Scotland's International Strategy

This strategy sets out our approach to international engagement and delivery to the end of the current parliamentary term.

1. Scotland’s International Role

1.1 Introduction

Scotland is a nation that seeks to lead by example and is guided by a set of core values, which shape both our domestic and our international work. We believe in democracy, in the rule of law and in friendly cooperation between nations. We are part of a global society and global market, and what we do in these spheres matters to people in Scotland and affects the rest of the world.

Our international work provides tangible benefits to our people, businesses and institutions. It forms a key part of our commitment to be a good global citizen, by making a positive contribution to addressing global challenges. In a changing geopolitical landscape, we recognise the importance of standing with partners around the world to defend and promote the democratic and progressive values we share. Playing our part in supporting global solidarity is important to us.

We live in an interconnected world where the line between domestic and international policy is increasingly blurred. Our international engagement provides us with the opportunity to help deliver on Scotland’s domestic objectives and the First Minister’s three missions of equality, opportunity, and community.[1] We cannot truly and effectively deliver our domestic priorities and these missions without addressing the range of global challenges that contribute to them, and learning from examples of best practice internationally.

This document sets out our key areas of focus to deliver on these missions. It recognises Scotland’s strengths and how we will work to harness these, but also acknowledges the challenges Scotland faces and outlines the key areas where our international work will help deliver our domestic objectives of a more equal society, a fairer and greener economy, and excellent public services.

The extent to which global events can directly impact people here at home as well as those overseas, particularly the most vulnerable in society, is clear from the conflict in Gaza following Hamas’s appalling attack on Israel, the war in Ukraine, the climate crisis, the rollback of the rights of women and girls, energy insecurity, increased global competition and the increasing shift towards protectionism. Events, incidents and trends such as these have the potential to impact negatively on Scotland’s economy, security and society, and we must work to ensure that we are able to address them and future challenges.

We also recognise the distinct, negative impact of these events on countries in the Global South, and the resultant demands for reform of international systems and on climate justice for a fairer world. In line with our dual commitment on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we will continue to work with our international development partner countries as we seek to tackle poverty and inequality at home in Scotland, and to contribute internationally. Against the backdrop of recent global events, the global community must continue to accelerate action to deliver progress for people and our planet.

1.2 Our Vision

Scotland is an outward-looking nation committed to good global citizenship, has a strong and respected voice internationally and joins with others to help build a fairer and more equal world. Scotland has a long history of looking beyond its borders to trade, cooperate, learn, innovate and inspire. Our people, businesses, universities and cultural organisations have long benefitted from this collaboration and have made significant contributions globally. We have a lot to offer and will continue to celebrate and make the case for positive internationalism.

1.3 Our Values

As outlined in Scotland’s Global Affairs Framework, the Scottish Government’s work is underpinned by a fundamental principle: to be a good global citizen. The United Nations defines global citizenship as ‘the umbrella term for social, political, environmental, and economic actions of globally minded individuals and communities on a worldwide scale.’[2] This concept is incorporated in the UN Sustainable Development Goals and is rooted in everything that the Scottish Government does in its international work.

Being a good global citizen means recognising and understanding that we need to work together to ensure our planet is more equal, fair and sustainable, because our actions also impact others through our global connectivity. This means taking an inclusive approach to how we act as a globally minded nation, ensuring that our values of fairness, equality and inclusion are at the heart of everything, and that the voices of those less privileged than us are heard and acted on. We’ve seen these values put into action in recent years with our work on climate change in Scotland and overseas, and the warm welcome Scotland has given to refugees from Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere.

Our response to the War in Ukraine

We condemn Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine and offer our unqualified support for Ukrainian sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. We fully agree with the UK Government on the vital importance of addressing the threat to security posed by Russia, in particular by supporting Ukraine to reassert its sovereignty.

This is why we have offered practical support to the people of Ukraine and are proud to have provided sanctuary for more than 26,000 people displaced from Ukraine since March 2022, 20% of the total taken by the UK as a whole. Since then, we have provided £5.3 million in humanitarian assistance to support people in Ukraine and those fleeing to neighbouring countries. This has included funding for cold-weather gear following Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure and support for the work of the HALO Trust, whose teams have been clearing mines and other explosive remnants of war from both residential and agricultural land. In addition to this financial support, we have also sent five consignments of medical supplies worth almost £3 million to Poland for onward transport to Ukraine.

These values apply at home and abroad, across the range of work we do. We want to share these and help shape international conversations on how they can continue to be adhered to, even in the face of increasing global uncertainty. This requires three overarching and immutable commitments in how we act internationally:

Respect for human rights and equality – Whether through the incorporation of UN Human Rights Treaties[3] or through international engagement with partners, we will not waver in our commitment to respect for human rights and equality.

Support for the rules-based international system – We strongly support multilateralism and the rules-based international system, contributing actively in global dialogues.

Implementation of a feminist approach to our international work – Scotland is the first country in the UK to commit to taking a feminist approach to international relations. With more than 15 other nations currently committed to the principles of feminist foreign policy, we are part of a growing global movement. Our new approach is defined by the principles of feminist foreign policy to ensure that our work abroad, just like at home, furthers equality and delivers the Sustainable Development Goals.

Why a feminist approach to our international work?

The Scottish Government believes a feminist approach can support all international actors to advance a more equitable world. The nature of the global challenges we face - climate and nature loss, pandemics, conflict - means collaboration is crucial.

Several states have adopted a feminist foreign policy in recent years. While there is not one uniform definition, feminist foreign policies aim broadly to protect the rights of women and marginalised groups, prioritise peace and interrogate existing power structures. A feminist approach for Scotland will leverage all aspects of Scotland’s international policy to advance gender equality and the rights of women, girls and marginalised groups in pursuit of a fairer world. While foreign policy remains the responsibility of the UK Government, we have a proud record of engaging internationally in Scotland’s interests within current constitutional arrangements. There is a clear role for us to make a constructive contribution to addressing global challenges.

In November 2023 we set out our overall approach to implementing this Feminist Approach to International Relations (FAIR). This includes five core cross-cutting actions for the Scottish Government:

1. Supporting women’s organisations, feminist networks and other grassroots movements.

2. Seeking to ensure funding is allocated in a way that is accessible, flexible and long-term.

3. Innovating and influencing globally on progressive policies such as the wellbeing economy, Just Transition and gender budgeting.

4. Speaking out for structural change on the international scene.

5. Ensuring coherence between international, domestic and local policies.

1.4 Our Activity

The Scottish Government has a successful record of delivering internationally since the beginning of devolution. We have achieved notable successes from our international development programmes and collaboration in higher education, to investment attraction and sharing of best practice with other governments on a range of policy areas from health to judicial cooperation.

Given our size and limited resource, we need to prioritise where we focus our international efforts so that they are concentrated on those areas that will lead to the most impactful outcomes. This means playing to our strengths and building on areas where Scotland already has significant assets, such as engaging with our diaspora and promoting our world-leading higher education institutions. In our international development work, it means considering carefully with our partner governments where, in addition to financial investment, Scotland can provide added value through existing expertise in relevant subject areas. It also means identifying areas where there is significant potential for Scotland to have impact in the future and secure positive outcomes, such as in renewable energy. This document outlines our key areas of focus across three core themes:

1. Economy, trade and investment;

2. Climate change, biodiversity and renewable energy; and

3. Reputation, influence and relationships.

Engaging global audiences

We believe that engaging global audiences not only benefits Scotland’s economy and enriches our culture but also supports Scotland’s international connections wherever they are in the world. We want to encourage people to live and work, study, visit, and do business in Scotland. All of our international communications are underpinned by Scotland’s nation brand strategy, ensuring we tell a consistent and unified story about who we are as a nation.

We take an inclusive approach to engaging Scotland’s international communities. The approach we set out in the Scottish Connections Framework is focused on building more substantial and mutually beneficial relationships with our diaspora, helping members to grow their own networks and their connections with Scotland.

Our international development work also maintains a key focus on strengthening our international relationships and partnerships. Our International Development Principles set out our commitment to partner country-led and inclusive development, to collaboration and partnerships, to equality, to amplifying Global South voices, and to inclusion and diversity.

International Network

The Scottish Government’s International Network of offices are located in Beijing (China), Berlin (Germany), Brussels (Belgium), Copenhagen (Denmark), Dublin (Ireland), London (United Kingdom), Ottawa (Canada), Paris (France) and Washington DC (USA). These offices directly engage with governments and organisations in their respective countries, to learn from others’ experiences and to share our knowledge, skills and technical expertise for the global good. They facilitate high-level engagement abroad for Scottish Ministers and provide a base for Scottish public sector and commercial stakeholders to interact with their international partners. Through these important engagements, we help share and build understanding on common challenges and priorities, pave the way for new cultural and commercial projects, develop partnerships with our key partners and attract people to come to live and work, study, visit and do business in Scotland.[4]

Scottish Enterprise’s international arm, Scottish Development International (SDI), has over 30 offices staffed by over 100 officials in 23 countries. Through these offices, it delivers trade and investment support to companies. This includes attracting companies headquartered outside of Scotland to establish and grow operations in Scotland, securing international capital investment into strategic projects in Scotland and ensuring increased global trade of Scotland’s world-class products and services around the world. From this work, in financial year 2022/23 alone, £1.73 billion[5] of forecast export sales were achieved and 8,500 forecast jobs[6] were secured through inward investment support. Scotland also retained its place as the most attractive place to invest and attracted more inward investment than anywhere in the UK outside of London.[7] This vital work to secure international trade and investment helps create a more dynamic and globally competitive economy.

1.5 Our Geography

European Union

Scotland remains a friend and an active partner to the European Union with shared interests and ambitions. People in Scotland voted overwhelmingly against Brexit and, as predicted by the Scottish Government and many others, Brexit has had damaging and long-lasting impacts on Scotland, not least through new trade barriers and the loss of freedom of movement. It is predicted by the Office for Budget Responsibility that the UK’s potential productivity will be 4% lower in the long run due to Brexit,[8] equating to a loss of £3 billion in public revenues for Scotland each year. Given this and the increasingly challenging global context, it is more important than ever that Scotland holds firm to European collective values and takes a positive and proactive role in engaging with the European Union institutions and European partners on shared challenges and opportunities.

Scotland has much to offer our European neighbours and we want to maintain and consolidate these close relations. For example, this is why we are committed to the Ireland-Scotland Joint Bilateral Review, which outlines a range of areas of cooperation across business, diaspora, culture, education and rural communities, and which reinforces our already strong relations.

We will review and update the report for 2025 onwards with the Irish Government.

We are committed to the closest possible relations with the European Union and our European neighbours based on our shared values. We want to remain aligned with the European Union as far as possible, to seek improvements to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and to continue to make the most of EU-driven economic development opportunities. We continue to engage directly with the European Union on a range of devolved policy matters such as education, culture, energy, marine, environment, inclusive growth, research and innovation, and trade.

We look forward to rejoining the European Union as a Member State in our own right. However, until that happens, we will continue to push the UK Government to take sensible steps to reduce the damage Brexit has caused by facilitating collaboration and reducing the barriers to trade and movement it has created. In this context we have identified six immediate priorities to be addressed in the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement:

  • Regaining full access to European Union programmes including Erasmus+, European Territorial Cooperation and Creative Europe.
  • Seeking a more ambitious UK-EU agreement on general mobility, particularly in favour of young people, touring artists and creative professionals.
  • Ensuring trade can flow with as few unnecessary restrictions as possible, which will require the UK to consider greater alignment with European Union regulations.
  • Securing mutual recognition of professional qualifications across more professions.
  • Continuing to exchange vital security information.
  • Ensuring Scottish civil society is fully represented on the UK Domestic Advisory Group and able to share ideas and experiences with European counterparts.

Case study: Scotland House Brussels

Our engagement with the European Union is led by our largest and longest-standing overseas office, Scotland House Brussels (SHB), located at the centre of the city’s European Union quarter. SHB hosts teams from both Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise (through the Scotland Europa membership organisation). They work in tandem to deliver our policy and economic interests at the very heart of the European Union to benefit Scottish communities and businesses.

What are our priorities?
Economy, trade and investment
  • Amplifying the profile and relevance of Scotland’s trade and economic development priorities, guided by our National Strategy for Economic Transformation.
  • Promoting Scotland as a hub for research, innovation, partnership, collaboration and funding. Our work will showcase the strengths of our innovation ecosystem, positioning Scotland as a trusted partner and a natural home for business.
Climate change, biodiversity and renewable energy
  • Showcasing Scotland’s high ambition and expertise on net zero. By continuing to promote Scotland’s climate and environment work internationally, we will emphasise our shared ambitions and ongoing desire to collaborate with the European Union.
  • Focusing on the Just Transition and Scotland’s strengths and expertise, such as our huge offshore wind potential, our potential as a green hydrogen exporter to Europe, our ambition to decarbonise heat, transport, and our ongoing work on biodiversity, nature restoration and circular economy.
Reputation, influence and relationships
  • Strengthening and reshaping Scotland’s European Union relations.
  • Developing international strategic insights on and engagement with evolving European Union agenda, policies and activity.
  • Developing and delivering a targeted programme of events, discussions and visits for Ministers, senior officials, members and other stakeholders to promote and inform shared learnings and Scotland’s international offer.
  • Developing integrated and enhanced strategic communications and digital delivery to support the delivery of our overall objectives, maximise our reach and showcase Scotland’s knowledge and expertise in key areas of interest.
How do we deliver our priorities?

Scotland House Brussels delivers on these priorities by coordinating through a wide range of activities including:

  • Facilitating European engagement for Scottish Ministers and stakeholders, using SHB as a base for events and bilateral meetings for organisations in the public and private sectors.
  • Engaging and maintaining close links with European Union institutions such as the European Commission and Parliament, including the ‘European Friends of Scotland’ MEPs’ group.
  • Developing and maintaining links with a range of member states, including those with cultural and geographical links such as the Republic of Ireland and Nordic countries, Belgian stakeholders in-country, and partners with key strategic influence.
  • Developing and maintaining links with a range of key third countries, both in Europe and beyond, as well as sub-state actors such as Flanders.
  • Utilising and capitalising on Scotland’s rich culture in our diplomacy, especially our winter festivals of St Andrew’s Day and Burns Night.
  • Cooperating closely with partners within strategic networks in which the Scotland House partners participate.

Our near neighbourhood

Scotland is in a strategic location, serving as a link between the North Sea and North Atlantic regions. We have deep and diverse ties with partners in our shared neighbourhood and recent years have seen a further increase in collaboration between Scottish and Nordic countries. The opening of a Scottish Government office in Copenhagen in 2022 is evidence of our commitment to build on economic, cultural and policy links both bilaterally and multilaterally, including through organisations such as the Nordic Council of Ministers and its agencies.

Nordic countries will also be among our key partners in achieving shared ambitions in relation to digital economy, cultural collaborations, the net zero transition and renewable energy technologies. The North Sea region has the potential to serve as a green battery for Europe, and Scotland is ready to contribute expertise and capacity to develop shared and mutually reinforcing infrastructure to accelerate decarbonisation and build energy security. We will:

  • Continue to foster collaboration with Nordic countries to pool policy expertise, celebrate cultural links and increase sustainable trade.
  • Work with the Nordic Council of Ministers to explore new opportunities for Scottish involvement in cross-Nordic projects, events and initiatives.

Scotland is also a North Atlantic nation, one of many reasons why our relationships with the United States (US) and Canada are so critical. We are bound together through trade and investment, with the US for example being the number one foreign investor in Scotland.[9] Also through shared policy challenges on climate, energy security and economic growth. There are deep familial links between us via the Scottish diaspora in both North American countries. We enjoy productive partnerships between our universities. To enhance these partnerships, we will:

  • Seek new partnerships at a US state and Canadian provincial/territorial level to increase our bilateral trade and investment. For example, the Great Lakes region straddling both countries is now a global centre for battery manufacturing with opportunities for Scottish business, investment and academia.
  • Encourage diaspora organisations to promote Scottish culture, heritage, Gaelic and Scots languages, sports and tourism.
  • Work with Scotland’s airports to further grow direct air routes from US and Canadian cities.

Scotland is the world’s most northerly non-Arctic nation sharing deep cultural and historical links as well as similar challenges with countries across the North. In line with the vision set out in Arctic Connections: Scotland’s Arctic Policy Framework we aim to promote Scotland as a good global citizen and a reliable partner in a region increasingly affected by environmental and geopolitical changes. Drawing on expertise developed domestically, we have established Scotland as a valuable contributor to Arctic dialogue and will be hosting the Arctic Science Summit Week in Edinburgh in 2024. We want to build on this work and other success such as our Arctic Connections Fund to develop our growing reputation as an Arctic stakeholder. To achieve this, we will:

  • Maximise the potential of Arctic Science Summit Week in March 2024 showcasing the expertise Scotland has to offer the Arctic.
  • Promote Scotland as an expert contributor to Arctic dialogue, contributing to international conferences and hosting Arctic delegations and events.
  • Evaluate the impact of the Arctic Connections policy framework before the end of the current parliamentary session in order to inform the future direction of Scotland’s Arctic policy and engagement.

Engaging further afield

Scotland has significant interests and opportunities beyond our near neighbourhood. Emerging economies are outpacing advanced economy growth rates (4.0% GDP growth in 2023 compared to 1.5% growth in advanced economies), and gaining an ever larger share of global GDP.[10] As populations across these countries enter the middle class they are driving much of global consumption growth, stimulating increased demands on the exports and services Scotland can provide such as education, financial services, tourism and consumer goods.

With world-leading academic and research organisations, dynamic businesses and a global diaspora, Scotland should be well positioned to make the most of these opportunities. For example, over 82,000 students from over 180 different countries chose to study in Scotland in 2021-22[11] with students from China and India representing a significant proportion.

Beyond opportunities, we are also aware of the responsibility we have to work collaboratively with developing and emerging economies on global challenges of poverty and climate change – issues where the crises are affecting the Global South, but are often caused by the North. We will look to role model this type of relationship in particular with our development partner countries of Malawi, Zambia, Rwanda and Pakistan.

We will strengthen our social, cultural and economic relationships with emerging and developing economies around our key themes as appropriate. To achieve this we will:

  • Continue to engage China and increase engagement with India and other economies across the Middle East, Asia and Africa as opportunities emerge and resources allow.
  • Deliver a programme of overseas Ministerial visits to emerging markets and developing countries.
  • Connect with Scottish diaspora and alumni in these countries in line with the Scottish Connections Framework.
  • Sustain Scotland’s approach to solidarity with countries in the Global South towards achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, including our established international development partner countries.



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