Arctic Day: speech by Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs

Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop's address at Scotland's first Arctic Day international conference.

Thank you Martin (Johnson, HIE) for your introduction and thank you to Highlands and Islands Enterprise for your contribution to the organisation of today’s event.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Scotland’s first Arctic Day. It is indeed a pleasure to join you in the capital of the Highlands for what will no doubt be a day full of stimulating discussions and interesting debates on Scottish-Arctic relations.

A special welcome goes to those delegates who have travelled from abroad to be here today. We are very pleased to be joined by speakers from Norway, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland and Maine. We really appreciate you making time to attend the conference and I look forward to hearing your views on how Scotland can develop an even stronger partnership with your countries on Arctic matters.

Let me also welcome the exhibitors from across Scotland and further afield who are here today to showcase their work and the connections that they have built with the Arctic region. Stands will be open throughout the day on the first floor foyer. I strongly urge  you to join me and visit them at some point during the conference.

As many of you will be aware, Scotland’s social, economic and cultural ties with the High North date back hundreds of years.

Of course, our northernmost islands were for a long time part of the Danish-Norwegian kingdom before becoming integral part of Scotland at the end of the 15th century. This connection continues to run deep in many aspects of islanders’ life and is reflected in local culture and traditions – of course the Up Helly Aa festival is arguably the most recognisable.

Traces of linguistic influences are also very clear in local dialects. This is particularly interesting and significant in 2019, the United Nation’s Year of Indigenous Languages.

And it was of course Orkney-born John Rae who discovered and mapped the final navigable link of the Northwest Passage in 1854, establishing himself as one of the greatest Arctic explorers. Rae mapped almost 1,800 miles of Arctic coasts, surveying the North of Canada but also Iceland and Greenland. And as I speak, the Arctic Return Exhibition – a 400-mile trek across the Boothia Peninsula in Nunavut – is underway. It celebrates Rae’s accomplishments and the crucial importance of indigenous knowledge in his endeavours.

Seas and waters have long represented a powerful connection between Scotland and Arctic nations – socially, culturally and economically. 2020, Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters, will give us an additional opportunity to celebrate these ties.

Scots’ tradition of global wandering led many to cross the ocean or the North Sea. In particular, as you will know, North America is home to a large Scottish diaspora. In the 2016 census of Canada, 14% of the population listed themselves as being of Scottish origin.

Maybe, many of these migrants never realised that they were still in Scottish waters hours after setting off from our ports. Indeed, our sea area is larger than the entire land mass of Germany as our waters extend 200 miles into the Norwegian Sea and similarly into the North-Atlantic Sea.

Over centuries, thousands of vessels have shuttled back and forth through these waters, carrying goods, people and knowledge. And Arctic nations remain strong export partners for us to this day. In 2017, they provided 5 of Scotland’s 20 largest export markets, a combined total of 27% of total Scottish exports.

Scotland has also been a keen and successful partner in the Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme, with over €6 million in funding awarded by the European Union so far.

The academic links between Scotland and the Arctic are also extremely prolific. We are home to Europe’s largest glaciology research group and our universities have long been at the forefront of Arctic science. A number of our academic institutions work in close conjunction with the University of the Arctic, represented here today by Professor Pål Markusson.

Ladies and gentlemen, Scotland and the Arctic region have long worked in close conjunction and there is much more we can achieve together going forward. We face common challenges and share similar opportunities.

The Highlands and Islands, for example, are one of the most sparsely populated regions in the European Union. The population density of this marvellous part of Scotland is 9 persons per km2, similar to northern parts of Finland and Sweden. By sharing best practices and looking at each other’s experience, we can ensure that rural and remote areas are connected, empowered and allowed to express their full potential.

The breath-taking scenery and the wealth of cultural heritage enriching these areas have made tourist numbers soar in recent years. The tourism industry is crucial to the economy of the North of Scotland and is experiencing considerable growth also in the Arctic region. I discussed that with the Icelandic Tourism minister when I met her last year. While we want the tourism sector to thrive and remain an important source of revenue, we have to ensure this trend remains sustainable and inclusive. I am glad to report that Scottish Government officials participated in a workshop on sustainable Arctic tourism in Iceland earlier this month. Efforts at learning from each other are already underway.

Sadly, the pristine landscapes and unique wildlife making Scotland and the Arctic region famous across the world face severe threats due to rising global temperatures. It is crucial that we work shoulder to shoulder and take urgent action in the fight against climate change.

Scotland’s low carbon transition is well underway, our emissions having halved since 1990. However, we are committed to playing an even stronger role and being international climate leaders to ensure our determination lives up to the scale of the challenge. This is why the Scottish Government has set a 90% reduction target for all greenhouse gases and have pledged to make Scotland carbon neutral by 2050.

Our ambitious targets are matched by a stretching package of on-the-ground measures and sustained investment in renewables. The cutting-edge work on wave and tidal energy carried out in Orkney and Shetland stand as further evidence of Scotland’s ability to drive forward the transition to a global low-carbon economy. Only last week I was at the engineering school at the University of Edinburgh seeing the flow wave and the flow tank there, which is world leading in terms of testing in this area. Last month, the Scottish Government set aside £10 million to help the commercial deployment of tidal projects. We want to work with international partners, including those from the Arctic region, to demonstrate that climate action is compatible with economic growth. In fact, in 2016 the low carbon economy generated £11bn and supported 49,000 jobs in Scotland.

It is important that economic growth translates not only into GDP increase at a national level but also into concrete well-being improvements on the ground, among the local population.

I believe the Scottish Government’s work on inclusive growth, launched internationally at the OECD conference in South Korea last November, is of strong relevance to the Arctic region. Through expertise exchange and the development of transferable policy practices, we can improve our delivery of well-being and tailor our economic approaches to the needs of local communities.

 So, in light of all these connections, shared objectives and the strong potential for even closer cooperation, the Scottish Government has decided to develop its own Arctic Policy Framework. It will look to coherently capture the numerous and multifaceted links connecting Scotland and the Arctic.

But it will also explore new avenues for bilateral and multilateral collaboration, putting forward ideas as to how we can build new policy bridges and ensure that Scotland can bring a valuable contribution to Arctic discussions while learning from our international partners operating in the region.

To this end, we have established an Arctic Steering Group made up of academics, professionals, policy-makers and officials who are helping the Scottish Government shape its approach and set the direction for future Scottish-Arctic collaboration. I would like to publically thank all members of the Steering Group for their valuable contribution to drafting the Policy Framework and for their input in the organisation of today’s event.

Separately, we commissioned researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of the Highlands and Islands to undertake a mapping exercise of Scottish-Arctic links. The document was delivered at the end of last year and is actively informing the development of the Policy Framework.

Already, there are themes which are emerging such as; climate change and the environment; academic and research collaboration; economic opportunities; the geopolitical relationship of Scotland to the region, opportunities and challenges for remote communities in Scotland and those in the High North. And of course, culture must be a strong theme and thread. Crucially, these themes are reflected in the programme for this event, this Arctic Day.

We want our efforts at building new bridges with the Arctic to be as inclusive and participative as possible. We are very clear that the people-to-people dimension will be of crucial importance if we are to make Scotland an even stronger Arctic partner.

Listening to young people, their leadership and vision, will be essential. I am very pleased to welcome here today a delegation from the Troms Youth County Council. This afternoon, they will facilitate a workshop and discuss with Scottish young people how they see their future in rural and remote areas, what new generations need to drive the empowerment of their communities and contribute to their success.

 This is exactly what our Arctic Day aims to achieve. We want this conference to be an open forum for discussions, an arena where everyone is invited to a free dialogue on Scottish-Arctic cooperation.

This is as much about reflecting on existing collaboration as it is about exchanging ideas on the future of Scotland’s partnership with the Arctic region and the content of the Arctic Policy Framework. Today’s programme has been built with a view to encouraging two-way conversations and knowledge exchange. We would really like Eden Court to be Scotland’s Arctic agora for a day.

This Arctic Day’s objective is to mobilise and connect Scotland’s expertise and interests in Arctic issues. Together with a copy of the official brochure, you should all have received a suggestion form. I would encourage you to fill and return the form to the Scottish Government staff. We want you to share your views with us not only on this event but also what you want to see as the  priorities for Scottish-Arctic cooperation going forward.

Each workshop and lecture will focus on a set of topics that are of strong relevance to Scotland’s work in and with the Arctic region. I have touched upon most of them earlier . There was, of course, much more but obviously that would have taken much longer than we have today.

The chairs of each session will be invited to share with us the main conclusions, agreements and disagreements that emerged during the discussions. Your inputs are important and will inform the work we are putting in place to reshape the map of Scottish-Arctic relations.

If we look at the wider international context, we cannot be anything but even more committed to strengthening Scottish-Arctic connections and we are convinced about the importance of these efforts for Scotland’s future.

Scotland is being dragged out of the European Union against its will. Brexit and the politics of closed doors pursued by the UK Government are forcing us to re-double our efforts at promoting Scotland as an outward-looking and open nation. In spite of the unwelcome developments that threaten to drag us in the opposite direction, we want Scotland’s credentials as a good global citizen to go from strength to strength.

It’s not too ambitious to say that Scotland has all it takes to establish itself as the European gateway to the Arctic region. Geographically, Scotland is no longer peripheral at the north west corner of Europe. We find ourselves in a key position, close to the central Arctic, linking the region with the rest of Europe and the wider world.

As I mentioned earlier on, this is not only about geography – although the North of Scotland is closer to the Arctic circle than to London. It is about a shared vision of the world and a full realisation of  shared interests and policy priorities.

Over the last few years, Scottish Ministers have been closely involved in Arctic platforms. The First Minister attended the Arctic Circle Assembly in Iceland in 2016 and 2017. I was in Reykjavik for the same conference, and spoke at it, last October, while our Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment Mairi Gougeon spoke at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø earlier this year.

In November 2017, Edinburgh played host to the Arctic Circle Forum, an event that attracted delegates from across the Arctic region and certified Scotland’s credentials as a committed Arctic neighbour. Today’s conference lays another foundation stone for the bridge between Scotland and the Arctic.

We don’t intend to stop here and we have ambitious plans for the future. In May, for instance, our Beijing office will represent the Scottish Government at the Arctic Circle Forum in Shanghai, promoting Scottish-Chinese projects on climate change and low-carbon innovation.

Our growing network of overseas offices will play an integral part in our Arctic work. Two of them – Washington and Ottawa – are located in Arctic nations. Others – including Berlin and Paris – will work in close conjunction with European governments that have shown strong interest in Arctic cooperation.

In drawing to a close I would like to do three things. Firstly, thank you all for being here today and attending our Arctic Day.

Secondly, emphasise my deep conviction that Scottish-Arctic cooperation will be of great importance to the future of our country and open new avenues for successful cultural, economic, academic and diplomatic relations with our Arctic neighbours.

And finally, I want to restate our commitment to being a positive partner for the Arctic region, keen to bring constructive contributions but also to learn and listen.

I wish everyone a very successful conference and I look forward to participating in interesting discussions throughout the day.

Let’s be ambitious, not just for Scotland but let’s be ambitious for the world. We all have responsibilities for what is happening to us globally but I think Scotland and our contribution needs to be heard.

Thank you



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