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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, March 2, 2023


Scotland’s Links with the Arctic

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-08073, in the name of Angus Robertson, on Arctic connections—Scotland’s growing links with the Arctic.

I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons.


The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

I signal the Government’s acceptance of the amendments that have been lodged both by the Scottish Labour Party and by the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. I hope that that reflects a positive, cross-party approach to Scotland’s relationship with our Arctic and northern neighbours.

Today’s debate provides a welcome opportunity to highlight the importance for Scotland of continuing to collaborate with the Arctic region. Scotland is, in fact, the world’s most northerly non-Arctic nation. Unst, in Shetland, lies further to the north than Cape Farewell in Greenland, Juno in Alaska and Whitehorse in Yukon. Scottish waters stretch 200 miles into the Norwegian Sea, well into the 63rd parallel north and, similarly, into the North Atlantic Ocean.

Therefore, from an Arctic perspective, Scotland’s location at the edge of Europe is far from peripheral—it is quite the opposite. We are in a key strategic position, because we connect the European Arctic with central Europe and North America. There is growing international recognition of the constructive role that Scotland can—and does—play as a close sub-Arctic neighbour.

Although our geographic proximity is a key asset, there is much more to Scotland’s developing collaboration with the Arctic region. Indeed, present-day links build on centuries-old ties that remain visible across Scotland in place names, heritage, architecture and culture.

Scotland’s compass has long pointed north in search of beneficial partnerships and knowledge to realise opportunities, and increasingly it does so now to collectively address global challenges. Scotland’s largely rural profile of sparsely populated regions and abundance of natural resources is akin to that of the Arctic. That creates similar opportunities, such as those concerning the blue economy and green energy production. Shared issues also arise, in particular, from remoteness, for instance, in relation to connectivity, resilience, climate adaption, depopulation and public service delivery. Scotland has developed a wealth of expertise on such issues, which is relevant to our Arctic partners. For that reason, Scotland was a valued contributor to the European Union’s northern periphery and Arctic programme, and more than 40 per cent of the projects in the 2014 to 2020 round had at least one Scottish partner.

The United Kingdom Government’s choice to step away from the NPA and other European programmes is yet another practical example of the harm caused by Brexit. The Scottish Government continues to explore channels to associate with the NPA and other programmes in the future.

To reflect the strategic importance of collaboration with Arctic partners, the Scottish Government published Scotland’s first Arctic policy framework back in 2019, and my colleague Fiona Hyslop launched the document in Stromness in recognition of the historical ties between Orkney and the Arctic.

Our framework sets out how we will co-operate and share knowledge with Arctic partners. It is an invitation to pool expertise and unlock wellbeing and prosperity for Scottish and Arctic communities, with a distinctive hands-on approach and strong community focus. Unlike other narratives, which often focus on taking from the Arctic, our framework sets out Scotland’s offer to the Arctic, and it focuses on offering and sharing.

Since publishing the framework, we have intensified engagement with domestic and international stakeholders to open new avenues for Scottish-Arctic co-operation. The engagements that I have undertaken recently make it clear that Scotland’s expertise is increasingly warmly received and warmly sought after.

Last October, I addressed the Arctic Circle assembly in Reykjavík and was joined by a large Scottish contingent of researchers and third sector and cultural organisations. At the assembly, I opened a session on rural mental health, which was organised by the Scottish Government in partnership with the National Research Council of Canada and the University of the Highland and Islands. Exactly one month ago, I was in Tromsø for the annual Arctic Frontiers conference, where I was invited to join a panel discussion on rural repopulation in a session with the Norwegian prime minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, and US Senator Lisa Murkowski, from Alaska.

Later this month, on 17 March, we will partner with Arctic Frontiers to host a one-day forum on Scottish-Arctic collaboration at the Aberdeen Science Centre. I hope that colleagues from across the chamber will consider attending the event.

Our framework commits us to support Scottish organisations to pursue deeper and broader collaboration with Arctic partners. With that in mind, in 2021, we launched a new Arctic stakeholder fund. To date, the scheme has supported 20 innovative and value-adding projects, and work is now under way on a new round of the fund.

Many of the projects work with indigenous organisations, including to promote and protect indigenous languages. One of the brilliant projects that we have supported this year is led by The Polar Academy, a West Lothian charity that works with young Scots who are experiencing mental health challenges. After a rigorous training programme, the academy takes them on a life-changing polar expedition in Greenland. This year’s expedition will set off in the coming days, and I wish all the participants an exciting but safe trip.

Perhaps the best examples of the pace at which Scotland’s collaboration with Arctic partners has progressed have come from the academic sector. When our policy framework was published in 2019, Scotland had two members in the University of the Arctic, an international network of institutions that produce research in and about the Arctic. Today, nine Scottish universities are members of UArctic, and I am confident that more will join. We have more members than Sweden and more than any other non-Arctic nation, with the exception of China, which is something of which we should be proud. In recognition of our growing status in the network, UArctic chose the University of St Andrews to host, with Government support, a leadership conference last May.

We have helped to fund the establishment of the Scottish Arctic Network, which brings together academics and researchers from across Scotland with expertise in the Arctic. I am pleased to inform Parliament that, on behalf of the network, the University of Edinburgh will host the Arctic science summit week in 2024. That will be one of the world’s largest gatherings of Arctic research organisations.

Supporting research and making best use of available scientific evidence is critical to tackling the dramatic changes that the Arctic is experiencing. Melting glaciers, sea level rises and the escalating pace at which the region is warming are illustrative of the devastating effects of climate change. Those changes do not stay in the Arctic; they reach our islands and coastal communities, too. As a pioneer of renewable energies and decarbonisation, Scotland can offer expertise and help to catalyse international efforts.

Tackling the climate emergency has become the single most important element in Scotland’s partnership with Arctic nations. As we know, the green shift is also an economic opportunity, particularly for our partnership with Arctic nations and Arctic regions, which together represent more than a quarter of our exports. There is ample potential to increase that.

Our draft energy strategy and just transition plan further underline the opportunities to work with northern neighbours to create shared strategic advantage and establish regional infrastructure to meet domestic and international renewable energy demand. In addition, our Arctic policy framework and the new national planning framework 4 highlight how Scotland can create a near-Arctic marine transport and logistics hub. The University of Strathclyde’s hosting of the 27th international conference on port and ocean engineering under Arctic conditions, which is the first time that the conference has been held in the UK, is further evidence of that.

Today’s debate has created space to set out all that Scotland is already achieving in our partnership with Arctic nations and to demonstrate our ambitions to grow those powerful links further. We are strategically located and have a wealth of relevant experience to make Scotland not only a key partner in the Arctic, but a shareholder in its future. In moving the motion in my name, I hope that Parliament will support and welcome those ambitions for Scotland and our Arctic neighbours.

I move,

That the Parliament acknowledges Scotland’s strategic role as the world’s most northerly non-Arctic nation; agrees on the value of increasing collaboration between Scotland and its Arctic partners; welcomes the distinctive profile and reputation that Scotland has built internationally as an expert contributor to Arctic cooperation; recognises the importance of offering knowledge to promote sustainable development in the region, while learning from best practice developed there; calls for the Arctic to remain safe, stable and peaceful; acknowledges the particular threat posed to the Arctic by the climate crisis, and the need for climate action to be at the heart of Arctic cooperation, and supports the continued engagement with Arctic states, nations and regions to pursue sustainable trade opportunities, develop joint solutions that strengthen community resilience and mark longstanding cultural ties.


Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

We welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on how we can continue to enhance our relationship with our Arctic neighbours. Although international relations is, of course, a matter that is reserved to the United Kingdom Government, I would stress that the Scottish Conservatives believe that it is important for Scotland to engage with Arctic nations in order to promote and advance Scotland, both economically and culturally.

Neither Scotland nor the United Kingdom is technically an Arctic nation, but it remains vital that we work alongside the Arctic nations to enhance our own climate goals and to build on our existing security commitments in the region. That latter point is particularly critical, given Russia’s on-going illegal invasion of Ukraine and the need for other states to remain united in their condemnation of that conflict.

The Arctic region is a unique and fragile ecosystem that faces a range of challenges, from climate change to resource extraction, and from the aforementioned geopolitical tensions to indigenous rights. As a global power, the United Kingdom clearly has an important role to play in promoting sustainable development, protecting the environment and supporting the people of the wider region.

However, as has already been said, Scotland, too, shares many cultural, environmental and economic ties with Arctic states, and it is evident that we in Scotland also have a unique role to play. I will focus my remarks on that role, and on the need for the Scottish Government and the UK Government to work together on enhancing stability and security in the region.

We welcome, for instance, the publication of the UK Government’s updated Arctic policy framework, which we believe should complement the existing work that was detailed in the Scottish Government’s 2019 framework. Both Governments rightly place climate change at the heart of their respective frameworks and the need to work in partnership with other nations that face similar challenges to Scotland’s.

The need to share best practice on tackling the climate crisis is recognised by both Governments due to the fact that, as a country, the United Kingdom is directly affected by changes in the Arctic region, as we are one of its near neighbours with much shared biodiversity. It is deeply concerning that the Arctic is warming at four times the global average, which is increasing the risk of extreme weather, flooding and environmental degradation. I think it is right to say that, by 2028, Arctic summer sea-ice cover will have declined by 150,000 square miles—an area that is 1.5 times the size of the UK. With that in mind, it is welcome that tackling the climate crisis and halting further biodiversity loss are key tenets of both frameworks.

We also acknowledge the need to promote a prosperous Arctic, where economic and commercial development is achieved in a way that is safe, responsible and sustainable. As we continue to recover from the pandemic and rebuild our economy, it is right that we work with Arctic nations to grow our trade links. The Scottish Government’s 2019 framework noted that, in 2017, Arctic countries accounted

“for around 27.5% of our total exports and five of our top 20 export destinations”.

From a Scottish perspective, we know that further development of those links can be achieved through the GlobalScot and trade envoy network, which the Scottish Conservatives recognise the benefit of.

However, as the UK framework notes, we must ensure that any new trade with the Arctic region

“does not damage the Arctic’s natural environment, or destabilise peaceful cooperation, which are fundamental to the prosperity of many Arctic communities.”

That is vital, particularly when we consider the rights of indigenous groups in the Arctic region, which is something that both Governments’ frameworks emphasise.

I turn to the security aspect of the debate. Russia’s on-going conflict in Ukraine poses several major challenges for the Arctic region, not least because Russia has held the chairmanship of the Arctic Council since 2021—its term is due to end later this year. In addition to that, it is plain that Russia views the Arctic as strategically vital to its prosperity and security, and it has recently increased its military presence in its Arctic territory.

Other areas of concern include the fact that Russia has established a new northern joint strategic command and has re-opened cold-war era bases above the Arctic Circle. Those are just some of Russia’s recent actions and it is vital that the UK Government continues to work closely with our strategic partners in the region to monitor that further.

To that end, I welcome the Ministry of Defence’s recent publication of “The UK’s Defence Contribution in the High North”, which reaffirms the UK Government’s commitment to the wider high north region. That includes several key objectives, including:

“Protecting our Critical National Infrastructure ... Ensuring our freedom to navigate and operate across the wider region ... Reinforcing the rules-based international system, particularly UNCLOS”

—the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—and, finally, the need to contest “malign and destabilising behaviours.” Those are important objectives, and although defence remains a reserved matter, I hope that, where joint working is possible between the Scottish and UK Governments on the matter, that will come to fruition.

It is clear that Scotland has an important role to play as a non-Arctic nation, alongside the key Arctic states. Whether that be through the joint working on tackling climate change, growing our economic interests or enhancing the region’s security, Scotland and the UK can be major contributors to those shared endeavours. The UK and Scottish Governments clearly share several common goals, something that may be rare but is extremely welcome. To that end, I confirm that we will be supporting the Scottish Government motion, as well as the Labour amendment.

I move amendment S6M-08073.1, to insert at end:

“, and acknowledges the UK Government’s updated Arctic Policy Framework, which commits to cooperating with Arctic countries where necessary, as well as protecting their environment and the UK’s security.”


Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

I welcome the debate and believe that there are two contexts to it: climate security and global security. I very much agree with the general thrust of the motion and, indeed, of the speeches that the cabinet secretary and Donald Cameron made. Climate security has to be a key priority for the Parliament and for legislators across the world.

The past few years have shown us the devastating impact of failing to address the climate emergency. For example, at the January meeting of the cross-party group on Pakistan, we discussed how to support the rebuilding of the Pakistan economy and the country after a third of that country experienced massive floods that would have been unheard of 10 years ago.

Last year, we had excellent discussions in our Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s online seminars, where we shared the work of our Scottish Parliament on sustainable development. There is much more that we could do to share best practice, but it is absolutely central. For example, I thought that it was great that our Presiding Officer led a delegation to the Nordic Council last October.

For our islands, rural communities and coastal regions, in particular, we need to exchange best practice on low-carbon energy production and heat networks, especially now that we are experiencing a cost of living crisis. For our cities, we urgently need to adopt the sort of work that Denmark has done on building municipal low-carbon heat networks in places such as Copenhagen.

We need to reduce our transport and building emissions if we are to deliver on our climate targets, but, much more, we need to work with our neighbouring countries and legislatures to enable the transformational shift that the world needs. Given the climate crisis, work with our Arctic neighbours has to be part of our agenda as a Parliament, as well as part of the Government’s agenda.

The Arctic Council, which has been mentioned, brings together the nations with territory in the Arctic circle: the USA, Canada, Russia, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Finland. It is worth noting that they have worked together since 1996 to promote co-operation, giving indigenous nations a formal voice and addressing conservation as a key priority. The council has co-ordinated work on addressing biodiversity, conservation, pollution, sustainability, tourism and shipping.

The UK is an observer at the Arctic Council and has contributed to several of the papers that it has published, in particular on biodiversity and pollution. In 2019, the Scottish Government published its “Arctic Connections: Scotland’s Arctic Policy Framework” paper, which again highlighted the common challenges and opportunities, and in particular—as the cabinet secretary focused on—the academic links. I agree that we need to strengthen and build those academic links with universities across our regions, but we also need to focus on enabling our students to have more opportunities to study in neighbouring countries and to build our connections for the long run. That is important.

I also highlight one of the key recommendations that Scottish Labour proposed last year, in Gordon Brown’s commission on the UK’s future, which was to look at Scotland being able to sign international agreements in devolved areas. In the aftermath of the excellent connections that we made at the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—in Glasgow, we are very keen to pursue that.

There is an awful lot in the motion with which we in Scottish Labour are able to agree. However, I am seeking to amend it because it does not mention the other issue on which countries in the Arctic circle are currently focused, which is global security. As we debated in Parliament last week, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has shifted global politics, so it is important to acknowledge that, in relation to the Arctic, the Russian Government has decided to make changes to its state Arctic policy that remove reference to co-operation with the Arctic Council and instead prioritise solely Russian national interest. That is deeply concerning, and I want us, as a Parliament, to note that.

Climate change should be our priority, and we cannot afford to delay the radical action that we need to protect our communities. Sea level rise, melting glaciers and extreme weather are becoming increasingly prevalent, and the Arctic region is particularly vulnerable. Given our global climate crisis, we need global and regional co-operation, with Governments working together and Parliaments sharing best practice, rather than countries pursuing agendas that undermine that collective ambition.

As we debated last week, peace in Ukraine, with Ukraine’s sovereignty recognised and a withdrawal of Putin’s troops from Ukrainian soil, is critical, but we also need to acknowledge that that invasion has had an impact on wider global security, and work together.

I support the broad thrust of the Government’s motion, and I support Donald Cameron’s amendment. Nevertheless, I wanted to flag up the damage that is being done by the Russian invasion, which is impacting on global security and diverting the political energy that we all need to work together to address our shared climate emergency.

We should support our Arctic neighbours, given that the temperatures in the Arctic continue to rise way above the global average. We need to promote that joint work across our neighbouring Governments and Parliaments. It is not just in our interests—it is absolutely vital to the interests of our future generations.

I move amendment S6M-08073.2, to leave out from “Scotland’s strategic role” to “developed there” and insert:

“the value of Scotland’s involvement in multilateral relations with Arctic nations; agrees on the value of increasing collaboration and building stronger relationships between Scotland and Arctic nations; recognises the importance of participation in educational programmes and sharing knowledge to promote sustainable development in the region and learn from best practice developed there; notes with concern Russia’s recent changes to its Arctic Policy, which remove reference to cooperation with the Arctic Council and instead prioritise ‘the national interests of the Russian Federation’; believes that any framework for Arctic cooperation must respect sovereignty and the rule of law, and that this is incompatible with the invasion and annexation of the sovereign territory of neighbouring states”.


Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I warmly welcome the fact that time has been set aside for this debate. It may reflect the Government’s desire to keep Parliament’s agenda rather uncontroversial over the next few weeks, but if that is the case, today’s debate represents the acceptable face of the Scottish National Party leadership contest. I congratulate the members who have spoken so far on both the tone and substance of their contributions.

The islands that I represent are often described in the chamber as remote; they have even been called communities at the edge. When it comes to the Arctic, however, and discussions about what the Scotland and UK strategy should be in that regard, Orkney is smack bang at the heart and the centre of things, and not just geographically. Orkney’s connections to the Arctic circle are long-standing, and we are enormously proud of them.

Orkney and Shetland were a Norwegian province up until 1472. Workers for the Hudson’s Bay Company started heading across from Orkney in 1670, and Orcadians made up two thirds of the workforce by the 1800s. The Orcadian explorer Dr John Rae discovered the final link in the north-west passage in 1854, though sadly history has yet to fully afford him the recognition, respect and gratitude that he is due for those astonishing efforts.

During the world wars, the Royal Navy was based in Scapa Flow, and Orkney’s strategic location served as an important departure point for the Arctic convoys that delivered vital supplies to north Russia. The names of our people, homes and natural habitat are often unmistakably Nordic.

Little wonder, then, that, as the cabinet secretary reminded us, when the Scottish Government was looking for somewhere to launch its Arctic policy framework back in 2019, Orkney stood out as the perfect location. I pay tribute to Fiona Hyslop, who was Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs at the time and who I know retains a passionate commitment to these issues. Indeed, she and I, along with Mark Ruskell, attended the Arctic Circle assembly late last year, as the cabinet secretary said. The visit reinforced, at least for me, a conviction that we must build and broaden these ties and relationships as a Parliament, through Government and local government, as well as through business, academia and wider civic society.

That model is already proving enormously successful in the development of Scotland’s relationships with Malawi, and I see no reason why it cannot be adapted to suit the Arctic context. There is no lack of policy areas in which closer ties are desperately needed at all levels, which could deliver immediate and lasting benefits. Climate change is the obvious example, and that was the focus of much of the discussion in Reykjavík back in October. Temperatures in the Arctic continue to rise at four times the global annual average, and rapid loss of sea ice, melt events on the Greenland ice sheet, wildfires and permafrost thaw all contribute to rising sea levels and extreme temperature events beyond the Arctic.

In fisheries, we have a direct interest in the Arctic region in promoting sustainable use of stocks and responsible science-led management of our respective waters. With vast natural resources and strong expertise in energy innovation, Scotland and the Arctic countries can continue to lead the way in the development of marine energy and green hydrogen. Our Reykjavík visit also underscored for me our shared interest in finding low-emission solutions to ferry transport and cruise-line traffic.

On my earlier point, those are areas in which Orkney can be in the vanguard on behalf of Scotland and the UK, while acting as a stepping stone for Arctic countries and regions that are looking to develop relationships in the other direction. I urge the cabinet secretary to support Orkney Islands Council and other partners in developing Orkney Research and Innovation Campus in Stromness as a centre of excellence for Arctic and Nordic research and partnership. Will he agree to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor Fiona Hyslop and organise a follow-up to the 2019 conference in Orkney, with a focus on building economic, political and research relationships?

I look forward to a positive response from the cabinet secretary to those suggestions and, indeed, to a consensual debate throughout the afternoon.

We move to the open debate. I advise members that we have some time in hand for interventions or any additional points that members wish to make.


Fiona Hyslop (Linlithgow) (SNP)

I am very pleased that the Parliament is holding this debate. I have a long-standing interest in Scotland’s Arctic connections. As the then Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, I published Scotland’s first Arctic policy framework, having previously mobilised Scotland’s various and many academic, business community, scientific, environmental, transport community and health connections in an Arctic summit in Inverness, which has been referred to. I am delighted that there will now be an international Arctic exchange conference in Aberdeen. I hosted Nordic ministers at the first Nordic Council meeting to be held in Edinburgh, and I have twice attended the Arctic Circle assembly in Reykjavík.

Why Scotland and the Arctic? We all have an interest in protecting and promoting the Arctic, and Scotland has great scientific monitoring of, for example, sea temperatures. Parts of Scotland share the experiences of remote living. Further important strands of connections are those made through our young people and the sharing of digital health expertise, as well as higher education connections that have been made through membership of the virtual University of the Arctic. It is good to hear about the expansion of that membership to more of our universities.

In October, Liam McArthur led our parliamentary delegation to the Arctic Circle assembly, where we met ministers from Iceland and elsewhere and discussed tunnel links with the Faroe Islands minister. Icelandic MPs were interested in our mission-led Scottish National Investment Bank.

To give a sense of the knowledge that was exchanged more widely by thousands of global delegates at the Arctic Circle assembly, Scottish experts shared our insight on renewable wind energy developments, in which we are seen as world leading, and Inuit knowledge about how to live with the environment and rich culture of the sea and the sky in tough circumstances was powerful testimony.

Arctic countries are interested in our management of wetlands. We shared our bad experience of degrading peatland in the 1980s through inappropriate tree planting, in order to inform their consideration of tree planting. It is profound to hear that, when the tundra thaws in Alaska, houses built with no foundations just collapse while families sit at home watching television.

In January, we were delighted to host the Icelandic Parliament’s Environment and Communications Committee—which we met in October—at a joint meeting with the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, at which heat in building standards, onshore wind, wetlands management and carbon capture were on the agenda. Iceland is investigating onshore wind developments and is interested in our experience. It thinks that there is potential to export hydrogen through major grid connections, although, politically, that is contested.

I will touch briefly on more geopolitical and environment interests. The melting of Arctic ice will bring rising sea levels and will allow the reopening of the north-west passage, which will mean that freight shipping will be able to cut many miles and much energy use by using that route to traverse the world. The development in the longer term of deepwater ports en route that have the potential to enable hydrogen-powered ships to be refuelled is a common interest, which I know that Orkney and others are interested in.

The reopening of the north-west passage also raises marine defence issues and issues around mineral exploitation. Many of the governance issues need to be resolved by Arctic nations.

Arctic nations are cautious of many economic and military interests, so countries need to be sensitive in their approaches to having observer status on the Arctic Council. However, as with the Nordic Council, Scotland has insight and experience to offer as a good-faith partner in less controversial areas. There are those in the UK Government who think that Scotland is best placed to represent interests that it has in common with Arctic countries.

The Arctic matters to everyone, and the people of the Arctic are key. Our people-to-people approach can broaden our horizons, but it can also forge partnerships to help us to face an Arctic that is changing, which will affect us all.


Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Scotland has been described as the Arctic’s nearest neighbour. As someone who, like Liam McArthur, comes from the northern isles, I assure members that that is not lost on me, particularly when a polar blast hits our islands.

Our islands’ connections with the Arctic countries relate to more than just the weather. As Liam McArthur said, we were part of Norway until the 15th century, and many local names, including mine, are of Norse heritage. Stromness was an important recruiting centre for the Hudson’s Bay Company, and many Orcadians travelled to Canada and settled there, while others played an important role in that country’s development before coming home.

Orphir, where I live, was the home of John Rae. I declare that I am a member of the John Rae Society in Orkney, and I commend its excellent efforts to promote his legacy and to preserve his birthplace, the Hall of Clestrain. By mapping around 1,750 miles of Arctic coast on foot and in small boats, Rae helped to shape our understanding of the Arctic region through his discoveries. I also commend the work of the Orkney Norway Friendship Association and the efforts that it has made since 1978 to promote links between Orkney and Norway. We should continue to celebrate the long-standing cultural and historical ties that we share with our Arctic partners.

However, new relationships are now being forged. Our strategic role as the world’s most northerly non-Arctic nation only enhances the value of increasing collaboration between Scotland and our Arctic partners. We are seeing that in a number of fields. Orkney’s world-leading European Marine Energy Centre has partners from across the world, including Norway, and many of our coastal and onshore wind turbines are Danish designed and built.

There is much to learn from the shared experiences of Arctic countries about how some of the problems that we face can be solved. A significant challenge for many communities across my Highlands and Islands region and in Arctic countries is depopulation, and connectivity is an important part of combating that. My colleague Douglas Lumsden will talk about ferries, but there is a lot that we could learn from some of the Arctic countries about fixed links. The use of tunnels and bridges to join our islands and communities is a subject that Fiona Hyslop touched on, and it is one that I have spoken about before. Communities across Scotland want that to be investigated, and the Scottish Government needs to be more active in considering the issue. Broadband is vital for both businesses and the social fabric of society. Although Scotland’s R100 programme will be seven years late, leaving many of my Highlands and Islands constituents reliant on slow or non-existent broadband, Space Norway will, next year, provide broadband coverage throughout the Arctic.

There are serious considerations. My home overlooks Scapa Flow, which was the UK’s main naval base during both world wars, when our islands played a vital role in the Atlantic convoys that kept the UK supplied. The shadow of another old threat has now returned. Russia’s aggression in Ukraine threatens the Arctic region as a place of high co-operation and low tension. Like my colleague Donald Cameron, I welcome the UK Government’s publication, last month, of its Arctic policy framework and its commitment to

“work with our Arctic partners and Allies to contest malign and destabilising behaviours and activity in the region.”

More positively, in its 2021 integrated review, the UK Government committed to maintaining a significant contribution to Arctic science, with a focus on better understanding the implications of climate change.

The United Kingdom, Scotland and my Highlands and Islands region share many challenges with Arctic countries. As we look to the future, our strategic location and our historical and cultural ties with Arctic countries present a unique opportunity for more collaboration and partnership. I hope that the UK and Scottish Governments will work together to that end.


Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

The Latest United Nations “World Investment Report” records

“increased foreign influence in the Arctic”.

China has described the Arctic as a “global commons”. As it planted a flag on the sea bed two and a half miles below the north pole, the Russian navy declared, “The Arctic is Russian.” And, of course, the 45th president of the United States of America, Donald J Trump, even thought that he could buy Greenland, on terms that he described as

“essentially a large real-estate deal”.

So, when the Government talks about the Arctic as a “safe, stable and peaceful” region, I hope that it acknowledges that there has been a sharp rise in economic instability and in militarisation, and that there are concerns about Russian expansionism. With the accession of Sweden and Finland to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, whether we like it or not, I am bound to say that militarism will not come down; it will go up. The Arctic is already viewed by the Tory Government as being as much a region for military activity as one for scientific research. The UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force is about military capability, not scientific collaboration.

The price that is paid for all of that is the repression of indigenous people’s rights, the accelerated depletion, commodification and commercialisation of natural assets, the sacking of biodiversity and the wholesale appropriation of land. In short, a new and all-pervasive colonisation is taking place in the Arctic, in which common lands and seas, culture, heritage and even an entire way of life are being put in mortal jeopardy—all for the sake of the insatiable demands of extractive capitalism, corporate greed, the maximisation of profits and the shareholder dividend.

But while that chaos is creating conflict, it is also building resistance. There is resistance from the 4 million people for whom the Arctic is home. There is resistance to the nuclear power plant on the Hanhikivi peninsula in Finland, a project now cancelled after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. There is resistance by the Inuit people, who forced the Canadian federal Government to block the proposed Shandong Gold Mining takeover of Hope Bay goldmine on the grounds of national security. There is resistance, too, to global multinational corporations that are owned and registered here: to Rio Tinto in Canada and to Shell in Alaska.

So, when the cabinet secretary reminds us of Scotland’s proximity to the Arctic circle, of course, he is right. We are a near-Arctic state. But let me remind the cabinet secretary that it is the duty of this Parliament to press him on whether he means for us, actively or tacitly, to be complicit in this new economic, cultural, ecological, social and military colonialism. Or are we prepared instead to build an alternative relationship and to follow an alternative strategy that is forged on the values of peace, not war; of social advance, not economic exploitation; and of conservation, emission controls and climate change co-operation, in place of mineral extraction, environmental dumping and corporate takeover?

Will Richard Leonard reflect on the importance of sub-nation states and petrol states coming together and committing to a just transition and to signing up to the Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance?

Richard Leonard

Yes, I do support that, because a debate is taking place at the moment in Scotland that is challenging some of the premises that I thought we had accepted. There needs to be an international approach to the issues of just transition. I wholly support that.

Let me finish by saying that we need to build a relationship where we respect cultural diversity and biodiversity, where we support native communities and indigenous wealth building, and where we provide practical solidarity to indigenous trade union organisation, too, because the earth is a common treasury that we must defend—not with gunboats and the bellicose rhetoric of nationalism, but with ethical socialist, ecological and humanitarian action. That is what our vision should be: a people’s vision that reaches beyond economics, looks to the bonds of our common humanity and has a shared vision of peace, justice and sustainability.


I am waiting for my microphone to go live.

Ms Martin, is your card in? Could we have Ms Martin’s microphone on, please? [Interruption.]

Gillian Martin

Scotland and the Arctic have been intertwined for centuries, due to our close geographical proximity, so it makes sense that our ancient relationships are being reinvigorated, reignited and redesigned to match our modern times. Whether with Norway, Sweden, Canada, Alaska, Iceland or Finland, there is common ground between us across a lot of issues, and we all stand to gain valuable knowledge through our interactions, backed by the new links that have been enabled by the Scottish Government’s 2019 Arctic policy framework, which was launched by my friend and colleague Fiona Hyslop.

In parliamentary terms, I gained enormous insight into many of those common issues by attending the Arctic Circle assembly, in 2018 with Finlay Carson and in 2019 with Mark Ruskell, on behalf of the then Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, having many bilateral meetings with politicians who worked in those portfolios, from Iceland, the Faroes, Canada and the Saami regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland.

At that time, our committee was working on the bill that became the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019. Hearing from Inuit, Saami and Greenland communities about the devastating impact that climate change is having on their way of life certainly focused my mind on our responsibility to play our part in reducing our emissions. Everyone to whom I spoke was blown away by the extent of our ambitions in that area, and I am very appreciative of them.

The Scottish Government is ensuring that the benefits of our transition to a net zero economy are maximised, including by working with our Arctic neighbours, with considerable investment from companies that are based in the Arctic states. Hywind Scotland, which lies 25 miles off the coast of my constituency and is now in its sixth year of operation, is the world’s first floating offshore wind farm. It was built by and is operated by Equinor and has off-the-chart performance in energy output. Now, with all the lessons that have been learned from that development, Equinor is developing an even bigger project—Hywind Tampen, which is situated off the coast of Norway. In addition, the construction of NorthConnect, the interconnector cable between Scotland and Norway, will allow us to exchange power and increase the use of renewable energy. It will create new trading opportunities for our renewable energy industries while improving our energy security.

Under the Scottish Government’s Arctic policy framework, more partnerships are forming as a result of the Arctic connections fund. The second round of funding, which was for the financial year 2022-23, has funded 10 projects. One that piqued my interest was the project on supporting rural women in Arctic low-carbon transitions, which is led by Scotland’s Rural College. The transition to a net-zero economy must be a just transition that ensures that no one is left behind, that job security is protected and that new opportunities, particularly for women, are developed. Therefore, I am excited by the aims of that project to establish a knowledge network that will pull together women researchers, policy makers and community practitioners from across Scotland, Sweden, Norway and Canada to share knowledge about how best to support rural women during the transition to net zero in the Arctic region.

Network members will share and explore existing local and regional interventions in their countries to build evidence-based recommendations for future policy on the issue. That will shine a light on tailored support for rural women, who may find themselves taking up new roles in the rural economy or setting up new businesses. As convener of the cross-party group on women in enterprise, it strikes me that hearing from the team behind that project, once it has reported, would make an excellent future session.

We have natural and cultural links to the Arctic already, but strengthening our economic and academic relationships, growing co-operation between Parliaments and Governments and sharing our expertise will be good not only for Scotland but for our Arctic neighbours and for all of us who cherish the idea of reducing emissions and affecting climate change.


Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the unique position that Scotland has as the world’s most northerly non-Arctic country. I have enjoyed the contributions and insights from members so far.

I have attended the Arctic Circle assembly in Reykjavík twice as an MSP and have always left inspired by the opportunities for collaboration and learning between Governments, businesses, academia and the third sector. Attending those events has more often felt like coming home than visiting away, such are the warmth of the gathering and the willingness to share and learn from one another.

The geography, the economic, social and cultural history, and the future of our climate all point to the need for that greater collaboration between the people who inhabit and care for the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. In Scotland, we are undeniably part of that world. It is striking that, when you tilt the map on the northern latitudes, there is a seamless geography that runs from Greenland through Iceland to the archipelagos of the Faroes, Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles and the west coast of Norway.

That was not lost on our ancestors who explored, traded in and inhabited that world. Some of that history has already been brought into the chamber by Liam McArthur and Jamie Halcro Johnston. It reminded me that my grandfather was stationed at Scapa during the second world war in his work defending the Atlantic convoys.

I will focus a little bit on Orkney. I have to commend the leadership of Orkney Islands Council, which has prioritised its Arctic and Nordic engagement. It is clear that both Orkney and Shetland have much to gain from and share with their neighbours. I hope that the Scottish Government can see that ambition as a strength for Scotland as a whole and that the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture gives serious attention to proposals to invest further in Orkney’s Arctic agenda.

The shared geography of the west Nordic region means shared opportunities and learning. I have been struck, as Fiona Hyslop was, by the Faroese approach to developing fixed links across their islands, their ambition for offshore wind combined with tidal energy and the growing development of a new industry: kelp farming. We have a ban on kelp dredging in Scotland, but there is a golden opportunity to develop a licensing regime that allows a productive, profitable industry to emerge in Scotland, creating hundreds of jobs while operating within our ecological limits .Of course, in recent years, the Faroese have developed a licensing regime to achieve that objective, and I urge the Scottish Government to learn from and act on it.

Gillian Martin

Does Mark Ruskell recall that, at the meeting with the Faroese that he and I attended, they said that they started kelp farming as a carbon sequestration exercise but found that the value of the kelp that they were producing represented a massive economic benefit?

Mark Ruskell

Absolutely. When we went back last year, we met the same industry representatives that Gillian Martin and I had met several years before, and it was interesting to see the development of that licensing regime over that time. Again, we had interesting discussions with colleagues from Orkney who are now looking to develop such an industry there.

Learning cuts in lots of directions and, following the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee’s meeting in Reykjavík with members of the Icelandic Environment and Communications Committee, which Fiona Hyslop has mentioned, the Icelandic committee made a visit to Holyrood in January, and we had a productive discussion about how onshore wind has been developed in Scotland and what Iceland can learn from us in that regard.

As a number of members have said, it is clear that our greatest shared endeavour is to save the Arctic from the ravages of climate change, for the sake of all humanity. Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the Green Prime Minister of Iceland summed up the situation well in her speech to the Arctic Circle assembly last year, when she said:

“The Arctic may become unrecognizable in a few decades if we do not act sufficiently today. Everything is changing ... We see glaciers receding, permafrost is melting, heat records are beaten and forests are burning. And all this is happening much faster in the Arctic—where the ecosystem is sensitive and the resources are great.”

Alongside Jacinda Ardern and Nicola Sturgeon globally, Katrín Jakobsdóttir has been instrumental in leading the shift in thinking to deliver a wellbeing economy—an economy whose foundations are ecologically restorative but also socially fair and just. As we move forward to the election of a new First Minister in Scotland, I hope that that wellbeing economy mission remains central to the Government and that we take on the challenges and threats to the Arctic, her nature and her people, together, as one.


Paul McLennan (East Lothian) (SNP)

I am delighted to speak in the debate today. At last month’s business in the Parliament event, I attended a workshop on export opportunities that was hosted by Scottish Chambers of Commerce. Business after business told us of difficulties around trading with countries in the European Union due to Brexit and said that they needed to look at new markets into which they would export. Many were looking at the North American market, but it was quite startling to hear how many were now looking to export to Arctic states. Replacing EU markets raises the importance of looking towards those Arctic states, which will be key to our economic success.

“Arctic Connections: Scotland’s Arctic Policy Framework” was published in 2109 and introduced by Fiona Hyslop. Scotland needs to look north. Our northernmost islands are closer to the Arctic circle than they are to London—we have heard Liam McArthur and Jamie Halcro Johnston talk about the links between Arctic states and Orkney. However, connections between Scotland and the Arctic go much further than geographical proximity. Our communities share deep cultural and social links as well as similar challenges and outlooks. The Arctic policy framework consolidates our position as a northern European gateway to the Arctic, establishing Scotland as the international partner of choice in tackling shared challenges.

The key things that are mentioned in the framework are climate action and renewable energy solutions; connectivity; science, research and innovation; and a sustainable marine economy. Only a few months ago, along with colleagues from the cross-party group on renewable energy and energy efficiency, including Sarah Boyack, I met parliamentarians from Iceland to discuss aspirations in the area of renewables. As has already been mentioned by Fiona Hyslop, the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee held a meeting with them the same day. We discussed solutions in relation to issues that we face in Scotland. In particular, we focused on community engagement, skills development and, of course, supply-side development. Those discussions open up opportunities for our renewables sector and allow the export of our expertise in the market.

The policy framework sets out Scottish expertise and encourages mutual learning between Scotland and our Arctic partners. It sits alongside complementary strategies such as the Nordic-Baltic policy framework, helping to ensure that best practice and innovative ideas, such as the baby box, are shared with like-minded regional neighbours.

The Arctic connections fund is one of the most vitally fruitful projects to arise from that framework. It was launched in March 2022, and Scotland-based organisations are encouraged to apply for a grant of between £1,000 and £10,000 for projects that explore the shared issues between Scotland and the Arctic.

Scotland’s links with close neighbours in the European Arctic are invigorating rural economies and protecting our natural resources. We have heard that the northern periphery and Arctic programme secured over €6.8 million for Scottish organisations between 2014 and 2019 alone. Since 2014, Scotland was also granted €12.1 million through the North Sea region programme. Unfortunately, we have lost that funding opportunity.

We have other collaborative projects, such as the memorandum of understanding between Scotland and Denmark to promote co-operation on district heating and energy efficiency. That is incredibly important. Around 15 years ago, when I was a councillor, I visited Denmark to look at its district heating systems. Denmark was ahead of us then, and it is miles ahead of us now. We have to learn from it in that regard.

Of course we need to replace some of the European funding that has fallen away because Scotland has left the EU. That is still an issue. The Scottish Government remains determined to protect Scotland’s reputation as an open and outward-looking nation that addresses acute global challenges such as climate change challenges.

Sarah Boyack

I listened to Paul McLennan’s comment about how far behind Denmark we are now in respect of community heat networks and renewables. Is there something that we need to be doing with political leadership to link up our councils and the Scottish Government to see what is possible? We have some excellent schemes, but they are not everywhere, and we need to move from saying, “It’s a good idea,” to saying, “We need to do this as standard practice and make it happen.”

Paul McLennan

I agree with that point. One of the key things that the Existing Homes Alliance Scotland has talked about is tackling our retrofitting challenge on a local authority basis. I am working on that in my own local authority area, and I ask other local authorities to try to work on that, as well.

In conclusion, we share many interests with our Arctic neighbours, but we need to develop closer links. The framework helps us to do that.


Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

I am pleased to be taking part in this debate because, as someone who represents Aberdeen, I know that trade links to the Arctic, and to Norway especially, are vital. I have been to and enjoyed visiting Norway many times. It will be at the heart of my contribution.

Aberdeen is twinned with Stavanger. I had the pleasure of being in Stavanger on a number of occasions in my previous role working in the oil and gas industry. Aberdeen and Stavanger is a perfect twinning, with the economies of both areas having relied heavily first on fishing and latterly on oil and gas. That partnership and friendship remains strong. Stavanger even gifts Aberdeen a Christmas tree each year.

I was pleased to read the 2019 Scottish Government document “Arctic Connections”, which has already been discussed. It includes a section on oil and gas, which states:

“The industry supports a total of 110,000 jobs in Scotland when including direct, indirect and induced employment.”

It goes on to say:

“A strong domestic oil and gas industry can play a positive role in supporting the low carbon transition, in terms of transferable skills and infrastructure.”

Things were much better in 2019 before the Greens were in government. The SNP of old seemed to understand how important the oil and gas sector was to our economy and our transition. That now seems to be a distant memory for this anti-growth and anti-business devolved Government.

Another part of the document that caught my eye was on digital connectivity. The document states:

“The challenges of broadband deployment in the Arctic are akin to those encountered by Scottish remote communities. Like Scotland, Arctic states have established broadband speed and coverage goals to increase interconnectivity in sparsely populated areas.”

While the Scottish Government has made a complete mess of the reaching 100 per cent—R100—scheme and missed its goals, Norway has some of the best fixed and mobile speeds in the world, as we heard earlier. That shows that that is possible, and that is something that we should strive towards.

Another similarity between Scotland and Norway is the island communities. It seems that, while Norway is investing in low-carbon vessels, we are investing in Norway’s old diesel fleet. We should be looking closely at what Norway is doing and, if we are serious about meeting our climate change goals, looking to invest in electrifying our harbours is a must.

Fishing is another area in which we have common interests. We should be working closely with our Arctic partners to ensure that we fish in a sustainable way and to learn how to transform our seafood industry through increased automation.

In closing, I agree with the motion that we should be collaborating with our Arctic partners. I also agree that we should learn from them. We should learn from them how to protect our oil and gas industry, as it is a key part of our energy transition. We should learn from them how to run a ferry service that is reliable and greener and which helps to support our island communities. We should learn from them how to grow our fishing industry and invest in automation. We should learn from them how to roll out a decent broadband service. We should learn from them how to roll out world-leading telemedicine, so that our rural communities are not left behind. We should learn from them how to build a decent car-charging infrastructure. In fact, this precarious SNP-Green Government should learn from our Arctic neighbours how to run a country properly.


Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

In recent weeks, a close family member who is on a work placement in Norway has been sending me regular pictures and videos of the northern lights—the spectacular displays of colour in the skies, which graced many of our skies in Scotland earlier this week. However, the Arctic is a lot more than lights in the sky. Indeed, the Scottish-Arctic connections that have been forged through history continue to drive new and creative partnerships, exchanges and co-operation.

Scotland’s historical connections with the Arctic are extensive. Aberdeenshire-born polar explorer Thomas Abernethy was awarded five Arctic medals in the 1800s and was one of many Scottish explorers recognised for their pioneering polar research.

Recently, RAF Lossiemouth has been re-established as a key air base in the north of the UK, with a new fleet of maritime patrol aircraft monitoring the north Atlantic and the high north region at a time when tracking emerging military threats has never been so relevant. I note the comments of Sarah Boyack and other members on the issue of global security. I completely agree with them.

Of course, our Arctic connections are embedded in our cultural and social linkages, our shared climate change targets and the interchange of information and expertise, reinforced by shared policy ideas and initiatives. I commend the Arctic policy framework that was developed by my colleague Fiona Hyslop, which sets out the priorities around developing our Arctic connections in a modern Scotland.

An excellent example is the Scandinavian barnahus or bairns’ hoose approach, which ensures that children who are victims of violence or abuse have all their needs met in an integrated way, in one place, under one roof. I am delighted that the Scottish Government has committed to implementing that internationally renowned approach in the programme for government, and I was pleased to receive confirmation that the 2023-24 justice budget includes £2.5 million of additional funding for victims and witnesses, including support for the justice aspects of the next phase of the Scottish bairns’ hoose model.

On research and innovation, the Scottish Arctic connections fund continues to support academic collaborations with our Arctic partners, and it is testament to the strong linkages between the north-east and our Arctic friends that the University of Aberdeen and Robert Gordon University have successfully received funding to support a number of projects, including a just transition project that will identify the challenges and opportunities in optimising regulation to achieve a just transition; a project to explore ways in which Arctic region countries address the challenges of the out-migration of young people, which will inform interventions and good practice in Scotland; and a project exploring the sustainability of an Inuit community in the Canadian Arctic.

I must also mention the strong energy collaborations between Scotland and the Arctic. For decades, Scotland has been home to many people who have settled in the north-east from Arctic countries. They have brought their skills and knowledge into our oil and gas sector—and, now, into our developing renewables sector. I was dismayed by the political nuances and tone of Douglas Lumsden’s speech. Equinor’s development of the Kincardine project—the world’s largest floating wind farm, just off the Aberdeenshire coast—is but one of many examples of our solid energy relationship.

Scotland is rightly positioning itself as a key Arctic partner by embracing new friends, growing powerful links and strengthening our internationalist reputation. We have much to be proud of, but there is still much to do. As a constituency MSP for Aberdeen South and North Kincardine, I look forward to receiving my invitation to the forthcoming international Arctic exchange conference.


Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I apologise to members for missing part of the cabinet secretary’s opening speech.

Just two days before the Arctic Circle Japan forum meets in Tokyo, I am pleased that we are taking the opportunity to discuss Scotland’s existing links with our Arctic partners and the ever-increasing number of opportunities to collaborate with Arctic states, nations, regions and communities.

Perhaps it is human nature to conjure up a mental map when we talk about our economic and cultural links with the world. On a daily basis, we speak about our relationship with other devolved nations on these islands and with London. In recent years, Brexit and our place in Europe has increasingly dominated our thinking. In global terms, we think about the power balance between east and west, and our place being lodged somewhere between the USA and China. On the mental map, that consideration takes us south, east and west, but rarely north—certainly, not as much as it should—despite our strong links that date back to the millennia before the Viking era.

The vast tract of our planet that is covered by Iceland, Greenland and the sweeping north Atlantic corridor—which links those nations with Norway, Sweden and Finland in the east and the USA and Canada in the west—along with Scotland’s place on its periphery, merits far more of our attention. Although Scotland is not an Arctic nation, we are one of the planet’s most northerly non-Arctic nations. As a good global citizen, we have a strong interest in fostering greater mutual learning between Scotland and the Arctic and in playing our part in fighting the very real climate and nature loss that the Arctic faces, which colleagues have, rightly, focused on in great detail this afternoon.

Scotland has much to learn from our Arctic neighbours. We also have much to offer. I was pleased to hear the cabinet secretary relay the feedback that he received that Scotland is increasingly viewed as a place that is home to innovation, research, learning, technology and the development of solutions that can benefit the whole Arctic region. That is something that we can, and should, all be proud of. The contribution that Scotland can make is not limited to one particular area of expertise; it is across a range of sectors and industries. We have already heard about a few such areas, and I look forward to hearing more examples in the winding-up speeches.

Only a few months ago, my colleague Audrey Nicoll, who has just spoken, hosted a team from Robert Gordon University in the Parliament. At that event, it was outlined that Scotland should be setting a high ambition to become a global energy hub. We should build on our existing energy expertise in order to become a centre where new energies such as hydrogen are developed, produced and transported directly between Scotland and our Arctic neighbours. Scotland’s energy industry is world leading. However, our expertise lies not only in the technical development of renewable energies, but in pioneering marine special planning to maximise the potential of such projects in an environmentally and economically sustainable way, in partnership with communities and industries. The opportunity for knowledge transfer between Scotland and the Arctic in that area is huge, and that is to say nothing of the positive impact that the development of those new energies will have in preserving our threatened Arctic environment.

Blessed with natural scenic beauty, Scotland and the Arctic have much in common. However, with natural scenic beauty comes the challenge of managing the growing number of people who want to come and see it for themselves and exploit the resources, which Richard Leonard mentioned. That is especially relevant when we consider how environmentally fragile some of our most picturesque landscapes are. Scotland’s practical experience of balancing our desires to grow tourism, protect our natural environment and generate sustainable economic growth is, therefore, of value to our Arctic neighbours, particularly in areas where tourist numbers are currently low but growing exponentially. Nations around the Arctic are hungry for its resources, and we must resist some of those urges.

Scotland’s islands passport initiative encourages tourists to visit more of Scotland’s 96 inhabited islands and helps to alleviate tourism pressure points by spreading tourism to our wider regions. That initiative and our experiences in establishing it are of real value to our friends in the Arctic. I am sure that Scottish civil servants—joined, of course, by parliamentary colleagues—will be in high demand at Arctic Circle events, where they can share learning and field questions on the initiative’s operation.

Scotland prides itself on being a country that is home to big ideas that make a mark on the world. More than that, we want to share our ideas and take our place in global networks and partnerships that allow that to happen. Through closer collaboration with the Arctic, Scotland can create new opportunities to share and learn. I support the Scottish Government as it takes forward efforts to solidify the valuable partnerships with our friends in the Arctic.

We move to winding-up speeches. I should say that we have a little time in hand, so I can be generous to those who are closing.


Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

I thank the cabinet secretary, Angus Robertson, for bringing these important issues to the chamber. I echo his words on the importance of continuing our educational support in relation to the Arctic region, including the preservation of indigenous languages.

Scotland has a responsibility to co-operate and work with our northern neighbours. Particularly now, strategic co-operation with our European Arctic neighbours must continue in order to ensure a safe, peaceful and prosperous Arctic. There is much that Scotland and the UK as a whole can be doing to help and support the Arctic region and its nations. The Arctic now exists as a complex environment, with more state and non-state actors involved than ever before. As my colleague Sarah Boyack said, we must preserve the Arctic as an area of peace and co-operation.

We very much welcome the Scottish Government’s support for our Scottish Labour amendment. Russia shares 53 per cent of its border with the Arctic Ocean, and more than two and a half million of Russia’s inhabitants live in Arctic territory, which is about half the population of the Arctic. The Russian Federation is geographically and politically tied to the Arctic, and its presence in the region must not be overlooked.

Under Putin’s leadership, the Russian Federation has recently changed its state Arctic policy. It references no plans for continued co-operation with the Arctic Council; instead, it references the pursuit of Russian national interest. Full strategic co-operation and engagement with all Arctic states will simply not be possible while Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine continues. Any framework that sets out to improve Arctic co-operation must not infringe on the diplomatic sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation by the United Kingdom and its allies regarding the illegal invasion of a sovereign nation. The Scottish Government needs to recognise the new reality and shape co-operation based on the high-security situation.

As my colleague Richard Leonard commented, multilateral engagement must be at the centre of future co-operation efforts in the Arctic region. My colleagues have already mentioned the melting glaciers in the Arctic, which represent the devastating effect that global warming is having on our planet. Climate change and global warming have securitised the Arctic as a region. Changes in the Arctic environment are greater than they are everywhere else, and temperatures in the Arctic rise three times faster than the global average, with impacts across the globe.

The Arctic should be at the heart of our sustainability goals. The current climate crisis poses a significant threat to the Arctic region and to its almost four million inhabitants. That is something that we can strive to co-operate on. Scotland and the Arctic region should share the same climate action ambitions, now and in the future.


Sharon Dowey (South Scotland) (Con)

I am pleased to bring this debate to a close on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives.

We have heard a lot today about Scotland’s growing ties with the Arctic and although I recognise the importance of strengthening our relationship with Arctic countries, we must remember that we are debating a reserved matter.

As we have heard in the contributions today, there are areas where we can strengthen our links with the Arctic. It is encouraging that Arctic Frontiers will hold a one-day conference in Aberdeen on 17 March. That will be a great opportunity to bring together speakers from the worlds of policy, science and business, so that they can share their expertise and identify new opportunities for Scottish and UK-Arctic collaboration.

The just energy transition is one of the areas where we should seek to strengthen our ties and share scientific knowledge and expertise on marine pollution and biodiversity monitoring, through organisations such as Marine Scotland science and the Arctic connections fund.

The UK Government already does a lot of work to support our connections with the Arctic. It recently published its Arctic policy framework, which outlines the UK’s commitment to the Arctic Council as a state observer and to protecting the Arctic’s climate, people and environment; increasing engagement on issues that affect indigenous communities; promoting and protecting biodiversity in the Arctic; and addressing environmental threats in the region. The framework also emphasises the Arctic region’s importance for our security.

Being part of the UK allows us to use our defence resources to protect our interests in the high north. We are all aware that the region is strategically important, not only to the United Kingdom and its allies but to aggressive countries such as Russia.

I believe that the Scottish Government should focus on the issues that matter the most to the people of Scotland. We must prioritise our economy, infrastructure and public services, and collaboration with our Arctic neighbours, to help us achieve that, is welcome.

I will highlight some of the points that have been raised today across the chamber. Donald Cameron spoke about his belief that it is important to engage with Arctic nations, continue to enhance our relationship with them and share best practice in tackling the climate change crisis, which was also mentioned by quite a few other members. Jamie Halcro Johnston spoke of Orkney’s Norse heritage, the long-standing ties between Orkney and its Arctic partners, as well as others around the world, and depopulation.

Angus Robertson told us about the pool of expertise that we have in Scotland, what we can do for the Arctic and how our help is warmly received. Sarah Boyack spoke about the importance of focusing on the climate change crisis, working with our Arctic neighbours, and the impact of the invasion of Ukraine.

Liam McArthur gave us a history lesson on Orkney and spoke about its ties with the Arctic. Richard Leonard spoke of his concern about military activity, as well as threats from Russia, which has said that the Arctic is Russian. He also spoke about the threats to the indigenous population and the need for climate change co-operation. Gillian Martin talked about ancient relations being reinvigorated and the need to help rural women on the way to net zero.

Audrey Nicoll told us about the pictures that she had received of the northern lights, which I think that we have all seen this week, whether on Facebook or other social media. The northern lights are one of the benefits of being up in the Arctic, but she emphasised that the Arctic is much more than that. Douglas Lumsden spoke of his association with Norway and how we can learn from Arctic states in areas such as broadband, ferry fleets and fishing.

There were also contributions from Paul McLennan, Mark Ruskell, Fiona Hyslop, Kenny Gibson and Foysol Choudhury.

However, people are waiting too long for treatment at Crosshouse hospital, accident and emergency at Ayr is threatened with reduced services, the high streets in Ayr, Girvan and Cumnock need more support, and drivers need improvements to the A77. I would much rather that we gave more debating time to matters that affect people in Scotland today and issues that are devolved to this Parliament.

We need to work with our fellow UK nations, as well as our Arctic neighbours, to create a brighter future for all Scots.

I call Angus Robertson to wind up the debate.


Angus Robertson

In my opening remarks, I set out some of the initiatives that the Scottish Government has promoted in recent years to deepen collaboration with the Arctic region. In closing, I will reflect further on the strategic objectives of that work and the approach that the Scottish Government is taking to pursue them.

However, first, I will respond to points that were made by speakers from all parties during the debate. With some very minor exceptions, there has been a hugely constructive tone from all parties in the debate, which is warmly welcome.

Donald Cameron began by saying that Scotland has an important role to play—which is a bit of a contrast to the summing-up speech from his party. He said that it is important to engage with our Arctic and northern neighbours both economically and culturally. I agree with him.

Donald Cameron said that it was right to highlight the difficulties that are posed by Russian aggression in Ukraine. He pointed out that the risks to stability and security in our northern region as a result are an absolute given. He also pointed out, given the nature of the climate crisis, how important it is for us to be working with our Arctic and northern neighbours.

He was—and I am pleased that it is on the record—very gracious and explicit in the Conservative Party’s praise for GlobalScot and the Scottish international trade network, and I look forward to hearing more about that from other colleagues on his party’s benches in future debates.

Sarah Boyack of the Scottish Labour Party talked about the twin challenges of climate security and global security. She made the point, quite rightly, that the aggression of Russia has meant that there is a diversion of collective focus away from the climate crisis but that we must not lose sight of the scale of the climate emergency. She also put on record her party’s growing interest in the likes of Scotland being able to sign international agreements. I look forward to her party further developing its recognition of why being a normal international nation as a sovereign state is a good thing.

Liam McArthur rightly drew attention to the historical connections between Orkney and Arctic neighbours. He had a long list of areas of co-operation, both actual ones and ones that can still reach full fruition. I totally agree with those.

I pay tribute to Fiona Hyslop, my predecessor in this office, for all that she did and continues to do to promote links between Scotland and the Arctic and the high north. In particular, she pointed out the opportunities that we have with our northern neighbours in the field of renewables, particularly hydrogen, and I can attest to that through the conversations that I have had with decision makers in our neighbouring countries, which have a huge interest in the potential for co-operation with Scotland. That is something—

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

I will, of course.

Liam McArthur

I am very grateful to the cabinet secretary for his generous remarks. However, I could not help but notice that he ducked the question of the determination of Orkney Islands Council and other partners to see ORIC in Stromness become a centre of excellence for research on the Arctic and Nordics. Would the Scottish Government lend its support to that, as well as to the idea of a reprise of the 2019 conference in Stromness?

Angus Robertson

Forgive me; I did overlook that and I should not have. I have a long list of points that colleagues made. I am sorry—I did not mean to skip over that.

I would like to look very closely at the proposals that are being made. It would be a hugely positive development to have a centre of excellence and a reprise of the event that took place in Stromness. He is right to highlight the role that Orkney Islands Council has. I regularly meet the convener of the council when attending events in our northern region. I have strongly encouraged him and other colleagues to look at the likes of the mayors network in Arctic Frontiers as a way of local authorities being able to take a direct role in relationships with other parts of the northern neighbours. Those are the beginnings of a conversation with Liam McArthur, and I look forward to being as helpful and supportive as I can be.

Jamie Halcro Johnston is a man from the northern isles, so he knows exactly how important our historical and current links are. He talked about issues of depopulation, rurality and connectivity, and he was absolutely right to do so.

Richard Leonard talked about geostrategic instability, which he has good reason to highlight, as well as the importance of the rights of indigenous people—people whose communities might be in jeopardy and under threat. He posed the question of which priorities are being pursued and asked whether they are extractive or relate to militarisation. I will say that the Scottish Government is committed in particular to co-operation on renewables but also to stability.

We cannot avoid the fact that we are seeing challenges that we need to think about in new ways. It was not long ago that there was sabotage to the subsea infrastructure of the Nord Stream pipeline. All of our nations for which energy is an important focus need to have the tools at our disposal to ensure that we are not subject to that kind of malign influence.

Gillian Martin talked about the importance of emissions reduction through co-operation, and there is so much that we can do in that as groundbreaking nations in northern Europe and the Arctic.

Mark Ruskell highlighted his attendance at an Arctic co-operation event. He, Gillian Martin and, I believe, Douglas Lumsden have been at such events. That is hugely worth while. I hope that other colleagues who have taken part in or listened to this debate will think about attending an Arctic event, and I hope that members who have done so will forgive me for not mentioning them. I strongly encourage it. The conference that is being held in Aberdeen on 17 March is a good starter for those who have not been at one yet. I very much look forward to seeing colleagues from all parties at future Arctic and northern events.

Mark Ruskell talked about wishing to build on the ambitions of Orkney and Shetland for the rest of Scotland, and I think that that is absolutely right. He highlighted the role of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir of Iceland, who deserves particular praise. He also highlighted the parallel approaches of the Icelandic and Scottish Governments to the wellbeing economy. I note for the record her warm words of praise for our outgoing First Minister, and indeed the warm words from former Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, which have been well heard and received in Scotland.

Paul McLennan talked about the potential for local authority connections. He is absolutely right to do so. We need as many parts of Scotland to realise the huge untapped potential that we have for enhanced relations with our Arctic and northern neighbours.

Douglas Lumsden spoke very persuasively about the importance of the links between Aberdeen and Stavanger. He underlined the importance of the energy sector and the transition that both Norway and Scotland are facing. Indeed, that was the subject of my discussions with the Norwegian state secretary for energy, Andreas Bjelland Eriksen, only a few weeks ago. Douglas Lumsden said that we should learn from our Norwegian neighbours. Hooray! I totally agree. I listened closely to his speech, and I think that he missed out the last page about the success of Norway after it became independent in 1905. Once one of the poorest countries in Europe, it now celebrates its success as one of Europe’s richest. Of course, Norway set up an oil fund, which will be able to fund its public services in perpetuity—something that the United Kingdom Government has not done for us. [Interruption.]

With the permission of colleagues, I just want to conclude by referring to the final speeches.

Audrey Nicoll talked about our geostrategic importance, which she is absolutely right about, and highlighted Lossiemouth. I should say that we have been trying to be consensual on most of these issues, but there is more that we can do in terms of our geostrategic co-operation. Northern air policing, which is organised through NATO, has had nearly 50 deployments, but the United Kingdom has only ever been able to provide one. I think that all of us would welcome a much more full-blooded level of commitment towards that.

Audrey Nicoll also talked about the advantages of social policy co-operation, including such ideas such as the barnahus or bairns’ hoose approach and the baby box. There is more that we can do there.

Kenneth Gibson talked about technology and innovation.

Foysol Choudhury talked about a cross-party approach to this issue, and he is absolutely right that there is much more that we can do together. He also reminded us of the accelerated speed of global warming in the Arctic and high north, which should spur us on to act more in concert with others.

As a minor correction to Sharon Dowey’s words on behalf of the Conservative Party, I say that we have this afternoon been debating external affairs, which is a reserved responsibility. She mentioned the importance of the economy and infrastructure as devolved areas of co-operation. If she has not already read it—indeed, if any colleagues have not yet read it—I would draw their attention to the Scottish Government’s excellent Arctic policy framework, which outlines all the devolved areas in which Scotland is co-operating with our northern neighbours.

The Scottish Government will continue to engage with and mobilise expertise across Scotland to promote our offer among Arctic audiences, encourage knowledge exchange and support sustainable economic development. A team Scotland approach is required if we are to fully seize the strategic opportunities that are offered by Scotland’s role as Europe’s gateway to the Arctic region. I therefore welcome the cross-party investment in international platforms such as the Arctic Circle assembly. I know that Liam McArthur and members of the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee were there last year.

Many of the matters that this Parliament is responsible for have direct relevance to Scottish Arctic collaboration. I therefore invite members to work with the Scottish Government to continue to promote Scotland as an expert and committed contributor to Arctic co-operation. The tone of this afternoon’s debate and the cross-party approach should give us all confidence that that is, indeed, the case.

That concludes the debate on Arctic connections—Scotland’s growing links with the Arctic.