Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, June 20, 2024


National Outcomes

The Convener

Welcome back. Our fourth agenda item is to take evidence as part of the committee’s inquiry into the Scottish Government’s national outcomes and into the indicators relating to international policy.

We are again joined by Angus Robertson MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture. He is joined by two Scottish Government officials: Russell Bain is deputy director for international futures and brand Scotland policy, and Craig Thomson is team leader for working internationally.

I again invite the cabinet secretary to make a brief opening statement.

Angus Robertson

I am delighted to speak again to the committee, this time about national outcomes and our international work. This is our first opportunity to talk about that since publication in December 2023 of the first annual report, “Scotland’s International Network: Annual Report 2022-23”. That publication followed a recommendation by this committee that I was glad to accept. I would be pleased to hear feedback about how that report has met your aspirations and about what members would like to see more of in the future.

Officials in the network offices and at home in Scotland are now undertaking monitoring and evaluation to inform our next annual report, which we will publish later this year. I want to continue refining and improving reports, which are an important part of how we ensure accountability and transparency in how Scotland’s international network delivers.

I believe that the network makes a significant contribution on behalf of Scottish businesses and organisations and in support of Scottish interests. The most recent EY investment attractiveness survey showed that for the eighth consecutive year Scotland has, outside London, been the most attractive destination for foreign investment in the UK. That is in large part due to the excellent efforts of officials in Scottish Development International, the Scottish Government and partner bodies at home and overseas, to promote Scotland to the world.

The Scottish Government has now laid its report on the review of the national outcomes before Parliament and I am pleased that the international outcome remains in the proposed set of outcomes, albeit with a slight shift in focus. The slight changes that are proposed relate to the twin crises of the climate and biodiversity emergencies. The word “globally” replaces the word “internationally”, reflecting the fact that it is an outcome not only between nations but in relation to the land, sea and air that we all share. The words “show leadership” have been added, in recognition that Scotland has much to offer partners across the world in the transition to a growing greener and fairer economy.

Members of the committee are likely to recognise that no data has been published for the “international networks” indicator in the set informing the current international outcome. The committee has heard from a variety of expert witnesses that it is very difficult to carry out quantitative analysis of diplomatic activity such as networking, building relationships, exercising influence and deploying soft power, and that countries the world over, including those with far larger international footprints than Scotland, struggle to do so. Professor Juliet Kaarbo of the University of Edinburgh and Professor Stephen Gethins of the University of St Andrews, among others, gave evidence to that effect.

We will do our best to capture that analysis but, in our experience, drawing together data to meet the analytical rigour that is needed for the national performance framework has been challenging. Knowing that to be the case, there is an opportunity for us to do more to present and highlight qualitative data in a different format to demonstrate the impact of our international work.

Earlier this week, we published a significant report that looks at our contribution to international development from 2021 to 2023. The annual report on the international network is another excellent example and I look forward to presenting the next iteration later this year. It will lay the groundwork for future annual reporting on Scotland’s international strategy and will take a similar approach to the wide sweep of our international activity. In that way, we can balance strong performance on hard measures, particularly those on the economy, with a narrative about how the work of diplomats and trade and investment experts helps us to meet our objectives and to deliver impact at home.

I know that committee members visited Ireland to learn how it approaches similar questions and am pleased that Scottish Government civil servants based in the British embassy in Dublin were able to host and facilitate your engagement with the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs.

The committee also heard from the heads of three of our international offices last year. I hope that there will be more such opportunities to share how our international activity contributes to achieving outcomes for Scotland.

The Convener

My opening question is about the groundbreaking climate reparation policy that the Scottish Government has put in place. That has long been asked for by the global south and by non-governmental organisations: Scotland is the first country to make reparations. Is there a measurement for that? How is the impact of that money being assessed?

Angus Robertson

First, I say good morning to committee members and to my officials who have joined the meeting.

We are very much at the start of the discourse about reparations in relation to climate change, and we are very much at the beginning of a discussion about the relationship of the developed world with the developing world and, in particular, those parts of the globe that are already seeing catastrophic climatic change. That includes very low-lying countries, particularly in the Pacific. We are just at the start of that process and, obviously, we will have further discussions about that.

Committee members will be aware that Scotland is a co-chair of the under2 coalition, which brings together sub-state Governments from around the world. That is one of the forums where we work with other Governments on how we can best co-ordinate our domestic activities. However, I am sure that the issue of our relationship with parts of the world that are facing the catastrophic effects of climate change will play an ever-greater role, and I am happy to ask my officials to update the committee on what the initial steps are. We have a long way to go on it.

The Convener

You mentioned our committee visit to Dublin, which we all found very informative. We were able to see how people there are playing to their strengths in terms of image and reputation and drawing on the energy and enthusiasm of their diaspora.

Do the revised national outcomes draw on the experiences of other small countries? I was very envious that Ireland was opening its—I think—131st mission. It has been concentrating very much on the African continent recently. What lessons can we learn from somewhere such as Ireland, albeit that it is an independent nation?

Angus Robertson

In Ireland and its diaspora, you have pointed to an area from which we can take a lot of lessons. Ireland has a very large diaspora; so has Scotland, but for decades Ireland has been pursuing a focused diaspora policy with a dedicated minister. It is a policy priority not just for its Department of Foreign Affairs but for other departments in the Government of Ireland to do as much as possible to develop and support the Irish diaspora and, in addition, to use it as part of its mission to improve Ireland’s exports and inward investment. That has been a significant influence on our Scottish connections framework, which is a relatively new strategy and is our approach to the diaspora.

One of the lessons that we have taken on board is that the nature of the diaspora is changing, which is a consideration in Ireland as much as it is in any other country that takes its diaspora seriously. We have the significant historical and heritage diaspora that we know about, particularly in the anglosphere of the United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. However, there are other aspects of Scotland’s relationship with the world that have not received as much attention but certainly should, now.

If committee members look at the connections framework—if they have not, I recommend that they do—they will see that it embraces a much wider understanding of what a diaspora is. Yes—it includes people who, historically, have hailed from Scotland in one way or another, but it also includes people whose connection to Scotland might be very current. They might have studied here, they might have lived here, they might just like it here, or they might have just discovered that they have a connection to Scotland.

One relatively new area in that respect is the understanding that a significant number of African-Americans have Scottish heritage. Indeed, as part of this year’s tartan day, I was part of a large number of events in Washington DC and New York City and met a large number of people to talk about this new initiative in relation to Scotland’s diaspora.


I go back to your initial question: what can we learn from a country such as Ireland? We have learned that taking diaspora seriously is a good thing to do, and we are doing it. We have published for the first time two resources that did not exist before and which are available through Scotland’s digital shopfront at First, one can register to be part of Scottish diaspora organisations around the world. Secondly, if one lives outside Scotland but wants to remain connected, one can, as an individual, sign up to be part of that online diaspora connection. In addition, through our international networks—that is, our nine international offices, and wider than that, our SDI network, our trade envoys and our GlobalScot network—diaspora is also forming part of the work that is being undertaken. That was not the case before, either.

This is a really good example of where we can learn from best practice, because Ireland has been taking this issue very seriously for a long time. We, too, are taking it seriously now, and we are going to reach out as best we can, not just to the historic and heritage diaspora but to the wider diaspora that, among other things, includes tens of thousands of students from other countries who have studied in Scotland. For example, thousands of students in China are now part of Scotland’s wider diaspora, too.

Thank you very much, cabinet secretary. I will now move to questions from the committee, starting with Mr Stewart.

Alexander Stewart

The international development policy has highlighted some real opportunities. When it comes to managing the process, we have been talking about the soft power as well as the hard power that we have, but one area that we could think about is how we are developing and extending the development goals to inform refreshment of the national performance framework. Where does the balance sit in that respect? How can we ensure not only that we have this policy but that it develops within the national performance framework?

Angus Robertson

I thank Mr Stewart for what I think is a very encouraging question.

On international development, I think that I am right in saying that we are coming up to an important anniversary with regard to Scotland’s international development work, which goes back to the beginnings of devolution and which has—I think that I am right in saying it—cross-party support. It is, by international development standards, not huge, but it is significant in reflecting the values that we all share, and it is also focused very much on particular countries with which we have historic connections.

The work in those areas largely relates to devolved responsibilities. For example, as far as health and education are concerned, we are doing quite a lot of work on supporting the role of women and have supported a number of projects in that specific sphere. That might be what Mr Stewart is alluding to when he asks about extending development goals—that is, the idea of having a feminist foreign policy, as it has been described. That is being pursued by a number of countries, and Scotland has been working with others to identify how can we do it.

As I said in my opening remarks, we have just published a very significant document on Scotland’s international development. I think that it contains a lot of evidence that shows the good work that has been undertaken. Given that part of the committee’s consideration today relates to evaluation, I am very keen to know whether, when the deputy convener and other colleagues look at the likes of that report, they are satisfied not only that it provides the required information on what has been delivered, but on the reporting mechanism itself. Is all this happening in a way that you think is optimal for your job? After all, you are here to ensure that the Scottish Government, its agencies, its policies and so on are delivering optimally, so I am keen to know whether you feel that you are being well served. I want to be an ally of the committee and ensure that we are providing things in a format that will be of best use to you.

We have just had that report on international development, and we are going to have an updated report on the international network. Similarly, will that report capture what you require? We will, no doubt, learn whether that is the case when you conclude your deliberations, but we are providing very significant reports on the policy and how it is being conducted.

Where, as Mr Stewart alluded to, goals have been extended, the question is this: has that work been properly reflected and reported on, too? I would be keen to hear about that from the committee. I feel that it has been, but is there more that we can do? If so, I am very keen that we do it.

Alexander Stewart

As I think that you have said, cabinet secretary, the evaluation will be vital so that we can see exactly what we are achieving, but the question is whether we are managing to engage with civil society to ensure that they feel part of the equation, too. You have itemised a number of things, and you have given us a strategy and a policy in a particular format, but there must also be engagement, participation and a process to ensure that, at the end of the day, we are achieving what we have set out to achieve. Elements of that still have to be clarified and adapted, but I would say as a member of the committee that we are managing the process in a relatively good way at this stage.

Angus Robertson

I agree. Only last week, I met Scotland’s leading international development organisations to hear how, from their point of view, the Scottish Government’s policy and funding are working, what they have been working on, what they intend to work on in future and how they would like things to develop. I should say that we were also joined by colleagues from our partner countries, so we are talking about civil society not just in Scotland but in the countries where we operate.

It is hugely important that this is a two-way process. After all, this is not just about how Scotland can help our partner nations such as Malawi, Rwanda and Zaire; it is about what we can learn from those countries, too, and I am very open to such an approach. That meeting happened only last week, and it is something that we will continue to do.

Thank you.

The Convener

It is worth noting that, in all these areas, the clerks have been working very closely with your officials to try to improve the reporting mechanism and ensure that we are aligned in what is happening, and I thank your officials and my clerks for that on-going work.

As convener, I would say that I certainly welcome the move away from crude measurements such as gross domestic product towards wellbeing and the establishment of a feminist foreign policy. All those aspects show how we can do things differently and are, I think, really important. However, when we took evidence from Oxfam, it, too, welcomed the move away from crude measures but, as stakeholders, it still wanted to see how that would translate into policy and spending decisions and the budget part of international development work. Is that something that you are considering?

Angus Robertson

I am always open to suggestions as to how we ensure the best understanding of decision making and priorities. I am pleased that people want us to do more—that is a good thing. It reflects the fact that people feel that, even though our budget is relatively small compared to that of other international development partners, Scotland’s input is still welcome.

I know that because, for example, the Zambian President is in Scotland at present—I am sorry, but I think that I said Zaire a moment ago; I meant to say Zambia—and we have projects in that country. We know from him, his Government and civil society partners in that country, as we do from our other partner countries, that Scotland’s contribution is valued.

However, along the way, having that good relationship with our partners and explaining how we make the decisions that we do is an integral part of maintaining that high level of trust and welcome for engagement, and that is something that we are keen to maintain with our charity and third sector partners as well as our partner countries. The fact that we have Government relations and Government visitors here from those countries as well as an on-going relationship with the third sector in those countries is proof that things are working.

Mark Ruskell

I will follow on from that. Scotland’s International Development Alliance was at the committee last month, and it commented:

“We cannot have wellbeing in Scotland at the expense of communities in other countries, so we are keen to see that reflected across the whole of the national outcomes.”—[Official Report, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, 16 May 2024; c 30.]

I suppose that there is a question about how you get this out of the silo and ensure that all your colleagues across the Cabinet are taking these important questions about wellbeing and impact on the world—in particular the global south—seriously to the point that they are embedded in their work on economic growth, prosperity and everything else, and there is a question about who leads on that. What does the conversation look like that you and your officials have with other parts of the Government that probably have as much of an impact on the wellbeing of the global south as anything that you can do with your officials in your department with your own quite limited budgets?

Angus Robertson

That is a very well-timed question because, as Mr Ruskell knows, I have taken on the day-to-day responsibility for international development which, until recently, was held by other colleagues. Therefore, his intervention is well timed to make sure that, as I begin acting on those responsibilities in a day-to-day way, I think about how we help to mainstream—to use the jargon—an understanding of what it is that we do and how we are doing it and ensure that this is not something that just sits in a box called “international development” or in the department of external affairs of the Scottish Government but something that impacts on the broader work of the Scottish Government.

I must say that we have had significant buy-in from other ministers in other parts of the Government on the wellbeing agenda, which Mr Ruskell highlighted, but how do we link that to what we are doing furth of Scotland? One of those areas where we are trying to be joined up relates to our immediate northern neighbourhood. We have been talking a bit about international development and a relationship with the global south. We also have a view towards the global north in our immediate neighbourhood, and there is a very strong environmental dimension to that. Scotland is the most northerly non-Arctic country in the world, and we are doing a lot to work with our northern neighbours to deal with the shared challenges that we have in terms of the environment but also in areas where the Scottish Government has devolved responsibility—and wellbeing is one of those areas.

Through our approach to Arctic and northern co-operation, we are bringing together Scottish universities, for example, to work with other northern seats of learning, to ensure that we are doing everything that we can to co-operate with one another in the field of remote health, wellbeing and education. That involves much more than just the department of external affairs in the Scottish Government. That is an example of where it is not just my responsibility; we will have ministers who have responsibilities in and for areas such as the environment, energy and health who are part of that wider Scottish Government approach to things.

The short answer to Mr Ruskell is that I will reflect on his international development point and on how we ensure that there is wider understanding across Scottish Government. In the area in which I have had day-to-day responsibility for a longer period, we have already been doing that in relation to our northern neighbourhood, but I want to make sure that we do that for both areas of responsibility.


Mark Ruskell

There are always good examples of Government working with neighbours—I am aware of many of them—but it is a question of who in the Cabinet sits on top of the sustainable development goals and it is about ensuring that Government policy is aligned with those goals and that they are reflected in the national outcomes. I am not clear whether that is done by you, the First Minister or the whole of the Cabinet or whether it is done by nobody specifically in the Cabinet but everybody is responsible for a bit of it.

The national outcomes are important and the sustainable development goals have been there for decades. The goals are massively important if we are to move in the right direction as a society and work with the rest of the globe on those outcomes. Who is in control of that work and who is monitoring it? Is it you or is it someone else in the Cabinet? Who would you speak to if there was a question on sustainable development goals?

Angus Robertson

Ultimately, the all-Government responsibility lies with the First Minister. As I think everybody knows, the sustainable development goals emerged from the United Nations, so they are an external affairs area of responsibility. However, Mr Ruskell has made the point that the matter cannot sit within a silo, and it must be seen across Government.

Mr Ruskell’s question is well timed as it allows me to underline the next steps in reflecting on how we capture all that in our reporting to ensure that any concerns that he has about such matters being seen only in silo terms are much more generally understood. For very obvious reasons, they cannot be understood in only one part of Government.

Mark Ruskell

If you have the sustainable development goals dashboard and you are able to understand whether different parts of the Government are meeting or not meeting the sustainable development goals, or where the Government could do better, who is in front of that? It is about having oversight, so who has an overview of what is going on across the Government? Is it you or somebody else?

Angus Robertson

We are all involved in one way or another. As Mr Ruskell knows, in the Government, there is no shortage of meetings or dashboards around where are we with things.

In relation to the United Nations specifically, Scottish Government ministers have taken part in UN events and will continue to do so. We are part of multilateral efforts to ensure that we are upholding the likes of the sustainable development goals, for which there is responsibility across Government. That is the point that I am trying to make—the responsibility is not owned by just one part of Government, such as the department of external affairs; it is reflected across Government.

I will perhaps write to Mr Ruskell through the convener to give a fuller answer because he is quite right to ask for more detail, and I am happy to provide it.

Thank you.

Keith Brown

We had a discussion earlier about the Irish way of dealing with such matters. Maybe this is a wee bit naive, but having observed the Irish for many years and the way in which they go about things, certainly in the EU but also globally, I have seen that they tend to work as team Ireland. They work in a very disciplined way, across parties and different tiers of government and elected representation. Different parties will pick a number of limited gains that they can achieve, and they tend not to make any enemies and not to get involved in some of the big bun fights in the EU. They have been very successful in doing that.

It would probably have to come at the end of a session, or at the start of a new session, but does the cabinet secretary think that there is any potential to have cross-party agreements on international representation that would take a team Scotland stance? I know that that will be complicated by the unresolved constitutional question, but it must still be possible to achieve that. If that were to be the case, it would probably need to be led by whoever was in government at the time. Is there any merit to pursuing such an approach?

Angus Robertson

Ireland definitely benefits from a strong, unified and non-partisan approach to its promotion internationally, and it does things that are so much further ahead of where Scotland is within a devolved context. The scale of its international network, for example, is by a significant factor larger than Scotland’s, and it is able to deliver significantly more than we are able to.

We just need to look at the efforts to promote Ireland in and around St Patrick’s day alone. Literally the entire Irish Government is dispatched around the world, including to Edinburgh, to promote Ireland at events. Unfortunately, there has up to now not always been consensus on whether the Scottish Government should be promoting Scotland at all, and again, unfortunately, there have been political actors who would seek to criticise any form of international promotion or engagement.

That has been to Scotland’s detriment, because, notwithstanding the difference of views on Scotland’s constitutional future, when we talk about promoting Scotland internationally, we are talking about exports, inward investment, tourism, education, culture and everything else that fits under the brand Scotland umbrella. Again, that is something that should have cross-party agreement and support. For those who are unaware of it, brand Scotland, which has been operating since 2018, brings together our national agencies in a way that other countries are very jealous of, to promote Scotland internationally.

There are, therefore, some things that we do very well and on which there should be—and, I hope, is—cross-party agreement in promoting. Our international networks have been supported by different parties; Scotland house in Brussels was established under the Conservatives, while other parts of the network were established during the first sessions of the Scottish Parliament and, since 2007, have been built on by the current Administration. Different parties have been involved in developing Scotland’s international network over the years, and I think that one of the lessons from Ireland is that wider and broader support of promotional efforts is a good thing.

I do not want to be too self-critical, though, so I would just point out that a cross-party Scottish Parliament delegation has taken part in tartan day and tartan week since their inception. The Presiding Officer represents the whole Parliament, and in recent years, we have even seen the UK Government begin to show an interest in tartan day and tartan day events. I hope that we are—with a bit of luck—building some consensus around Scotland’s international promotion being a good thing. I think that it was before Mr Brown’s time on the committee, but I would observe that I have been encouraged by colleagues on this committee—in fact, it was the previous deputy convener who suggested this—to enlarge the Scottish Government’s international network to include countries in South America.

I think that there is an ambition in this respect, and I want to do anything that I can to encourage colleagues across the parties to support the international network, international promotion and our work with the diaspora. I am certainly very keen to work with colleagues on a non-partisan basis to make that happen.

The Convener

I think that questions from the committee have been exhausted, cabinet secretary, so I thank you and your officials again for your attendance this morning.

As this is our final meeting before the summer recess, I thank all members, officials and advisers for their hard work in what has been a busy year for us. I hope that everyone manages to have a well-deserved break over the summer, and I look forward to seeing you all again in September.

Meeting closed at 10:40.