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Scottish Parliament Speech: International Framework (May 2008)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

Yesterday, as a member of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, I observed through lashing rain scores of people splashing around in milky, sulphurated coolant water from a power station in an atmosphere that said rotten eggs very loudly. That was Iceland's blue lagoon, which draws more than 330,000 visitors annually - equivalent to the entire population.

Some aspects of Icelandic economics are, let us say, a bit vertiginous - although probably no more so than what the city of London gets up to - but the blue lagoon is great for skin disease and proves that it is possible to have fun and draw tourists in sub-zero temperatures with four hours of winter daylight. It is a triumph of the ingenuity of a small state, so I thank Linda Fabiani for highlighting the need to ready Scotland for similar challenges in these islands, the EU and beyond: to develop that level of ingenuity, the perfervidium ingenium Scotorum. Small, acrobatic countries do it well; old, post-imperial countries are not so smart.

Did the Icelanders know about our iconic equivalent - the Falkirk wheel? I asked religiously in the ministries, but they had never heard of it. People such as Iain Smith ought to take this into account: if one looks up Scotland in the index of any European Union handbook, one discovers that, on the whole, it is lucky if it gets any more mentions than San Marino in front of it and Somalia behind it. Being independent registers; being in the limbo of a culture nation or a culture region does not.

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

The Americans have withdrawn their base, but I was not conscious, when I was in Iceland, of any great determination there to seek reunion with Denmark.

Independence puts a country on the map. It involves a choice of partners to suit our strategies - smaller states that are interested in technology and third-world partners, rather than military allies and supposedly high-spending, wealthy clients. We are not a gated community.

We need instruments that facilitate technical and cultural twinnings, in particular using our advantages in holding a petroleum supply that is steadily increasing in price and using the future prospects of renewable energy technologies - which will come from EU nations and Japan, rather than from diplomats or London-based bureaucracies. Again, that draws on Scandinavian practices.

Our immigration and settlement policy must meet our social, economic and demographic needs, rather than responding to panics induced by the south-east of England media. I am currently trying to get an extension of stay in Britain for someone who qualified in a Scottish institution of higher education, but it is simply ruled out by the immigration policy of the south.

We need effective press and media in Britain. What might be called "Metrolit", or the old BBC - and indeed the old British Council - are, in these commerce-driven times, much more likely to reflect the priorities of the English south-east. We require something to strengthen the projection of Scotland abroad in a way that we will simply not get through those institutions. We must overcome not English opposition but a powerful establishment, which The Guardian has called the United Kingdom of London, with its own powerful international connections. The bonuses that are paid in the City of London in a year could electrify all the railways of Scotland. The cost of a bog-standard branding campaign would probably equal most of the advances that have been paid to Scottish authors - with only one exception - for a quarter of a century.

As we saw in Iceland, autonomy can inspire imagination and new synergies. The requirement is to have money, guidance and executive competence ready to be directed to specific goals according to a specific timetable. I see no alternative to independence - although I have trodden the federal road in the past, albeit with remarkably few Labour or Liberal companions - followed by what I would call variable geometry links with Britain and Europe.

Next year is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. We must remember how international radical Rab was, and we should take our language from our democratic intellect. If nothing else, we might be able to expel tsars and icons coming from a not particularly democratic culture in favour of more "Sense and Worth" and self-determination in future.

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