Lord Mayor's Burns' supper: First Minister's speech

Nicola Sturgeon's speech at Burn's supper event for business communities hosted by the Lord Mayor of London.

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Lord Mayor, Lady Mayoress, Your Excellencies, Aldermen, Sheriffs, Chief Commoner, Ladies & Gentlemen

It is an absolute pleasure to be here in these grand surroundings with all of you this evening. I am grateful to you, Lord Mayor, for hosting us, and I am grateful to all of you for attending.

I do feel as if we are partaking in something of an historic occasion here this evening – the first ever Burns supper here in the Mansion House. I hope it’s not the last Burns supper to take place here. I think we should declare it a tradition.

It is a real pleasure to be here. The Lord Mayor mentioned some of the many Scottish inventions – those that were invented by Scots, and those that we claim were invented by Scots. I’m not sure which list is the longest. Penicillin, the telephone, the television, the pin number. We also claim, of course, to have invented the Bank of England and the overdraft. Nobody said all of those inventions were good inventions. I actually just discovered that Scots also founded the state bank of India as well, so the list grows longer every day.

But undoubtedly, one of Scotland’s greatest exports is Robert Burns – a wonderful poet. His poetry, his words of wisdom on so many different topics remain as relevant today as they were when he wrote them. So it’s wonderful to be here this evening celebrating the memory and the legacy of Robert Burns.

I know that as well as many people from the Scottish and London business communities this evening, we’re also joined by diplomatic representatives from a number of countries across Europe, from Mexico and New Zealand.

That’s actually really fitting because Robert Burns was a proud and very committed internationalist.

In fact – and this is relevant to a point I’ll make later on - when the Scottish parliament reconvened in 1999, one of the songs chosen for the opening ceremony was Robert Burns’ A Man’s a Man, and that song contains these words:

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)

That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.

Those words are resonant, perhaps in many ways more resonant today than in the day that Robert Burns wrote them. So, to celebrate not just his legacy but his internationalism this evening, it’s wonderful to be joined by people from across the globe.

Now of course the other purpose of this evening’s event is to celebrate and strengthen the ties between Scotland’s financial services industry, and the City of London.

In a week like this, it’s impossible to completely avoid Brexit in reflecting on that. However I’m sure you don’t want me to spend too much time on Brexit this evening. And believe you me - I don’t want to spend too much talking about Brexit.

Apart from anything else, the Scottish Government’s view is well-known. We think leaving the EU will be damaging to the UK as a whole.

We would prefer to stay in the EU, and short of that we’d prefer to stay in the Single Market and in the Customs Union. We hope that the prospect of no deal will very soon be removed completely as an option, and if necessary to avoid a Brexit cliff edge, we believe that Article 50 should be extended to allow parliament more time to come up with a proper and managed way forward.

However – and this is the message I want to emphasise this evening – regardless of what happens with Brexit, there is a bright future for financial services in Scotland.

I’m sure this is the case in many parts of the UK today, but certainly in Scotland we see Brexit as creating a necessity to be more firm in our determination to look outwards, to build links and to foster collaboration, and that is as true in financial services as it is in many other areas.

The sector right now in Scotland is flourishing - and the Scottish Government is working very closely with business to help it flourish further in the years ahead.

We’ve seen good evidence of that in the last year. One of them many of you will be aware of already - the decision by Barclays to invest in Glasgow.

That investment, which was hugely welcome, could create up to 2,500 jobs. And perhaps more significantly, in what was a truly global field of options – the other centres are in New Jersey and India - it is a major vote of confidence in Scotland and in Scotland’s workforce.

In the last two years HSBC and Computershare have both hired hundreds of additional staff in Scotland. We’ll hear from George Quinn later this evening about Zurich’s major investment in Glasgow.

What all of these businesses – and many more besides - recognise is that Scotland is one of the best places anywhere in Europe to base financial services operations. That’s why we are the UK’s most important financial centre outside London. We have strengths across a range of areas from asset management to insurance and banking.

First and foremost, that is because of our people. We have world-class universities and colleges. In fact by some measures, Scotland has the most highly qualified workforce in Europe.

For example, at present, more than 70,000 students are studying subjects relevant to financial services in Scotland’s universities.

But of course that skills base goes far beyond financial services. That’s why businesses across a range of economic sectors – several of which are represented here this evening – choose Scotland for inward investment.

However to take an example which is closely connected with finance, we are widely acknowledged as a UK leader in data and informatics. We are also investing significantly in wider digital skills – an issue which I know has been a major focus of your time in office, Lord Mayor.

That skilled workforce is a major reason why Technation last year named Edinburgh as the best location in the UK for establishing a technology company. That in turn is why our fintech sector is starting to gain international recognition.

In addition, having a devolved government allows us to respond rapidly to the needs of business. That makes it easier for the public sector to provide co-ordinated support for inward investors. And of course we offer a brilliant quality of life – with vibrant cities and beautiful landscapes, if not always fantastic weather.

To build on all of these strengths, we already work closely with businesses in Scotland. I co-chair Scotland’s Financial Services Advisory Board with Scottish Financial Enterprise, and of course we’ve just worked very closely together to produce the financial services prospectus that the Lord Mayor referred to.

But we also want to work with companies based in London, and with the City of London itself.

And there’s a point which I think is worth emphasising here. The City of London and Scotland can sometimes be seen as rivals or competitors. And of course, every now and again, that will undoubtedly be the case. But far more frequently, we will benefit from working together.

After all, as all of us know, London’s scale is unique within the UK and indeed Europe. That gives you an important comparative advantage in many areas.

But we also know that Scotland offers a fantastic range of expertise and facilities, and that office costs are significantly lower than in London.

So – and many of you have direct experience of this - companies which already have big operations in London, can benefit from offices in Scotland which complement their London bases. Working together is undoubtedly good for Scotland, but also brings benefits for London as well.

That’s indeed why we established a new Scottish Government base in London in 2017. It demonstrates that - whatever the future holds for all of us – it will always be in our interests to encourage close ties with London.

And it also symbolises something wider. In the last couple of years the Scottish Government has also established new bases in Dublin, Berlin and Paris. Our enterprise agencies have doubled their representation across Europe, and are also strengthening their presence in other parts of the world. What that symbolises is a determination to be firmly outward looking and firmly open for business

I mentioned earlier how appropriate it is that there is an international dimension to this evening’s event.

That’s because Scotland – like the City of London - benefits enormously from our connections with friends and partners the world o’er. We have world class businesses which prosper by trading the world o’er. And so we are determined to forge new partnerships and to strengthen existing ones – here on these islands, across Europe, and right across the world.

That definitely applies to the partnership Scotland enjoys with the city of London. We believe that it benefits the City, and that it also benefits Scotland. And so we are determined to work with you, Lord Mayor, to strengthen that relationship further.

That’s why I am delighted to see so many people here. I hope you all have a wonderful evening. And I look forward to working with many of you, in the months and years ahead.


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