25 October 2006

Subject Debate: Scotland International

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 25 October 2006

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:00]

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Scotland International

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid):
The next item of business is an independents group debate on Scotland international.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The minister referred to the unstinting support from United Kingdom embassies and consulates around the world. I hope that, at a later stage in the debate, he can tell us how many Scottish events—say in the past 12 months—have been organised in those embassies. I suspect that the answer will be rather disappointing.

Mr McCabe: I cannot give a specific number at the moment, but I can tell the member that our embassies and consulates promote Scotland at every opportunity. From my experience of travelling on behalf of the Executive, I know that this country receives tremendous and enthusiastic support from the embassies and consulates throughout the world. In a few weeks' time, I will travel to Poland, in conjunction with our embassy, to help to celebrate St Andrew's day.

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the minister and hope that at a later stage we will get the figures that he does not currently have. I am sure that they will inform a continuing debate on the subject.

I begin by making an obvious remark, which is that Scotland touches the world and the world touches Scotland. Indeed, six days ago, a family in my constituency feared that it had lost one of its number to Nigerian bandits. Thankfully, today that family is complete again. However, the two Banff and Buchan oilmen who were held hostage knew that while Scotland touches the world—which, with the world's largest offshore oil base at Peterhead in my constituency, it frequently does—the world's touch on Scotland is not always a comfortable one. It is an interesting place out there, in all possible senses of the word. Of course, the difficulties that are experienced from time to time by individuals and by initiatives should in no sense discourage us from persisting.

To my certain knowledge and experience, Scotland has been engaged with the world for at least a millennium—more or less from the point at which Scotland became an identifiable country in its own right. As others have done—and as I am sure later speakers will too—I draw on some personal experience. During a visit to the west bank town of Hebron, I found a firm echo of Scotland's engagement with the world. A thousand years ago, the Scots crusaders travelled to the holy land to fight for their faith, rather like Scotland's football supporters make forays to countries throughout the world today. Some of those football supporters like it so much that they do not bother to come home. So it was with the crusaders in the middle east. As one walks down the street in Hebron, if one looks carefully enough, one will be struck by the number of red-haired, freckle-faced Muslim Arabs striding the streets of that west bank town. The reason is of course that the Scottish genes continue to survive a thousand years after our uninvited visit to another land.

A personal interest of mine is family history, so I find that example of the persistence of a connection that is based on genealogy and genes fascinating. I have about 2,000 names in my family tree and they perfectly illustrate—as will be the case for other families—the diaspora that is Scotland. I have hundreds of relatives in Canada and the United States of America. I have others in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and I have one or two in each of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Lebanon, Egypt and India. One of my cousins died in China. Politically, I find connections as well. I have a cousin who was an MP in the New South Wales Parliament, another cousin who was a senator in Canada and even—I say this with some hesitation—an English cousin who is a member of the House of Lords.

I want to do something slightly unusual in this debate without a motion, which means that we do not have to divide the Parliament or the people in it, and congratulate a Government agency—the General Registers of Scotland. The GROS is an important administrative part of the Government, which looks after records that go back to the middle of the 17th century. Its record keeping is some of the best in the world. It, more than any other agency or department of the Scottish Government, is most closely engaged with the Scottish diaspora—nowadays via the internet. It provides excellent services for genealogists across the globe. Such people are so committed to being engaged with Scotland that they pay for the privilege; we are not having to lay out our money to pay them. We should perhaps consider upping the ante with people who are interested in Scotland and persuade them to visit us and represent us wherever they are.

My calculation based on information from the Executive's website is that there are 58 consuls in Scotland. We have a strong brand, which is recognised throughout the world. We must be careful to reinforce it and not devalue it. Show anyone in the world a kilt and they will pretty certainly recognise it as being from Scotland. Show them a bottle of whisky from Scotland and we have a friend.

Scotland is a country with a terrific international reputation, but it does not have the position in the world that many other countries have and is limited in the way in which it can engage with the world. We are doing decent work in Malawi and other countries, which my colleagues and I support. However, it is time that we joined the family of nations. SNP members will continue to strive to achieve that.


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