps in the document, he made me think. I took something positive from that criticism, too. I welcome his key point, which was on monitoring. A key early measurement of that is that doors are open to us—people are engaging with us. We are measuring jobs. In the longer term, I am keen to measure GDP in terms of the profits, jobs and wages at companies that are inward investing in Scotland and the companies that are exporting from Scotland. Gavin Brown's point that the most likely people on whom to build tourism growth are our existing customers is absolutely rock solid.
That is exactly what we were doing in making our house calls—
- The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman):
I am sorry to interrupt, minister, but far too many conversations are going on in the chamber.
- Jim Mather:
We reward our existing companies by paying serious attention to them, sitting round the table and asking, "What are the inhibitors? What can we do to allow you to do more business in Scotland or to allow your business activity to be more and more profitable?" We saw some fantastic results. For example, the Apache Corporation, which now runs the Forties oilfield, showed us the stellar rise in production that it has achieved in contrast to the dropping off in production under BP.
We are up to engaging with those self-nominating countries. Ministers—my colleague, Linda Fabiani, in particular—are working constantly with the consular service in Scotland. Last night, we were out, talking to the Japanese consul general who represents a country of 125 million. Rob Gibson spoke about Russia. Countries such as Japan and Russia see Scotland as a unique brand, the key factors of which are our huge capabilities and strong attributes in sector after sector. There is worldwide demand from countries to interact with Scotland. The fact that we can leverage our 5 million person presence into the economies of Russia, the United States, Canada, Australia and Western Europe augurs well for us.
I learned from Christopher Harvie's speech, including about triumphs of ingenuity in Iceland, albeit that I could do without some of its economic aspects. The idea that small acrobatic countries will do well is a hard-wired view that I have held for a long time. I therefore support Shirley-Anne Somerville's comments on immigration policy being a requirement for Scotland, as are more economic powers. That is exactly the view that is held by Professor Robert Wright, of the University of Strathclyde—that arms-length arbiter and a world expert on Scottish population—who, in coming all the way from Canada to Scotland, saw things correctly for the first time, and clearly.
The key factor in the speeches of Liberal Democrat colleagues was the narrowness of their position. They require to take a more open-minded attitude to the options and opportunities that face Scotland. Our situation is one in which Scotland can burgeon. The antithesis of all that is the position of the Liberal Democrats, who want to limit Scotland and box it in. I encourage them to open their minds.
I endorse the objectives of the international framework and commend it thoroughly to the Parliament.