Arctic connections: Scotland's arctic policy framework

External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop launches the Arctic Policy Framework in Orkney.

Thank you Linda (Stewart, UHI).

Thank you to the Orkney Islands Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise for your kind welcome and your help in organising today’s event.

I've just come from the Standing Stones of Stenness. As you know, they have stood there for millennia and Sandra, the HES ranger there, just said to me that Orkney has stood at the crossroads of the North Atlantic always. And always will be. I thought that gave a very good understanding of the context of why we are here and we have chosen Orkney to officially launch Arctic Connections, Scotland's Arctic Policy Framework.  

First of all, thank you to those who have travelled from other parts of Scotland, the UK and the rest of Europe to join us here as we launch Arctic Connections.

It is great to see so much interest in Scotland’s Arctic policy and I am encouraged that our enthusiasm for the future of Scottish-Arctic cooperation is widely shared and warmly reciprocated.

I also extend my gratitude to the Orkney Research and Innovation Campus (ORIC) team for hosting us in this truly remarkable, state-of-the-art venue. I am very pleased that the Scottish Government was able to contribute towards this ORIC project costs through our Regeneration Capital Grant Fund. Of course, it’s a great addition to Orkney’s catalogue of excellence and will serve as a catalyst for even more innovative and exciting developments on these islands.

The Scottish Government is striving to create an environment within Scotland that supports a better understanding of international opportunities, and a greater appetite and ability to seize them whatever global and political differences we might have.

Arctic Connections flows from that ambitious agenda. It recognises that international challenges require international solutions, and that by deepening those international partnerships we can improve the lives and wellbeing of our communities.

From clean energy and tourism, to connectivity and education, Arctic Connections seeks to identify the challenges that Scottish communities share with peoples and nations of the High North. It highlights avenues for even greater cooperation and galvanises our efforts to make good on those opportunities that exist.

Arctic Connections is a new, important step in our collective journey towards establishing Scotland not only as a gateway to the Arctic but as a shareholder in its future.

I firmly believe that Scotland has capability and vision to serve as a link between the Arctic region and the wider world – culturally, socially and economically.

This policy framework adds impetus to our endeavour at reshaping our geography. Scotland is not peripheral and isolated in the north west corner of Europe. We are central and strategically positioned, close to the Arctic and well-connected to north America and the rest of Europe.

Arctic Connections sets the direction of travel and illustrates what the Scottish Government and Scotland can do to cement our role as an international partner of choice for our Arctic neighbours, in the rest of Europe and beyond.

I believe this policy framework represents a new, ambitious platform for a Scotland that wants to be even more outward-looking, internationally-minded and to further strengthen our reputation as a good global citizen.

The speed and intensity with which Scottish-Arctic relations have blossomed over recent years has been inspiring.

In November 2017, Edinburgh played host to the Arctic Circle Forum. By welcoming diverse people and interests from across the global North and forging new connections with our Nordic neighbours, the conference cemented Scotland’s position as a valued member of the Arctic family.

It was on that occasion that I announced the Scottish Government would develop its first Arctic policy framework.

Since then, we have invested even more energy into strengthening ties with our Arctic neighbours. The policy framework I am launching today, I hope, conveys that commitment to working with governments, businesses, peoples and organisations across the High North.

This effort faces domestically, as well as internationally. Scotland has seen an increasing appetite for closer cooperation with our Northern friends and neighbours. Collectively, Scotland is looking North.

Last March, Inverness played host to Arctic Day. It gathered people from across Scotland – together with international guests – to discuss the priorities for the present and future of Scottish-Arctic relations. The breadth and the diversity of expertise represented at Arctic Day was truly energising.

From academics and artists, to policy-makers and practitioners, businesses and third-sector organisations, the event showcased the impressive variety of Scotland’s Arctic capability. Arctic Day allowed the Scottish Government to learn from this expertise and enrich our emerging policy framework. I hope a wide range of stakeholders recognise their input in the document.

Let me also take the opportunity to thank the members of the Scottish Government’s Arctic Steering Group for their support and ideas throughout the development of Arctic Connections. Their advice was invaluable to me personally but also to the wider team. And a big thank you goes to Glasgow Caledonian University, who worked with researchers from the University of the Highlands and Islands to develop an Arctic mapping report that informed that framework.

Of course, the seeds of our journey towards establishing Scotland as a trusted Arctic partner were sown centuries ago.

One only needs to explore Orkney to appreciate how deep and diverse our links with the Arctic are. Just this morning, I had the opportunity to visit the splendid Stromness museum, with its rich collection of items connected to Arctic expeditions. What a fantastic treasure trove it is and it was certainly something that I very much appreciated. And if you have a chance, those of you that are visiting, please make sure to visit Stromness museum.

Of course, John Rae was Scotland’s most prominent Arctic Ambassador. Not only did he change the history of the Canadian Arctic by discovering the missing link of the North West Passage, he also lived among indigenous communities, learning from them and showing a respect and appreciation for their knowledge and traditions that was unknown to many of his counterparts. 

And I think that's a really important part of how we approach the Arctic. It's about values and how we work with communities, and for them, and serve them, and put local communities at the heart of solutions, whatever they may be. 

Dr Rae was not the only Orcadian who worked in the north of Canada. At the turn of the Nineteenth century, three-quarters of the Hudson’s Bay workforce originated from these islands.

Orkney’s links with the Arctic go far beyond the historic and colonial eras. Orkney was the departure point, as we’ve heard, for Arctic convoys, commemorated in Lyness on the island of Hoy, that transported food and other crucial supplies to the North of Russia during World War II.

Similarly, the Shetland bus ferried agents, refugees, ammunition and radios between Shetland and German-occupied Norway.

Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took his first literary steps while serving as a surgeon on an Arctic whaling ship.

We will learn more about these fascinating journeys, historical and contemporary, in the first roundtable this morning.

These personal stories, the community links and the deep connections between Scotland and Arctic countries are especially strong in the North of Scotland, but are replicated across the country. Together, they form the rich and colourful canvass of Scottish-Arctic relations.

Scotland’s cooperation with its Nordic neighbours has always been primarily about people. Through history, we have looked at each other for ideas, opportunities and outcomes to shared challenges.

Consistent with this tradition, Arctic Connections is not a geopolitical statement. Rather, it places communities at its heart and is a prospectus for even greater Scottish-Arctic collaboration, based on shared challenges, opportunities and ambitions.

So we have identified six priority themes and set out key actions for each. Together, they form “Scotland’s offer to the Arctic”.

Let me set out some of these actions and commitments.

Starting next year, we will establish a fund to support community-based organisations to increase awareness of Scottish-Arctic links and encourage new opportunities for international collaboration across the Arctic.

In particular, we will promote exchanges between young people in Scotland and the Arctic countries to explore their role in empowering rural, remote communities.

We will work to increase Scotland’s participation in “North-to-North”, the University of the Arctic’s mobility programme. The University of the Highlands and Islands and the University of Aberdeen are already members of the University of the Arctic – we want to build on these strong foundations and encourage even greater cooperation, boosting our academic community’s position at the forefront of Arctic research.

I will strengthen trade and investment links, in line with the commitments we made in our export plan, by increasing the number of trade envoys in Arctic countries.

We will promote Scotland’s credentials as a key marine transport and logistics hub, supporting efforts at ensuring shipping traffic grows in a safe and sustainable way.

We will continue to share Scottish expertise on issues like marine planning, safe decommissioning and decarbonisation, while recognising that there remains much that Scotland can learn from its neighbours.

For example, we will share the lessons that we have learnt from developing the National Islands Plan, while learning how we can improve our policies aimed at fighting fuel poverty, for example.

We will inspire collaboration in the creative industries, design, and the promotion of culture, and the promotion of indigenous languages in particular.

We will work with our Arctic partners on decarbonisation of transport and look at new advanced solutions to delivering health services in rural areas.

Our additional capability and our reach can be shared but we have much to learn from Arctic countries about how to live sustainably in the remote and rural north.

It is an ambitious and stretching agenda.

As a first step to achieving it, the Scottish Government will create an Arctic Policy Unit that will coordinate and drive efforts with other Scottish stakeholders, and reach out to international partners.

We want Scotland’s civil society to be closely involved in these efforts.

For this reason, as well as ensuring that Scotland is duly represented at international Arctic conferences, we will work to attract Arctic forums to Scotland. In 2020, we celebrate our Year of Coasts and Waters. I will host a spin-off event of Arctic Frontiers, a major conference held every January in the north of Norway.

And earlier this month the Nordic Council of Ministers held meetings for the first time in the UK and in Scotland, where they held discussions on policy around young people with the Scottish Government’s Minister for Young People Marie Todd. I was also very pleased to meet the Council of Ministers during their visit here.

There are many examples of where we are already working with Nordic partners to develop solutions of international value.

One has to look no further than to Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar to appreciate the importance of such cooperation. Indeed, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney is the first World Heritage Site to benefit from a Climate Vulnerability Index assessment. Attracting international researchers, this project has the potential to become a standard tool for measuring the climate change risk to World Heritage sites across the world. 

Together with agencies from Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Russia and Sweden – Historic Environment Scotland is a partner in the Adapt Northern Heritage programme, which aims to help local communities adapt northern cultural heritage to climate change.

This project is funded and supported by the European Union’s Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme, which has long represented one of the most prolific avenues for cooperation between Scotland and Arctic countries.

Looking at the last five years alone, Scottish organisations have secured a total of about £6 million through NPA. And to date, over half of the projects funded through this programme have included a Scottish dimension.

We will do everything we can to ensure the UK Government and Scotland continue to participate in NPA regardless of the outcome of an unwelcome Brexit process that Scotland didn’t vote for.

I am very glad the Head of the NPA Secretariat has joined us today and will speak during the second roundtable discussion.

The second roundtable will also focus on opportunities for Scottish-Arctic cooperation towards sustainable tourism, which is another important theme featuring in the policy framework.

We want the world to see Scotland as a first-rate tourist destination, but we must make sure that this does not happen at the cost of our stunning landscapes or historic cities.

This is why Arctic Connections commits us to working with our Nordic neighbours to promote sustainable and climate friendly tourism.

The need for climate leadership and cooperation has never been greater. The challenges that we collectively face have never been more serious. The First Minister recognised this when she declared a global climate emergency in April this year from the Scottish Government’s perspective.

Scotland’s leadership in tackling climate change and curtailing emissions is recognised internationally. We welcome the announcement that Glasgow has been chosen as a host city of COP26, the UN Climate Summit in 2020.

The recent programme for government builds on the ambitious climate targets that the Scottish Government has already set by placing the global climate emergency and a Green New Deal for Scotland at its heart. In our Programme for Government we have committed to decarbonise Scotland’s railways by 2035 and make the Highlands and Islands the world’s first net zero aviation region by 2040.

Arctic Connections reflects our determination to present Scotland as a responsible global citizen with a moral obligation to contribute to the challenge of climate change and to influence others to do the same.

This challenge is much bigger than the Arctic region and Scotland alone. But by working jointly and making use of our international connections, we can build momentum and take others with us on the path to a cleaner and more sustainable future.

Last May’s Arctic Circle Forum in Shanghai, for instance, allowed the Scottish Government office in China to showcase Scottish-Chinese decarbonisation projects.

And my meeting with the Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs at the Arctic Circle Assembly last October reaffirmed that our Arctic ambitions can open new avenues for Scotland to increase its international outreach.

Arctic Connections recognises that we live in an interconnected world and that working internationally must be the default position. It is our invitation to Arctic nations and the international community to work with us on some of the biggest challenges and opportunities of our times.

This is just the beginning. I hope the Arctic Policy framework acts as an enabler for our collective ambitions for years to come, and shows that Scotland wants to be an active partner in facing those challenges and grasping the opportunities in our ever-changing world.

Scotland has a lot to offer. We can and we must do more. We must be ambitious in establishing Scotland an indispensable partner in the Arctic neighbourhood and the New North. I commit the Scottish Government to this cause and as part of our vision, and our direction, we will look North. But in looking North, we will make sure that those international partnerships take people with us. We have a lot to offer. We have an enormous amount to learn but I think at the this crossroads of the North Atlantic, this is the place that we can start that journey. 

The leadership of people in this room will help to take Scotland and those partnerships even further and together we can make an impact and will make an impact. And hereby, I officially launch Arctic Connections, Scotland's Arctic Policy Framework. 


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