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Scottish Parliament Speech: Fife (Platform of Partnership) (October 2008

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

I thank the members who signed the motion and allowed the debate to take place. We talk a lot about the Scottish diaspora, and I will suggest a simple but effective means of activating it.

A virtual kingdom in a virtual world can pioneer a platform of partnership by creating worldwide internet links between places with Fife names, affected by Fifers or twinned with Fife communities and involving schools, churches, community groups and associations. In Fife, such a partnership would aim to celebrate the resumption next spring of the Rosyth to Zeebrugge ferry, making a virtual bond a real one. However, it could also be a trial run for a Scotland-wide project to coincide with the year of homecoming and the Burns 250 th anniversary in 2009. It is informal, low cost and can be finessed as expertise in handling the data accumulates.

A quick glance at Philip's "Atlas of the World" and a map of Saskatchewan in Canada revealed the town of Cupar. The website of the town - - showed Dysart to the east and Markinch to the west. There is St Andrews in New Brunswick and there are dozens of Springfields in the USA, so let us extend a big, yellow, four-fingered hand to Homer, Madge, Groundskeeper Willie and, of course, C Montgomery Burns, who is 100 years old and counting.

As far as Scottish names more widely are concerned, there are Hamiltons galore. In the USA, many of them commemorate the drafter of the constitution, Alexander Hamilton, but there are also the Mackenzie River, Bryce canyon, Murchison falls and Port Chalmers. There are distant places made famous by Scots, such as Stevenson's Samoa; the Juan Fernandez island of Alexander Selkirk of Largo, alias Robinson Crusoe; and David Livingstone's Victoria Falls. There are also great Scots-built industrial monuments: the Buda to Pest suspension bridge, which literally united a country, was built by the engineer Adam Clark in the 1850s; Vienna's Prater wheel, which looks as if it was built from bits that were left over from the Forth bridge, was built by William Arrol in the 1890s; San Francisco's cable-cars were built by Andrew Hallidie; and the Delta Queen - the last Mississippi steamboat, which was built by Fairfield in 1926 - is still paddling, although we had better be clever about that, because the authorities want to remove it on health and safety grounds.

There are great Europeans of Scots descent - Marshal Keith in Germany, Marshal Macdonald in France, Edvard Grieg, Immanuel Kant and Mikhail Lermontov. There are also incomers who have altered Scotland - Wheatleys and Macllvanneys from Ireland; Contis, Coias and Paolozzis from Italy - and a tradition of Commonwealth statesmen and women, either Scots or influenced by Scotland, from Canada's Sir John Macdonald to Tanzania's Julius Nyerere.

Aside from places that have links, there are other links along which partnerships can run. In Fife alone, they run from Saint Margaret - who was born in Hungary and was one of the few saints to be a mother, as my wife used to remind me - to Jennie Lee, the wife of Aneurin Bevan and founder of the Open University. We can trace the influence worldwide of John Knox, Charles I, James Wilson - one of the Scots signatories of the US declaration of independence - and James Lorimer, or Professor Lorimer of Kellie castle, who first proposed a European federation in 1884. Politicians range from red Willie Gallacher to the Scottish Parliament's first Presiding Officer, David Steel.

Fife towns are twinned. For example, Glenrothes is twinned with Swabian Böblingen, which seems to have started an epidemic of pipe bands in the outlying areas of Stuttgart. I think that there are now three at least in that district Fifers have travelled: Sir Patrick Spens "tae Noroway ower the faem"; and McDougall Stuart across Australia. Two Anstruther clipper captains, Rodger of the Taeping and Keay of the Ariel, raced each other, practically within eyesight of each other, from Fuzhou to London bridge, taking 83 days. Sir Sandford Fleming, of Kirkcaldy, as engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway, invented international time zones - so now members know.

Finally, to bring us back to the non-virtual connections, there are our trading partners: places such as Amsterdam, Bergen, Bruges, Rotterdam, Veere in Zeeland, and Zeebrugge.

All those to whom I have referred have left their imprint on Fife and Scotland, and worldwide: from Adam Smith of Kirkcaldy to Andrew Carnegie of Dunfermline. Linking such themes virtually would give all of us, especially the young - those children of three whom Groucho Marx commended when he said, "A child of three could do it. Bring me a child of three" - the chance to reach out from the local to the global in the spirit of the Scots internationalist and social reformer, Patrick Geddes, whose first great town-planning project was in Dunfermline.

It is important for the project to gain cross-party support. It is ecumenical and will not cost much, and it will prove that there is more to globalisation than financial prizes. The initial impetus could be quite informal: contacting local web pages and, through them, primary and secondary schools, town and county councils, churches, and philanthropical and international organisations, and just letting the thing snowball from there. It could, as my friend Pat Kane says, go viral.

I would be keen to set things in motion in Fife. Members may have folk in their own constituencies or region who could take an interest and the initiative in such virtual partnerships. Homecoming 2009 could benefit from intensified links, as could tourism. Goodness only knows where the Scottish economy will be by then.

All this could and ought to further what Adam Smith called sympathy: trust and fellow feeling as a learned drive. That was never more important than it is in today's economic turbulence. What is the alternative? The Fifer for whom the storm was too great comes to mind:

"Half-ower, half-ower to Aberdour,
Tis fifty fathoms deep;
An there lies gude Sir Patrick Spens,
Wi the Scots lords at his feet!"

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