17 January 2018

S5M-09328 The Economic Potential of Robert Burns

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-09328, in the name of Joan McAlpine, on the economic potential of Robert Burns. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the contribution that Robert Burns continues to make to Scotland’s economic and cultural life; understands that business generated during the Burns season includes spending on food and drink, hospitality, accommodation, kilt hire, printing and merchandising; notes that the creative economy is boosted through arts events such as the Big Burns Supper Festival in Dumfries, which is the culmination of Scotland’s £390,000 Winter Festivals Programme; understands that year-round Burns-related tourism is on the increase thanks to Burns Scotland partner destinations such as the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, Ellisland Farm near Auldgirth, the Monument Centre in Kilmarnock and Burns House Museum in Mauchline, as well as numerous places around Scotland associated with the poet; notes that Burns the brand helps promote Scotland’s exports and trade links through Burns suppers around the globe, including through more than 250 member clubs of the Robert Burns World Federation; understands that Burns contributes to the success of Scotland’s higher education institutions, including the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow, which encourages interest in the Bard through publications, seminar series, conferences, community and performance events, advice to exporters, research grant funding and international students and donor gifts, while providing strong strategic support to the National Burns Collection; understands that the last evaluation of Robert Burns’ economic impact on modern Scotland was completed in 2003 for the BBC by the World Bank economist, Lesley Campbell, who estimated that he generated £157 million each year for Scotland, and believes that this figure has grown exponentially since the research was carried out and that celebrations of the Bard’s birthday on 25 January will be an enriching experience in every sense of the word.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Like others, I thank Joan McAlpine for the opportunity to speak on this subject.

My new intern, Chase Lindemann, started with me yesterday, and as is often the case when I have a new intern, I set him the challenge of writing a speech for me. Chase has written tonight’s speech; he has come from the United States and he has not been to Scotland before, but it is an indication of the reach of Burns that, in a short space of time, Chase has produced an insightful and interesting speech on Robert Burns.

One of the things that Chase has identified is that Sophie Craig, a 16-year-old member of the Alloway Burns club in Ayr, has been given the opportunity to travel to Hungary to promote the works of Robert Burns. She will recite poetry and songs at the Corinthia hotel for more than 300 guests, hoping to raise money for sick and disadvantaged children in central Europe. The financial benefits of Robert Burns are more diverse than we, perhaps selfishly looking in our own mirror, have thought. Sophie is a young adult who is showcasing the power that Robert Burns’s poetry has to unite people from all walks of life.

A poem such as “To A Mouse” transcends socioeconomic status, allowing all and any to delight in the humorous comparisons and links between the lives of mice and men. The universality of his message makes it easy for Burns’s poetry to reach non-Scottish ears. His poems permeate the minds of people across the planet, and haggis and whisky have spread likewise, introducing more people to Scottish culture and cuisine.

Well done to the Parliament’s canteen for providing the haggis today. Alas, there was no whisky, but ho hum, there we are.

Between 2011 and 2015, we exported £4.85 million-worth of haggis to 28 different countries. Whisky, of course, has also enjoyed an increase in exports. In 2013, 1.3 billion bottles, worth £4.37 billion, were exported.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con): It is my understanding that the Scottish Government has secured access to the American market for haggis. Can the member confirm that that is correct?

Stewart Stevenson: A whisper from the front bench tells me that it might be Canada; the States may still be off. I am prepared to be corrected if necessary, but I think that there are now some quite good vegetarian haggises and I believe that some of them are going to the States. I hope that the real thing will follow quite soon.

Tourism is also an important part of our economy, and Burns is an important part of why people come here, as well as the tartan, the bagpipes, the whisky tours and, of course, our history, of which Burns is an important part. I thank Robert Burns for creating the opportunity and helping us with that.

Burns’s poetry covers a wide range of themes, from quite short poems to narrative tales of wonderful complexity and interest. His use of the Scots language has helped to introduce 20 million Scots Americans to the language of their ancestry.

I note that Kenneth Gibson today circulated a motion asking us to rename Glasgow Prestwick airport as the Robert Burns international airport. I am sure that John Scott will be on the case, and it will be a good thing for Prestwick and for Burns.

Burns clubs do not exist only as a means of cherishing the life and poetry of Robert Burns. They encourage the young to take an interest in the poet and poetry, songs and competitions in general. Clubs are an avenue for people of all social classes. On 25 January, people in Atlanta, Georgia, in Budapest, and all the way down to Bendigo in Australia will celebrate the birth of our bard. Members of international Burns clubs will join millions of Scots by partaking in an evening of haggis, whisky and poetry recital.

For my part, I look forward to visiting the Deputy Presiding Officer’s constituency with my colleague Ruth Maguire. I am sure that you will lay out the red carpet for us as we come to speak on Burns.

My favourite place to have spoken at a Burns supper—and the most prestigious—was the British embassy in Paris, which is the most wonderful building. I have also spoken in the United States and elsewhere.

The “Heaven-taught ploughman” has given us enormous value and, before I sit down, I cannot help reminding members that the Burns family came from the north-east of Scotland.


Stewart Stevenson
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