Scotland's International Strategy

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

4. Reputation, Influence and Relationships

4.1 Our Aims

Scotland has a strong global identity that is grounded in relationships and people-to-people links. Our reputation as a welcoming place to live and work, study, visit and do business is already strong. The 2022 Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index ranked Scotland as a top-twenty country on five of its six dimensions of reputation (governance, culture, people, tourism, and immigration and investment).[27] In addition, there are an estimated 40 million people or more globally who consider themselves to be of Scottish heritage.[28] Many more have lived, studied and worked here, and have first-hand experience of Scotland as a modern, progressive and dynamic nation.

We want to build on this excellent reputation and these extensive people-to-people links, focusing on the highest impact stakeholders and policy areas to grow our networks and levels of influence for the benefit of Scotland, as well as to learn lessons that can help Scotland address key domestic and international challenges. This includes building on our international development work as part of our desire to be a good global citizen.

In this chapter, we will outline how the Scottish Government, in collaboration with our partner organisations, will deliver on key soft power objectives to improve Scotland’s reputation and influence, and develop positive relationships to deliver on our ambition to be a good global citizen.

4.2 Our Approach

Using our networks with the international community here in Scotland, as well as the relationships we have built through our international offices and activity abroad with partners such as Creative Scotland, we want to develop and strengthen our links with a wide range of public, private and third sector organisations. To do this successfully, we will use a range of formal and informal methods of cooperation such as formal agreements, partnerships, promotional events and support for organisations such as our world-leading cultural bodies and higher education institutions.

We want to increase direct engagement with other governments and public administrations to exchange knowledge and best practice across a range of policy areas, as well as improve and consolidate already strong ties post-Brexit. To achieve this, our International Network will build and consolidate our links with key international stakeholders in priority policy areas for the benefit of Scotland and the people who live here. Strengthening these links can include:

  • Making formal agreements and partnerships.
  • Supporting our internationally recognised cultural and higher education sectors to their full potentia.
  • Building networks with those who have a connection and affinity for Scotland, be that through business links, the Scottish diaspora, and international alumni of Scottish higher education institutions.

4.3 Building Brand Scotland

Key to our approach above, Brand Scotland is a strategic cross-organisational partnership which brings together the marketing and communications efforts of the Scottish Government, key public sector organisations and wider partners behind a shared brand narrative and positioning to deliver a collaborative, audience-first nation brand strategy.

This nation brand strategy for Scotland aims to ensure that at every single touchpoint we tell a consistent and unified story about who we are, thereby increasing the collective impact of all communications activity and ultimately improving Scotland’s international reputation in support of economic growth. This is how we collectively build Brand Scotland.

Scotland’s nation brand embodies our values and tells the stories of our unique heritage, while also celebrating our country’s dynamism, progressiveness and innovation. It reinforces the positive perceptions we must consistently build for Scotland with international audiences, to drive consideration of Scotland as a place to live and work, study, visit or do business.

This enables us to bridge delivering positive outcomes for the people of Scotland at the same time as projecting the values we want to embody on the world stage. These principles are at the heart of how we communicate to international audiences to ensure consistency of messaging and visual brand presence, as well as creating the conditions for collaboration and strong partnership working to increase the impact and effectiveness of all our work. In support of building Brand Scotland we will:

  • Continue to strengthen our partnership, seeking to grow the member base and extend our collaborative reach beyond the current set of sectors represented.
  • Continue to create an audience-first, joined-up approach to all our international communications with the creation of a new evidence-led International Communications Framework.
  • Deliver a cohesive and joined up visual brand presence for Scotland across all our communications and content, our International Network, and our programme of events through the continued roll-out of the single nation brand marque for Scotland.
  • Increase Scotland’s international digital presence via a dynamic programme of activity and advocacy across multiple platforms including, Brand Scotland social channels, partners and via our International Network of offices.

4.4 Scottish Connections

Scotland needs to engage not just with other governments and official organisations but with our communities and friends around the world. Scotland’s diaspora is an extension of Scotland itself – our living bridge with people, organisations, and communities around the world. The Scottish Government has long believed that better engaging our diaspora – family and friends of Scotland globally – can not only benefit Scotland economically and enrich our culture but also improve Scotland’s connections and reputation. And we also want our efforts to benefit our diaspora too.

So we will strengthen and expand our relationships with and between Scotland’s diaspora, those with links to Scotland through heritage, residence, educational, business, sporting, cultural or any other affinity. Our recently published Scottish Connections Framework is a first step in consolidating the many links we enjoy and setting greater ambition.

We will build on existing networks, including our own International Network of offices, GlobalScots and Trade and Investment Envoys, alumni groups, heritage diaspora organisations and other partners to create a more visible, vibrant and connected diaspora as an end in itself, but also to promote Scotland as a place to live and work, study, visit and do business. To achieve this we will:

  • Progress the 50+ commitments in the Scottish Connections Framework, reaching out and engaging Scotland’s global diaspora through a variety of networks, programmes and events.

4.5 Cultural Cooperation

Scotland’s cultural sector is inherently international, and cultural exchange and dialogue are vital to sectoral innovation. From our world-renowned festivals to our thriving screen sector, our international activity has the potential to enhance cultural connections, increase economic growth and improve Scotland’s reputation globally. The sector has been badly hit by the pandemic and cost of living crises,[29] which have come on top of the damage to the sector caused by Brexit. We want to help the sector recover from these challenges and thrive. So we will promote the wide range of cultural activities that Scotland offers, working closely with partners such as Creative Scotland and the British Council. We want artists, creative practitioners and cultural organisations to enjoy the benefits of international cooperation and to deepen their practice through international dialogue, exchange and collaboration - broadening knowledge, insight and innovation.

  • We will publish an International Culture Strategy to support the international aims and ambitions of Scotland’s cultural and creative sector.

The cultural and economic interests of the culture sector will be the driving principles of the strategy. However, it will also recognise that increasing the sector’s international presence strengthens bilateral relations, promotes Scotland as a tourism and events destination, and creates opportunities to develop new trade and investment relationships.

  • We will promote Scotland as an important global centre for culture and creativity which is diverse, has strong traditional roots and an appetite for experimentation and innovation.
  • Alongside this work, we will seek out innovative ways to showcase Scotland’s culture sector and open new opportunities for international engagement through our international offices and the Brand Scotland partnership, as well as through the facilitation of partnerships between cultural organisations, institutions and museums.

Our international efforts can particularly help Scotland’s thriving screen sector develop its offer, seize the significant opportunities for growth and contribute to a sustainable creative economy. The Economic Value of the Screen Sector in Scotland in 2021 Report, published in 2023, shows the exceptional growth that Scotland’s film and TV industries have experienced in recent years, generating millions for the economy, creating thousands of jobs, and providing opportunities for skills and talent development in roles across the sector. Inward investment in film and High-End TV (HETV) production has increased by 110% since 2019, from £165.3 million to £347.4 million in 2021.

Screen provides other economic benefits. Shows such as Outlander and Shetland often help to drive tourism beyond the Central Belt, bringing economic benefits to a wider range of communities. In 2019, screen tourism was linked to 656,000 overnight visits in (worth £65 million to the economy) and tourism of this sort is predicted to grow if more productions can be brought to Scotland.[30] We are continually seeking new opportunities to support and grow the screen sector, making Scotland an attractive production base internationally and a place for people in the creative industries to live and work. To achieve this, we will:

  • Work closely with Screen Scotland and enterprise agencies to seek new opportunities to support and grow the screen sector, making Scotland an increasingly attractive production base for international companies and promoting Scotland’s screen talent worldwide.

4.6 Higher Education and Research

Scotland has a long history of excellence in learning, teaching, research and innovation at home and internationally. We strongly value the benefits that international collaboration and study bring to Scotland and want to continue to encourage international partnerships and welcome international students to study here despite the UK Government’s decision not to associate to the Erasmus+ programme.

Our diverse universities and colleges offer over 4,500 courses in more than 150 subject groupings at both undergraduate and postgraduate level and each of Scotland’s universities conducts world-leading research.[31] We take a Team Scotland approach in promoting this education and research offer internationally. To do this we work in partnership with a range of organisations including, but not limited to, the British Council, VisitScotland, Scottish Development International, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Funding Council, Universities Scotland, Colleges Scotland, Connected Scotland and Creative Scotland, to harness our energy, expertise, and resources, increasing the impact of Scotland’s global reputation. This means using our global outreach networks alongside our education establishments to build international partnerships in established and emerging markets such as Europe, China, India, North America and Nigeria. It also means using our Scottish Connections Framework to enhance international communication and promotion of our universities and colleges through our GlobalScots and Alumni, as well as promoting active participation in international programmes such as Horizon Europe and Copernicus which we are associated to.

Scotland is a leading research nation. It contributes to impacts across the globe and has significant international reach - over 170 countries and territories in the world.[32] Scottish institutions deliver transformative impact in areas of global importance such as driving our transition to net zero, improving health outcomes, accelerating development and adoption of digital and space technologies and vibrant creative sector. Our expertise, our infrastructure and our regional, national and International Networks allow Scotland to contribute, compete and collaborate internationally. According to a 2022 SFC report[33] a third of Scotland’s research outputs directly related to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals in the last decade – tackling key global challenges such as hunger, sanitation and climate change. Scotland is also highly competitive at leveraging in additional funds - for example winning more funding per head in Scotland in Horizon Europe’s predecessor programme Horizon 2020 than the rest of the UK (around 11% of the UK’s overall funding with 8% of the population share).[34]

Our research also delivers significant economic impact. Analysis from the Fraser of Allander Institute shows all research and development spending in Scotland supports nearly 60,000 FTE jobs, and makes a £3,225 million contribution to the Scottish economy measured as GVA.[35] In 2021, research and development projects were the third largest focus for foreign direct investment in Scotland and remain at historically high levels – with Scotland ranking joint second in the UK behind London for RandD FDI.[36] To build on this excellent position, we will publish our International Education Strategy to outline how we will work with our universities and colleges to:

  • Attract students, staff and researchers from outside the UK, to help diversify our international student population, and support them to maximise their contribution to Scotland.
  • Maximise our social, educational and economic contribution globally.
  • Deepen our global collaborations and engagements.

4.7 Knowledge Exchange and Partnerships

The COVID-19 pandemic and the climate and biodiversity emergencies prove in the starkest possible way that we live in an interconnected world.

It is more important than ever that Scotland plays its part. International engagement provides us not only with the opportunity to work across borders to tackle global challenges, but also to share best practice and learn from others to ensure that we develop and deliver effective policy at home.

In recent years, the Scottish Government has actively sought out partnerships, memoranda of understanding and opportunities to share best practice in a range of policy areas. For example, in response to Scotland’s increasingly serious demographic challenges we have built links and raised the profile of our work internationally to enable us to better target our domestic interventions to mitigate the impact of population decline affecting some of Scotland’s communities. As part of this work, we will now look to increase our engagement with key institutional and academic partners in Spain, Nordic countries, Japan, Poland and Canada on issues such as depopulation and low birthrates. Where appropriate, we will conclude memoranda of understanding to underpin fruitful collaboration.

The Scottish Government is committed to building links with international organisations in areas of devolved policy. For example, on health policy the global COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the need for Scottish Ministers and policymakers to find new ways to engage with international partners, particularly now that Scotland is no longer part of the European Union. We need to ensure that Scotland is part of global conversations on healthcare policy so that we can learn from counterparts in other healthcare systems and they can learn from innovations and improvements in Scotland. Our international priorities in this area include establishing policy and operational links with the European Union’s Health Union and deepening links with the World Health Organization (WHO). We are engaging with the UK Government on the new Pandemic Accord and revised International Health Regulations[37] to ensure Scotland’s integration with global health surveillance and security measures.

As part of our work to embed equality, inclusion and human rights at the heart of our policymaking and delivery, we work with international partners to ensure effective implementation of our international human rights obligations. For example, we regularly welcome visits from UK Special Rapporteurs and other scrutiny bodies from the United Nations, Council of Europe and the International Labor Organization to interrogate Scotland’s human rights record. We work closely with other countries to promote human rights and good global citizenship. We also fund fellowships to enable human rights defenders across the globe to develop their skills, extend their networks in a place of safety, and continue their vital work.

Similarly, as a good global citizen we want to continue to support access to clean energy in our international development partner countries, and to learn from them in return. Development of the renewable energy sector has the potential to drive economic growth

in our partner countries just as it has in Scotland. There is common recognition of the urgent need to accelerate energy access, with clear opportunities for shared learning between all four countries, each bringing distinct areas of experience and expertise.

This is why in May 2022 at the UN SE4All Conference in Kigali the Scottish Government launched a

new international development funded Global Renewables Centre. Hosted online at Strathclyde University, the Scottish centre will harness expertise from renewable energy experts in Scotland to share learning and support capacity building, mainly online, through peer-to-peer technical support model in our African international development partner countries. A hub for facilitating knowledge exchange between our African partner countries and the Scottish renewables sector, it has since formalised local partnerships in Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda. A fundamental principle of the Global Renewables Centre is that, in line with our International Development Principles, its work focuses on leadership from the Global South with climate justice, and gender mainstreaming embedded in its strategy to help ensure that its initiatives are more equitable, inclusive and effective in achieving the objective of increased deployment of renewable energy.

By increasing international cooperation and collaboration we can ensure that policymaking at home is as innovative and effective as. This is why we will:

  • Increase our engagement with other governments, public administrations and international bodies bilaterally and in international forums across a range of policy areas.

4.8 International Development

International development is one of the most important ways in which Scotland demonstrates its commitment to being a good global citizen. The global challenges that we face today – climate change, pandemics, conflict, poverty and inequality – remind us all of our global interconnectedness: what happens in the Global North affects the Global South and vice versa. This is clearly recognised in the concepts of global citizenship and global solidarity.

We must work together in addressing these challenges and recognise that success in tackling them depends on solidarity in times of difficulty and working in partnership to help the most vulnerable. We have committed to increase our International Development Fund (IDF) to £15 million per year by the end of this parliamentary term.

The Scottish Government’s international development programme has evolved significantly since its inception 2005, but our central focus on partnership to address poverty reduction remains constant.

We seek to do this by embedding the Sustainable Development Goals in how we work and contributing to sustainable development and the fight against poverty, injustice and inequality globally. We will continue to develop our progressive policies on contributing to international solidarity and enhancing global citizenship, through our commitment to:

  • Align all of our international development work with our International Development Principles. An outcome of our review in 2021 of our approach to international development, these 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.
  • A respectful partnership approach with our partner countries, and with organisations we fund.
  • Champion a feminist approach to development, by ensuring all of our overseas development spending and work contributes to gender equality and advances the rights of women and girls.

Through this approach, we are working hard to ensure that as far as possible we put the Global South in the driving seat for our policymaking, programming, strategy development and delivery and implementation. This means working in tandem with our partner countries[38] to make a distinctive, positive and impactful difference to the lives of those most in need across health, education and equalities. We will work closely with our partner countries to:

  • Develop new health programmes, partnering with them to build stronger health systems and tackle the world’s leading cause of death and disability - non-communicable diseases, illnesses linked to poverty, pollution, diet, tobacco and alcohol use, which pose a huge and increasing threat to the health and livelihoods of people in the Global South.
  • Develop new education programmes, partnering with them to support inclusive education, particularly advancing access to education for the most marginalised, especially girls and learners with additional support needs.
  • Implement a new Equalities Programme. This will include our ongoing investment in the Police Scotland Protection of Vulnerable Groups Programmes with their peer police forces in Malawi and Zambia, as well as launching a new
  • Women and Girls Fund, co-developed with women and girls, to support locally-based women-led organisations to advance women’s rights.
  • Continue to promote and support Fair Trade, to contribute to building a just, equitable and sustainable world.

We have set out already in Chapter 3 our ongoing commitments on climate justice and loss and damage. We also recognise that there is an increasing need to support those countries impacted by unexpected and devastating crises. Part of our commitment to being a good global citizen means stepping up when disasters impact other countries and ensuring Scotland plays our part in any requests for assistance. To do this, we will:

  • Sustain our Humanitarian Emergency Fund and explore options for how it can deliver the greatest impact at a time of increasing humanitarian need.
  • Increase the visibility of Scotland’s response as a compassionate global citizen to international humanitarian crises and our contribution on prevention and resolution of conflict and, through this, contribute to strengthening global citizenship in Scotland.

In all our international development and humanitarian work, we will therefore be guided by three underpinning approaches: alignment with our new Principles; taking a feminist approach; and pursuing an equalising power agenda in our relationships with our partner countries and other Global South countries.



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