Scotland in the World: A New Perspective

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Mrs. Liddell: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I have visited several enlargement countries as part of the Government's involvement with the accession process. One of the remarkable features that I found, especially in Prague, was the large number of Scottish businesses that operate in countries such as the Czech Republic. I should tell my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) that I was amazed to discover that the man who runs the biggest property company in Prague comes from Coatbridge.

Angus Robertson: I thank the Secretary of State. She is right to draw attention to the great potential of countries throughout central and eastern Europe, where there is already a Scottish interest. One need only look at Estonia and the number of Scots who live in Tallinn to appreciate that.

I endorse the comments of the Secretary of State and urge other members of the Committee to speak to their friends and relations abroad to encourage them to help, in relation to this proposal or in any other way, to boost Scotland's standing in the world. I hope that my friends will take part in the scheme, and look forward to getting their impressions of how it is progressing. I welcome it in the sense that I welcome anything that will add value to our single commercial embassy, Scotland house in Brussels, or help the limited number of hard-working Scottish representatives from Scottish Development International and VisitScotland.

I want to ask the Secretary of State some questions about the proposal that the Minister may be able to answer in his reply to the debate. On 7 October 2001, an article was published in Scotland on Sunday, headlined ``In search of envoys to sell Scotland'', about a scheme billed as an initiative by the Scottish Executive's Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, Wendy Alexander. It gives a detail that the Secretary of State did not mention, namely that the organisation concerned hopes in the first year to have 300 ambassadors harnessing support for Scotland.

The Secretary of State did not make it clear whether her project is a rival to that initiated by Wendy Alexander. This morning, there was no mention of it on the website of Scottish Development International, the organisation that will supposedly be scouring the globe for ambassadors, nor on the websites of the Scotland Office, which I visited last night and this morning, or the Scottish Executive. I am not sure how that works in terms of joined-up government.

Mrs. Liddell: I am glad about that, because I only announced it half an hour ago.

Angus Robertson: The Secretary of State still has not answered my question. Is the project being run by the Scotland Office or the Scottish Executive?

Mrs. Liddell: I know that the hon. Gentleman is new to the House, but he will learn in time not to believe everything that he reads in the papers. We could not have put much of this initiative together had it not been for the help of the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning and the active participation of her officials. The hon. Gentleman must have been talking to one of his colleagues when I announced that a member of my advisory committee is Eddie Frizzell, head of the Department of Enterprise and Lifelong Learning. He should really try to pay more attention.

Angus Robertson: For the third time, we still do not know whether the Scotland Office or the Scottish Executive is running this project.

Mrs. Liddell: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Angus Robertson: No. I have already given way to the Secretary of State.

Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Angus Robertson: No. I have given way more than any other speaker.

Moving on to the issue of potential candidates for ambassadors for Scotland, I shall suggest some people who may have time on their hands and be able to help and contribute. Perhaps Susan—[Interruption.] We should not overlook Tom McCabe, a man whose diplomatic skills will be in hot demand.

We have sought clarification on how this will work, but we have not heard the details.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): Is the hon. Gentleman telling the Committee that, in the SNP's view—given that most of its MSPs are from the list I can understand this—to be a MSP is not a full-time job?

Angus Robertson: As I understand it—again the Secretary of State has not clarified this point—the posts are voluntary. They are unpaid posts that are not full time. I am happy to suggest to anybody who may have some—even a little—spare time, that they could help to boost Scotland's role around the world.

There are several other questions that I urge the Secretary of State to consider. Who is funding the project and what will its budget be? How much money will be invested? She mentioned in her introductory remarks and in the press release that there is to be a special unit at the Scotland Office working on the project. How many people will be working in that unit? What funding, training and materials will the volunteer ambassadors receive? Will they report to the Scotland Office or to the Scottish Executive?

Do the Secretary of State and the Government believe that this initiative will rival our competitors' efforts? Although I welcome anything that will boost Scotland's standing, it must be seen in the context of the efforts of our competitors from Europe and around the world. The new First Minister, Jack McConnell, has often said that Flanders is one of our major competitors—I note that the Secretary of State is nodding, so that is clearly the case.

Mrs. Liddell: No, I am not.

Angus Robertson: It is not the case—interesting. The First Minister believes that it is a good model. Flanders has more than 98 career commercial ambassadors. The Secretary of State mentioned that eastern Europe is important. Interestingly, Flanders has signed co-operation treaties with almost every country in central and eastern Europe. Flanders was part of the Belgian delegation to the World Trade Organisation in Doha. Nobody from either the Scotland Office or the Scottish Executive attended. Compared with Scotland's current assets, which consist of one commercial embassy in Brussels where the staff work commendably hard—[Interruption.].

It is interesting that members of the Committee mention UK embassies, and I shall turn to that. This morning, I thought that it would be interesting as we come towards St. Andrew's day to ask some of the UK's embassies what they are doing to promote Scotland in this key week. What are they doing to help Scottish exports, inward investment and tourism? My office managed to get through to 15 British embassies this morning. Out of the 15, only one is holding an event to mark St. Andrew's day and to promote Scottish exports, inward investment and trade.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the British consulate in New York takes approximately 25 per cent. of all its inquiries about export marketing to the United States from Scotland, a figure that is two and a half times our population base? Is it not to our advantage to have UK embassies there?

Angus Robertson: We must look at the reality of the matter and compare Scotland's efforts with those of our competitors. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that what happens in terms of Scotland's promotion is the same as what happens in Ireland for St. Patrick's day? I do not think so. I would like to quote some of the British embassies' interesting responses to my question. A diplomat asked, ``When is St. Andrew's day?'' and said, ``Never heard of a special event.'' The Paris embassy said, ``Scotland is devolved now.'' Rome said, ``There is a St. Andrew's church just round the corner.'' Oslo said, ``We have never done anything like this, ever.'' Budapest said, ``Somebody has been asking about representation,'' and Warsaw has been able to confirm that there is a public holiday in Poland.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): Will the hon. Gentleman tell me who is paying for all these phone calls? It does not matter who is doing the work for Scotland, as long as somebody does it and Scotland benefits. Carping all the time does not do his party or the Committee any good. He would be much better off trying to promote Scotland than trying to run it down.

Angus Robertson: The hon. Gentleman was not listening to my two key points. First, I welcome the Secretary of State's initiative, and secondly, our current embassy and commercial set-up is not representing Scotland effectively. If he thinks that just one embassy out of 50 doing something, in the week of our national day, to promote exports, inward investment and tourism for Scotland is good enough, he should be thinking—[Interruption.] I have already given way on more than enough occasions and I would like to make progress.

On the issue of representation at an international level, there has been some interest in how many meetings have been attended. It has been overlooked that, under the treaty of Nice, the various nations on this island would have more representation at a European level if we were represented directly. The argument about having less of a voice holds no water whatever.

I would like to turn to the issue of attendance at Council of Ministers meetings, which has caused problems for the Secretary of State. She has been unable to tell the Committee how many meetings took place in total. She has told us which specific meetings were attended, but not the percentage. Perhaps I can enlighten her. [Interruption.] Oh, it is not important how many meetings are attended? European Union Council of Ministers meetings are not important, says the Secretary of State for Scotland—quite unbelievable.

Mrs. Liddell: The hon. Gentleman seems to be confusing quantity with quality. That, perhaps, is not unusual coming from his perspective. Partnership is one of the key elements of the relationship between the Scottish Executive and the Government. That is obviously an alien concept to him.

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Prepared 28 November 2001