“Welcome to Scotland, A European Gateway to the Arctic Region”

Described by James Stockan, Leader of Orkney Islands Council, as a ‘momentous moment’, Scotland’s Arctic Policy was launched in Stromness at an international event on Monday 23rd of September.

Arctic Connections Event Stromness

Click here for the policy document: Arctic Connections: Scotland’s Arctic Policy Framework

Fiona Hyslop,  Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs in the Scottish Government, was in the county to introduce the Policy Document to the conference which was held in the Orkney Research and Innovation Campus. Fiona Hyslop also took advantage of her time in the West Mainland to visit the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Stromness Museum.

Orkney Research and Innovation Campus Stromness

The event was the first of its kind in the redeveloped Old Stromness Primary School which is now home to both Heriot Watt ICIT and Robert Gordon’s University.

In his welcoming speech to the attendees, James Stockan , reminded them of the strategic importance of Orkney and its long association with the Arctic: be it through Dr John Rae, the Hudson Bay Company or relatively more recently the Arctic Convoys in World War 2.

Quoting Orcadian poet Robert Rendall James Stockan recited his poem Angle of Vision which set the tone of his speech.

“I have seen the arc of the earth,

From the Birsay shore, like the edge of a planet,

And the lifeboat plunge through the Pentland Firth

To a cosmic tide with the men that man it.”

Presentations were also made by Graeme Harrison and Fiona Hyslop MSP. The event was staged in partnership by the Scottish Government, the Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Fiona Hyslop

Fiona Hyslop said that the policy was ‘eagerly anticipated’ having been subject to much consultation before it was published.

She continued:

”Scotland remains an outward looking European nation, committed to positive relationships with both our European neighbours and those further afield, despite the uncertainty surrounding the UK’s exit from the EU.”

And that it was great to see so much interest in Scotland’s Arctic policy. She saw the policy as establishing Scotland as a gateway to the Arctic.

A ‘portal’  that Councillor Stockan at the start of the event made a pitch for being in Orkney.

Fiona Hyslop said that the policy cemented the Scottish Government’s role as a partner of choice in the Arctic and declared that Scotland was not isolated but was of central importance because of where it was located. Part of the policy was also a commitment to strengthen Scotland’s reputation as a good global citizen.

She said:

“As part of our offer to the High North, we are establishing a fund to support people to people links to help communities build Arctic relations and encourage Scottish universities to participate even closer with the University of the Arctic. We will promote knowledge exchange within digital heath care and education in remote areas and advance our cultural connections.”

Scotland’s Offer to the Arctic

Scottish-Arctic cooperation is ultimately about human connections. To strengthen existing ties and build new links, we will:

  • Establish an Arctic unit within the Scottish Government’s Directorate for External Affairs to coordinate work across the organisation, continue to build our Arctic policy and offer a dedicated port of call for both domestic and international stakeholders.
  • Create a fund to support projects and activities promoted by third sector and community-based organisations that raise awareness of Scottish-Arctic link

The event was very much about connections and collaboration as the attendees heard from various speakers about Orkney and Scotland’s Arctic explorers past and present.

Jeanette Park

Jeannette Park, Stromness Museum, spoke about Orcadian Dr John Rae. You can read about him in many articles published in The Orkney News. Dr John Rae: Arctic Explorer

Professor Ted Cowan, Emeritus Professor of Scottish History at the University of Glasgow  spoke of the many Scots who had contributed to the exploration of the Arctic, each one building on the experiences of the others.

Arctic Scots

It was good to be reminded of them – the Arctic Blast. He also raised the reasons for the British expeditions. ‘They were not cruises and trips’, he said ‘The Brits hoped to gain a monopoly of the Earth’s magnetism.’

‘It wasn’t about glory,’ he said ‘it was inglorious.’

It would have been great to have heard more from Professor Ted Cowan as there was no time to hear about the indispensable role of women in the Arctic north: making clothes and map making.

Today’s Arctic explorers were represented by David Reid and Richard Smith of the Arctic Return Expedition. This is a story we have also covered several times in The Orkney News. Arctic Return Expedition: Video Clip Report

David Reid, leader of the expedition said that the lessons learned went far beyond what would be expected. That it was about inclusiveness, trust and learning from the local indigenous people. This was one of the few references to the people who actually live in the ‘High North’ with a day which featured more about the opportunities for Orkney and Scotland as each interest group made a pitch for their own niche.

David Reid and team member Richard Smith spoke of the importance of working as a team.

‘isolationism doesn’t work… we must work collaboratively together’.

They wanted to move the Scottish Arctic Connection forward and suggested a fully restored Hall of Clestrain (childhood home of Dr John Rae) as a centre for Arctic history and education.

This idea of a centre or institute for the Arctic based in Orkney became a popular subject for discussion with some of the attendees.

Ironically for the afternoon session on Sustainable Tourism, 2 speakers had not arrived due to fog delaying the flights into Orkney. Two  substitutes were produced which could be argued did sustain the tourism theme.

The Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme is EU funded. In fact it has had 4.1million Euros of funding since its inception and has delivered 50 main projects since 2014. What will happen if the UK leaves the EU next month on October 31st has left doubt over how Scotland will participate in future schemes.

Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme

This afternoon session was all about tourism and selling the Arctic as a visitor destination. Scotland and indeed Orkney would be a central part of this being the gateway to the Arctic for Europe.

There are significant issues with the impact of tourism on the Arctic particularly as it struggles with the effects of climate change.

Arctic erosion

Governments with an interest in the Arctic certainly see the possibility of ‘exploiting’ its many resources including its spectacular landscape. It is not clear how much of a say indigenous people are having in this process.


Angle of Vision by Robert Rendall

But, John, have you seen the world, said he,

Trains and tramcars and sixty-seaters,

Cities in lands across the sea –

Giotto’s tower and the dome of St Peter’s?

No, but I have seen the arc of the earth,

From the Birsay shore, like the edge of a planet,

And the lifeboat plunge through the Pentland Firth

To a cosmic tide with the men that man it.

Arctic Fjord Greenland Iceberg Sermilik Sea Ice


Reporters: Fiona Grahame and Nick Morrison

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