19 September 2013

S4M-07734 Scottish Economy

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-07734, in the name of John Swinney, on Scotland’s economy.

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

My speech will be largely about food and drink, and perhaps I will say a word or two about education.

On food and drink, we are doing well and we are progressing with the powers that we have, although I will of course say that we could do more if we had more powers. However, I cannot move into food and drink, which are largely export-led successes, without picking up on the specific thing that Iain Gray said about free access to the widest possible market and Mr Rennie’s contribution, which made similar reference to our £45 billion trade with the rest of the UK.

The threat to our export industries lies entirely with Westminster, which wishes to disconnect us from a market of over 400 million in the European Union. Indeed, if anyone is in the business of erecting barriers, the threat is at the UK level. It would take us out of the EU and create the barriers that would create difficulty.

Why do we do so well with food and drink in the world? We have some powers that enable us to help our industry, which is good, but fundamentally things depend on Scotland’s reputation in the world, people knowing about Scotland, and people believing that Scotland is an environmentally good place from which to buy their food and drink. They do that because of successive Governments’ attention to that subject. We have a clear and clean environment, and we know that our waters in Scotland are pristine and that our land is free from contamination from genetically modified crops. The Government has been very clear that it wants to sustain that.

Our products have been going around the world for a very long time. The Liberals once did something useful for the Scotch whisky industry, when the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act 1915 was passed when Lloyd George was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mind you, that act was drafted by his official, James Stevenson—yes, he was a relative, of course. The act dramatically improved the position of the malt whisky industry in Scotland.

Scotland’s whisky industry is so successful that a person cannot go to India without seeing evidence of the recycling of Johnnie Walker bottles, to be filled with local hooch. If a person goes to Nepal, they will see a brand called Kat 69 whose appearance is famously very similar to that of Vat 69. Our successes are copied around the world.

Moves to geographically protect a wider range of our products have also happened under the Government’s watch. Examples of those products are the Arbroath smokie and, most recently, the Stornoway black pudding, which are fine examples of Scottish food and drink products.

Our salmon farming industry, which is now the third biggest in the world, is exporting to the far east, where the product is in huge demand. Scottish farmed salmon is the first product to have Label Rouge accreditation in France.

There are threats to our success in food and drink. Most notably, we are unable to engage in the most effective way on the issues that come from the Faroe Islands’ and Iceland’s abrogation of pelagic fisheries. That is a serious threat to an economically important industry, and it threatens marine stewardship designations. It is slightly ironic that, when I went to Iceland in 1973, the Icelanders had just declared a 200-mile limit to protect the fish in their area from exploitation. I am afraid that they are now guilty of that themselves. As we are not internationally represented in a meaningful way, we are not able to engage in a way that would enable us to protect our markets to the maximum possible extent.

On education, it should be remembered that, for hundreds of years, Scotland had four universities while England had merely two. Our students went all over Europe and all over the world. Now, we export our education around the world from our universities, often by satellites and increasingly by providing online courses. I very much welcome the fact that the knowledge, experience and pedagogical achievements of our universities are now reflected in the internet world. That earns new revenue for Scotland.

I want to pick up on one or two further things in my final minute.

Slovakia was referenced earlier. Strangely enough, I do not think that, with a 10 per cent per annum growth rate, the Slovakian people are immediately queuing up to change their constitutional status after their independence in the world.

In any event, the Scots as a people are not put off by barriers. My great-great-grandfather applied for his passport in 1853 to emigrate to Canada and, today, I have living relatives in Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, all the countries in the British Isles and beyond. [Interruption.] I think that somebody is encouraging me to join them, Presiding Officer.

I refuse to accept the first invitation; I will conclude my remarks at that.


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