City of London Burns Supper: First Minister's speech - 29 January 2024

Speech delivered by First Minister Humza Yousaf at a Burns Supper hosted by the City of London Corporation at Mansion House, London, on  29 January 2024.

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Lord Mayor, Lady Mayoress, your excellencies, good evening! And thank you for such a warm welcome.

I am genuinely delighted to be in this wonderful venue with all of you this evening,

I am grateful to you, Lord Mayor and to the Lady Mayoress, for hosting us, for your hospitality, and grateful to all of you for taking the time to attend.

Lord Mayor, you stood here in your opening address to tell me of your Scottishness-less, as you described it.

You then went on to regale us in Gaelic, tell us you played the bagpipes, and now you’ve told me you’d visited more Scottish islands than me – and I used to be the Minister for Transport and the Islands.

You reminded me of that famous phrase, Lord Mayor: there are only two types of people in the world – Scots, and those who want to be Scots.

And ultimately we’re here to talk about lots of things, about the financial industry, but we’re here to talk - ultimately - about friendship.

We have a strong, and enduring, friendship between Scotland and the City of London.

And that friendship, I believe is central to our shared prosperity; central to overcoming the biggest challenges that we face.

But we, in our respective jurisdictions – Scotland, and the City of London – we of course share deep links - economic, and diplomatic of course, but also cultural roots, and that’s why it’s such a pleasure to be here celebrating the national bard Rabbie Burns.

Lord Mayor, you have managed to assemble a crowd of really notable and distinguished guests. They are, and have been, unbelievably well behaved. I cannot promise that has always been the case when celebrating Burns night.

There was, of course, the infamous Burns night in 1826 in Dumfries, when no less than 34 toasts were drunk that night - and I can promise you it wasn’t Irn Bru in those glasses in 1826.

But before I speak more about our national bard, let me perhaps just tell you briefly about the day we’ve had with the assistance of our friends in the City of London Corporation.

That friendship between Scotland and the City of London is one that I take great pride in. And as I say, Burns knew a thing or two about friendship. When I think about Hogmanay, as we usher in the New Year, and we all the world over hold hands, link arms, and sing Auld Lang Syne.

We had a great event this morning with the partnership, called Partners for Growth, where we discussed Scotland and London’s respective growth strategies and some fantastic work done by Sandy Begbie and the team at SFE around our growth strategy.

And then later on a conversation with the Investor Panel – and I think I see Angus here, and other members of the First Minister’s Investor Panel – again speaking to investors from across the world about why Scotland and, indeed, London are great places to invest in.

And, as the Lord Mayor has already said, I had the great pleasure of co-signing the updated Partnership Agreement, and that recognises the hugely significant role that financial services play in London and in Scotland.

And, as the Lord Mayor has already said, legally holds us to having another Burns Supper next year.

So that relationship between Scotland and the City is absolutely flourishing. We compete as rivals, and competitors along with that - and of course, every now and again, that will be needed.

But far more frequently, we can benefit from our financial industries working together.

And there is such a huge opportunity to do so. To attract that investment for our planet. And I think there has never been a greater opportunity for Scotland – certainly in recent decades, in recent years, than unleashing that true potential of that renewable revolution  – that potential that comes from the just transition to Net Zero.

So, when it comes to attracting that green, sustainable finance, it’s a win-win-win. We win because we unlock economic potential, we create jobs, we also help those communities to thrive; we win because we’re tackling the climate crisis – the biggest existential threat any of us have ever faced; and households up and down the country will win, because they get cheaper energy bills as a result.

So nobody loses, but we’ve got a job to do to make sure that we can help to attract that investment to Scotland.

And for me, the other bit in all of this is that economic opportunity unlocks tax receipts that also of course allows us to invest in our public services and tackle poverty.

But it was another great son of Scotland, Adam Smith, who famously said:

'No society can be flourishing and happy, when the greater part of the members are poor and miserable.'

But let’s turn back to the other son of Scotland - we are here to pay homage to Robert Burns – Rabbie Burns.

And despite his modest beginnings in Ayrshire, and undeniably hard life, he wrote countless, countless classics - which remain part and parcel of Scottish life, and I would say have influenced the world to this day.

From that epic and haunting poem, ‘Tam O Shanter’ – and I’m not going to recite it all for you today; to that romantic masterpiece, ‘A Red, Red Rose’,

'Till a’ the seas gang dry, my love,

   And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;

I will love thee still, my dear,

   While the sands o’ life shall run.…'

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my love, and the rocks melt wi’ the sun; that’s a really long time. That’s a really long time. But a romantic absolutely at heart. But also, the literary legacy of a man who was younger than me when he died, is extraordinary. 

Burns’ love of words was ignited early in childhood.

And his mother, his older cousin Betty, other female relatives – they shared folktales, myths and verses with him.

Inspired by the power of language, he taught himself some French and Latin, and read Shakespeare, and read Dryden and Milton.

Such cultural passion often unheard of for an impoverished Scottish farmer in the 1700s.

But he would find inspiration, of Burns, everyday, all around him.

The essence of his work is about love, it’s about nature, it’s about brotherhood, it’s about the condition of humanity.

'A man’s a man for a’ that.'

In preparing for today’s event, I was struck by one of his lesser-known pieces, but the last verses are well-known.

‘Man was made to mourn’ is one of his most sorrowful writings.

It focusses on the plight and the hardship of those less fortunate, highlighting the class inequalities that unfortunately exist to this very today.

'Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!'

Perhaps that sentiment is more apt – resonates more today – than even when it was written all those centuries ago.

And he was ahead of time when it came to the climate crisis, that we talk about today. He talked about man’s irresponsibility over the Earth, in To a mouse:

“I’m truly sorry that man’s dominion has broken natures’ social union,” 

So, these were all themes of Rabbie Burns.

But for me, we should also take hope, because for all of the challenges the world has ever faced, it is also humanity’s innovation and ingenuity – that has helped us solve those problems.

And – you might expect me to say this – but Scotland is a land of innovation and ingenuity.

Sure, calling back to the telephone, tarmac, television, penicillin, Dolly the sheep – whatever you want.

But our innovation that interests me most is the innovation of the future – and when I think about financial services, I think about FinTech – I think about Scotland’s huge growth in the FinTech sector in recent years.

The fact that we have a world, and a European FinTech centre.

So when it comes to tackling these challenges I have no doubt that the ingenuity we see in the City of London, in collaboration with the ingenuity we have in Scotland, will help us solve some of the biggest challenges that we face in the entire world.

So we look forward to working with you, to continue that partnership.

From my perspective, my message is a really simple one, that I’ll end on – Scotland is open for business.

Scotland has a huge opportunity, as I’ve already referenced, with that just transition to Net Zero.

But it’s a globally competitive market, and we might not be able to compete with the quantum of the inflation reduction act, or the EU single market.

I give you an absolute guarantee that the Scottish Government is willing to work with anyone of any political stripes - anybody who is in the UK Government, anybody in our local government, in order to work together to collaborate in order to work smarter – because that’s the way to compete.

You can compete by bringing down the time it takes for consent, or planning, or licence. These are issues that this government is absolutely committed to.

Thanks to the work that Angus has done with the First Minister’s Investor Panel, we now have some recommendations that aren’t just going to lie on a shelf on a piece of paper – that we’re already implementing and putting into action in order to attract that investment to Scotland.

So let’s work together and in that vein, in that respect, I know that for all the challenges that we face – and they are numerous, and they are many – that actually we are the ones who will help to bring forward the innovation, the ingenuity and the solutions that we require.

The financial services sector is absolutely key to all of that.

So, to all of those who already have a footprint in Scotland – I have met many of you here tonight or over the course of the day – thank you for your continued trust in Scotland.

For those that haven’t yet– what the hell has taken you so long?

I know that here there is a genuinely fantastic team at Scotland House – colleagues at Scotland House, put your hand up so we can see who you are.

And you can obviously find me, you can find our team at Scotland House.

And we’re always willing to work closely with you in order to ensure there’s a closer collaboration between us.

So with that, ladies and gentlemen, perhaps you will once again be upstanding.

I’d like to thank you for your company this evening, I look forward to working with you in the many months and years ahead.

My thanks to the City of London Corporation, and the entire team as well. I must mention Chris Hayward who has been very generous with his time with us today.

Let’s thank them all, and let’s propose a toast to the Lord Mayor and the Lady Mayoress. To the Lord Mayor!

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