Arctic Frontiers Abroad: External Affairs Secretary speech - 17 March 2023

Speech by External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson to the Arctic Frontiers Abroad conference in Aberdeen on 17 March 2023. 

Many thanks Susannah [Streeter] for your kind introduction. A very good morning to you all, a very good morning to Aberdeen.

I am glad that we can count on your expertise to steer today’s discussions and explore new opportunities for Scottish-Arctic collaboration.

And a very warm welcome goes to all of you here today, in particular those of you who have travelled far to be here. Thanks for joining us and being an active part in this event.

I am pleased to see people from across Scotland. From academia to social enterprise, from the business sector to members of the Scottish Parliament – there is a rich and a diverse expertise in the room.

It is further evidence, if any evidence was needed, that the interest in building new links with Arctic partners stretches across our nation and across our sectors.

A special welcome goes to those delegates who have travelled from afar to be here from countries including Norway, Canada, the Faroe Islands and Greenland just to name but a few.

And thanks to Urmas Paet MEP there will also be a very warm welcome contribution from the European Parliament. Scotland has a long history of collaboration with European Union institutions and those relationships continue to be of great value.

I am also delighted that the Norwegian Government is represented here today by State Secretary Tomas Norvoll. I look forward to hearing from you shortly.

I really look forward to hearing his and Urmas’ views.

As the video showed, I was in Tromsø last month to address the main Arctic Frontiers conference.

I joined a panel discussion on rural depopulation in a session together with Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and Senator Murkowski from Alaska.

Once again, Arctic Frontiers provided an ideal platform for Scotland and Arctic nations to learn from each other and to reflect on our similarities.

Scottish Ministers have addressed the conference every single year since 2019 and we look forward to that continuing.

So it is great to welcome Anu and her team to Aberdeen today. Thank you for working with us and giving Scotland its own place in the history of Arctic Frontiers Abroad series.

By hosting today’s conference, we are delivering on one of the commitments made in the Scottish Government’s Arctic policy framework.

Our document starts off from on one key fact, which you probably will be hearing a lot of which is namely that Scotland is the world’s most northernly non-Arctic nation.

The historic county of Sutherland, in the far north of mainland Scotland, derives its name from Suðrland, meaning the “southern land”.

And words like hooses, bairns, even kilts tell a story of linguistic cross-over with our near neighbours.

Added together, this provides a powerful perspective on where Scotland sits in the world.

Seen from an Arctic standpoint, our location at the edge of Europe is far from peripheral. We are in a key strategic position connecting the European Arctic with central Europe and also with North America.

And of course cultural and historic connections work both ways.

Looking further west, almost 4.5 million Canadians reported Scottish origins in the 2021 census. People of Scottish descent made up about 13% of respondents in the Northwest Territories, and 21% in Yukon.

While international interest in the Arctic is growing, few nations can count on such rich connections with the region as a whole.

What Scotland and the Arctic also have in common is a wide set of challenges and ambitions, often arising from rurality and from low population density.

We have long worked together to develop joint solutions to common causes and common issues.

Indeed, Scotland was a valued contributor to the European Union’s Northern Periphery and Arctic programme, with more than 40% of the projects in the 2014-2020 round having at least one Scottish partner.

The UK Government chose to step away from the NPA and other European programmes, which we very much regret, in yet another practical example of the harm that is being caused by Brexit.

The Scottish Government is continuing to explore channels to associate with the NPA and other programmes in the future.

We also remain committed to supporting exchange of knowledge and best practice with our Arctic neighbours.

Therefore I am delighted to announce that a third round of the Scottish Government’s Arctic Connections Fund will open for applications today.

The fund continues to address critical themes – including fuel poverty, food security, nature protection and inequalities.

Scottish-based organisations can apply for grants worth up to £10,000 to work with Arctic partners and bring tangible benefits to our communities.

Today we will be focusing on two key themes: just energy solutions and a sustainable blue economy and Aberdeen offers an ideal backdrop for these discussions.

The North East of Scotland is a global centre for the energy industry. The region is home to a range of pioneering green energy projects and has taken a leading role in Scotland’s just transition journey, which will be discussed in the course of today.

Our new Energy Strategy reaffirms the importance of working with our neighbours to build regional infrastructure that can meet domestic and international renewable energy demand.

The North East of Scotland will have a key role in that.

Aberdeen has also been an active port for almost 900 years and has always been well-positioned to benefit from the valuable industry that the North Sea offers.

The Scottish Government has taken a strong international leadership role by setting out an ambitious Blue Economy Vision for Scotland.

The document describes our high-level ambition for transformative change in the way that we use our oceans between now and 2045.

To harness blue resources in a sustainable way, policy-making and science need to go hand in hand and few sectors are more illustrative of the pace at which Scottish-Arctic collaboration has developed in recent years than in higher education.

When our policy framework was published in 2019, Scotland had two members in the University of the Arctic, an international network of institutions producing research in and about the Arctic.

Today, with nine universities, we have more members than Sweden and of any other non-Arctic nation with the exception of China.

And three more Scottish universities have applied for membership this year.

Scotland’s members of UArctic have also come together to establish Scotland’s first Arctic research network.

Thanks to a Memorandum of Understanding signed yesterday, the Scottish Arctic Network will become a UArctic regional centre.

It is only the second such centre outside of the Arctic nations and I would like to extend the Scottish Government’s congratulations to all involved.

It is only when we get together, at events such as this, that we can truly reflect on the value of these people-to-people links.

We have just passed the one year anniversary of Russia’s illegal full scale invasion of Ukraine. The unfortunate reality of this conflict creates geopolitical tensions that could spill in to the Arctic.

Scotland has a key geostrategic role in the North Atlantic and looks forward to contributing to the stability of the region in its own right.

We have already achieved a great deal together, but we could do so much more with even closer cooperation and independence would deliver this.

As a country we are blessed with extraordinary natural and energy resources; world leading industries, and above all, a highly educated and talented workforce supported by some of the best colleges and universities in the world.

All this and more we can offer to our international partners, including our close Arctic neighbours.

Scotland will always aim to be a Good Global Citizen, seeking consensus and multilateralism and independence would allow us to bring that approach into Arctic and Nordic organisations.

But the paths that we intend to pursue are as important as our journey’s destination.

To quote a paragraph in our Arctic policy framework “at a time when the Arctic is the focus of mounting geopolitical attention, [we] put people back at the heart of Scottish-Arctic dialogue”.

In conclusion, multilateralism and pluralism are as important for our international partnerships as they are domestically.

We often talk about the need for a Team Scotland approach to achieve ambitious goals and today’s event is a great step in that direction.

And Team Scotland needs to work with friends and with partners in our near neighbourhood – and further afield, to share learning and best practice. That is why events like this are so vital.

I look forward to all of the discussions and meeting as many of you as possible. Thank you very much.

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