Putting People at the Heart of Scotland’s Arctic Dialogue

Described as the ‘most refreshing policy’ she has ever read by Marie-Anne Coninsx , former EU Ambassador for the Arctic – Scotland’s Arctic Connections policy framework is both ‘clear and practical’ she states.

The document which aims to connect Scotland to the countries of the Arctic , by co-operation, sharing of knowledge and the creation of partnerships was launched last year in Stromness, Orkney. “Welcome to Scotland, A European Gateway to the Arctic Region”

This year a series of meetings has taken place online to explore the topic further as Scotland looks north.

Scotland’s Offer to the Arctic, hosted by the Wilson Centre, was held on Tuesday 24th of November.

Representing the Scottish Government, Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs , explained that Scotland was ‘here to listen and to learn’ but to also ‘offer knowledge and expertise’.

In the sharing of knowledge, solutions could be found to issues which countries in the Arctic have in common with Scotland, such as depopulation, he said. The Arctic policy framework is a ‘calling card’ and a ‘declaration of intent’ particularly in light of the factors around climate change, a global issue which has been intensified by the Covid pandemic.

The policy framework points out Scotland’s strategically important position – as a gateway to the Arctic. It has always been so – whether it be the first Norse voyagers to set foot in North America, the Hudson Bay traders, Orcadian Dr John Rae or the importance of Orkney and Shetland during both world wars. Look at any globe not from the side but from the north pole. Or turn your map of Scotland and northern Europe around. Perspective is everything.

This latest talk was interesting because we heard about how others thought of Scotland – and what it had to offer:

  • expertise in education using digital technology
  • successful projects supported with EU funding
  • the policy’s emphasis on young people and their role
  • connections already made

Marie-Anne Coninsx commented that the Arctic is marked not by competition but by co-operation. This point was repeated by Anu Fredrikson of Arctic Frontiers, who also highlighted the challenges and the opportunities for the Arctic region. Challenges such as: the drift south of young people and responsible development. But the opportunities of an abundance of natural resources, the potential of renewables and of increasing trade.

Scotland’s Arctic Connections document is built on the image of a Scotland “as a progressive and dynamic nation that does not hesitate to take the lead on key global challenges.”

It is a ‘very unique’ policy comments Marie-Anne Coninsx. Most people in Scotland are likely to be unaware of its contents but it is well worth reading, even just to imagine what Scotland going forward could be like and contribute to not just the Arctic region, but to the world.

Click on this link to access it: Arctic Connections: Scotland’s Arctic Policy Framework

This is what Scotland aims to offer the Arctic:

  • 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 links and create new opportunities for international collaboration with the Arctic.

And at the heart are People and Cultural Indentity

We stand ready to engage with Arctic partners who want to collaborate with Scotland on any of the issues raised here, and in particular:

  • The promotion and protection of indigenous and minority languages, respecting the fact that all languages have their own specific needs.
  • Youth retention in remote areas, including by sharing the experience Scotland has developed thanks to the 2018 Year of Young People.
  • Education provision in rural areas, drawing for example on the lessons learnt from the development of the University of the Highlands and Islands.
  • Community regeneration in rural areas and islands, with a particular focus on female empowerment and participative place-making.
  • The empowerment of island communities, including what we have learnt from the development of our National Islands Plan.
  • Transport decarbonisation, active travel and ultra-low emission vehicles.
  • Community engagement in local renewable generation including means of creating economic benefits for local communities.
  • Wellbeing economy and sustainable economic development.
  • Marine planning so as to promote the protection of species and habitats and the sustainable development of a burgeoning marine energy sector.

This policy framework is excellent, it is unique and those who worked together to produce it – at every level – should be commended.

But it is a ‘framework’ which means it requires to be built upon. It is the starting point. The challenges facing an ambitious Scotland with its face turned northwards are coming from the south. From a UK Government which has left the EU and which aims to ‘take back control’ to its centre of power in Westminster.

2021 will be a turning point in the future of Scotland. Will the path chosen be one of a ‘progressive and dynamic’ nation, able to make those choices independently ? The Scots will decide.

You can watch Scotland’s Offer to The Arctic hosted by the Wilson Centre here:

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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