Scotland in the World: A New Perspective

[back to previous text]

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): I was interested to hear what the Minister said about meeting the airline industry. When she does so next week, will she ask the airline companies that are withdrawing some of their charter flights—especially from Aberdeen and Edinburgh—as a result of the implications of 11 September, to ensure that any alternative arrangements put in place are not at the extra cost of travellers who have already booked their flights or holidays?

Mrs. Liddell: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I shall discuss it with the industry. I shall also mention it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who will have an interest in the matter, and I will report to my hon. Friend.

A key aim of VisitScotland is to build a strong brand. The entire industry needs to embrace the changes required to allow Scottish tourism to compete at its highest level, as does the United Kingdom. I keep in close contact with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and my colleagues in the Scottish Executive.

I spend a lot of time speaking to people from throughout the world about Scotland, and when I do so I can tell a tale of much greater vibrancy and vigour in Scotland. As you know, Mrs. Adams, I have spent much of the past month visiting our famous towns that are now applying for city status—Ayr, Dumfries and Stirling—and I hope by the end of the week to visit Paisley. When speaking to young people and those involved in promoting their towns for city status, one cannot fail to be impressed by the self-confidence and vitality. It is catching, even in some of our more sober institutions. Banks and other big financial companies are throwing off the cobwebs that have perhaps been associated with them in the past, and meeting the demands of the 21st century.

There is a great flowering of determination, energy and vision, and that is the Scotland of tomorrow. I believe passionately that we need to tell the world about it, and I want to do just that—to get out there and spread the message about that new Scotland. I cannot do so all by myself. A resource is out there—a massive army—that we have never properly accessed. Tens of millions of people throughout the world describe themselves as Scottish. In the United States alone, 11 million people describe themselves as Scottish when asked their nationality. That is more than twice the number of people who live in Scotland. We should use that resource.

I am working closely with the Executive and its global connections initiative, which is targeted specifically at business and the new technologies. I have discussed the idea with opinion formers throughout Scotland, and there is a unanimity of view that that is necessary. Everyone agrees that the time is right to use that worldwide resource, and everyone recognises that their own sector, whether it be banking, university research, trade, the arts, business or the voluntary sector—and consequently, all of us—stands to gain if a clear message is sent throughout the world about the new Scotland.

Achieving that aim means reaching out to the extended Scottish family and encouraging our friends to take a stake in the rebirth of Scotland—a modern, confident, democratic, high-tech Scotland. I want to reach out to that diaspora and carry to the friends of Scotland around the world our vision for a prosperous, outward-looking and caring Scotland in the United Kingdom to tap that immensely rich seam of good will towards Scotland world wide, among those millions of people of Scottish origin, among the tens of thousands who have graduated from our universities and moved out internationally to become movers and shakers in their own countries, and among the millions who share our belief in innovation, hard work and compassion. That seam has been largely untouched. Devolution has created a new opportunity to realise that good will for the people of Scotland and, in partnership with the Scottish Executive, that is what I intend to do.

During my visit to New York in the aftermath of 11 September, I saw the closeness of the ties that exist. The host of the dinner at which I spoke in New York joined us last night in the Banqueting house. When times have been hard in Scotland, we have faced much adversity as a people and our friends in the United States have often been there to help us. Many hon. Members will have family in the United States of America. Americans of Scottish descent have often reached out to us. In America's time of trial, we reached out to them, and they showed their appreciation in ways that touched me deeply.

Most of us saw the moving day when the Coldstream Guards played the ``Star-Spangled Banner'' outside Buckingham palace. Mayor Giuliani invited the Coldstream Guards to New York to play during the week ``UK with New York''. Tens of thousands of people went to hear them, and bandsmen were overwhelmed by the warmth of feeling that they received because there was a sense that a people was reaching out to embrace them. We must recognise that we must draw closer together internationally as the world becomes a harsher place.

That recognition, in part, underpins the initiative that I launched last night—the friends of Scotland initiative. Much work must be done, and today I announce the membership of the advisory group that will support me in taking the initiative forward. The members are senior figures from various fields who have connections with Scotland's friends throughout the world and will help to develop the initiative. I am embarking on not an off-the-shelf formula but a process that involves listening to people and developing ideas for the maximum benefit of Scotland. I want the initiative to involve business, commerce, tourism and the arts, government and the voluntary sector.

Nine distinguished and imaginative Scots will serve as the initial members of the group, which I will chair. They are: Sir John Kerr, the Permanent Under-Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Professor Tom Devine, the director of the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies at Aberdeen university; Donal Dowds, the managing director of BAA Scottish Airports and chairman elect of Scottish Council for Development and Industry; Eddie Frizzell, the head of the Scottish Executive Department for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning; Susan Rice, the chief executive of Lloyds TSB Scotland; Douglas Rae, the managing director of Ecosse Films; David Taylor, the chief executive of the Scottish Football Association; Kim Winser, the chief executive of Pringle of Scotland; and Dr. Sheila Brock who was, until recently, the campaign director of the Museum of Scotland.

The group will help me to tap into the networks that already exist through which Scotland is connected overseas. Some of the connections are obvious: the work that is undertaken by the Scottish Executive and Scottish Enterprise under the global connections strategy is a good example. However, there are many more connections that are not as clearly defined, such as connections that involve cultural linkages or the arts. We must start work quickly; I would like that to start before the end of the year.

A friends of Scotland unit will be established in the Scotland Office, which will work with the Executive and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to make the most of Scotland's enormous strengths, to pull together the story of Scotland, and to tell that to the friends of Scotland around the world. It will support the advisory group and implement its decisions. Resources that are necessary will be committed to the unit.

I intend to reach out to many people around the world and equip them to give the message about the new Scotland. Many of them, like us, do not know the full story of what is happening throughout Scotland. Much of what occurs is exciting and fast moving. These people will be envoys and champions, and will probably be members of the Scottish diaspora who have made their lives elsewhere, but they may also be people who feel great kinship and friendship with Scotland. They will be invited to spread the message and help the new Scotland.

We will use the internet to communicate the message and to provide news, information and advice. We will develop ``Scotland: The Script'', which will be a straightforward and up-to-date tool for anyone spreading the message in government or outside. We will develop a bridge of people throughout the world by fostering exchanges and secondments so that people at different levels in our society may work internationally to help to cement relationships.

Scotland can hold its head high in the world. It has a proud history, which has left a mark that far exceeds what we could have expected realistically. However, the time has come to stop repeating our history. It is time to tell a new story about a Scotland that is doing well and making its mark in the world. What is happening today in Scotland must be broadcast far and wide. It is time to reach out to all in the world who have a soft spot for Scotland, but to turn that soft spot into hard benefits for the people of Scotland. I urge each and every member of the Committee and each and every Scottish Member of Parliament to join me in doing that. We have a great story to tell; let us go and tell it.

11.40 am

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): I thank the Secretary of State for giving us the opportunity to debate Scotland in the wider world. She mentioned that the fax machine was invented in Scotland, no doubt to tease me. She does not know, however, quite how far that barb struck home, because the fax machine was invented by Alexander Bain in the village of Watten, bang in the middle of my constituency. That will not go down well in the Caithness Courier.

The Secretary of State began by speaking of the devolution settlement, and I believe that what she said is right. The historic devolution settlement that permitted the Scottish Parliament to come into existence has had a major impact on liberating Scotland's drive and energy. Some three or four years before the Parliament came into being, I remember, when visiting various financial institutions in Edinburgh on business, finding a certain lack of drive and a feeling that Edinburgh was—dare I say it in this Committee—almost a provincial city. When I returned about a year after the Parliament had started, there was a real feeling of power in Edinburgh. People clearly felt that they were in a capital city and wanted to get things done. In the financial markets, the impact was noticeable of Holyrood's having given the city the ability to have such determination.

I agree with the Secretary of State that, as a starting point, the devolution settlement that our two parties and much of civic Scotland worked together to bring about has been vital in driving forward the energy that has been released in Scotland. I promise her that I will not praise everything that she said, but when one is being an effective Opposition, rather than just an Opposition, it is important to congratulate the Government on points that are worthy of congratulation and recognise good ideas when one sees them, as well as bringing to the Government's attention areas where they could do better.

In that light, I must say that I greatly enjoyed dinner last night and thank the Secretary of State for her warm hospitality. The lamb might have come from Caithness rather than Ayrshire, but I will not be too critical on that. Broadly, the concept of the friends of Scotland, and of being aggressive in the world—going out and selling the positive aspects of Scotland—is good. I do not think that anyone could or should dissent from it. I congratulate the Secretary of State on that. Our party will do its part in that drive, even if we find ways of telling her that she should be doing things differently, and criticise some of what she does.

When I first saw the title of the debate, I was reminded of being at primary school at Miller academy in Thurso. When we wrote our addresses in our jotters, we would add, ``Caithness, Scotland, Great Britain, Europe, The World, The Universe, Infinity''. I saw the title as one that would allow a pretty wide debate and I was not certain where to begin, so I thought that I would begin in Spain.

There is actually a very good reason for beginning with Spain. Last night, the Secretary of State took great pride in saying that there were many things that people did not know about Scotland. She quoted many interesting facts. In the words of that actor, not a lot of people know this, but Spain is the greatest single market for Scotch whisky—it is worth over £308 million, I believe.

Scotch whisky is one of those great traditional industries of ours. I must immediately declare an interest, although not the usual one, in that I am not only a major consumer of Scotch whisky but a patron of the Keepers of Quaich, which is an interesting organisation, perhaps very pertinent to the debate. We usually say that it was set up in the mists of time—in fact it was set up about 12 years ago, which is the mists of time—as a marketing tool by the Scotch Whisky Association, for the promotion of Scotch whisky overseas. We have two banquets annually at Blair castle, and the organisation has worked extremely well in helping to promote the product. It is a good example of relationship marketing, which is about going out and finding the people with whom you have the most in common and then bringing your products to them. It is a good way forward.

Whisky is also important in other ways, and it illustrates the diversity and linkages that there are in Scotland. A key fact is that Scotch whisky consumes something in the order of 400,000 tonnes of barley a year, so it is a vital part of the agricultural sector.

One of the criticisms that I would like to make of the Secretary of State is that in all that I heard last night and all that she said today, there was no direct reference to agriculture. If we consider the primary sector exports for Scotland and remove oil and gas, the two primary exports are fisheries and agriculture. Those are very important categories. Coming from a fishing constituency and having been chairman of Scrabster Harbour Trust, I certainly know the importance of the fisheries side. However, I believe that agriculture is a key export for Scotland.

To a certain extent, that criticism typifies some of the concerns that I have in the current drive to promote a great new Scotland, which is that we do not lose sight of the great traditional Scotland. Whether in tourism or our traditional industries, we must build on what we have, not set aside what we have. I therefore ask the Secretary of State and those responsible, please do not discard shortbread and tartan and all the other things that are perhaps a little bit cliché Scotland, because there are an awful lot of people throughout the world who come to Scotland and buy it precisely because that exists.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 28 November 2001