Last week, I had the honor and the pleasure of spending some time with members of the UK and Scottish governments during their U.S. trade mission. This weekend, in the ongoing search for controversial headlines, the Scotsman chose to ignore all the positive impacts of the trade mission and focus in on a statement made by Scotland Office Minister David Mundell, who was part of the trade mission and a most likable man to chat with about all things Scotland.
Mr Mundell, it is reported, stated that “It is not possible for Scottish ministers to orchestrate a visit without the help of the UK government.”
And he’s absolutely right, to a point.
But let’s pull this little sensational headline and story apart.
First, background on the good men and women on either side of the debate.
Mr. Mundell is Scottish and a Conservative Member of the UK Parliament in London, representing an area just outside Glasgow, Scotland. He is part of the UK government, headed by UK Prime Minister David Cameron who is of Scottish descent.
There is also the Scottish government, based in Edinburgh, which currently operates similar to a state government in the US, with limited powers and no official foreign presence. This is led by the Scottish National Party, or SNP, and is currently working towards Scottish independence from the rest of the UK. The First Minister Alex Salmond is Scottish and the Minister for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop, who was on the recent U.S. trade mission with Mr. Mundell, is also Scottish.
Hence, all the parties involved are Scottish and, in the trade missions, they are working together to promote Scotland and Scotland as a good place to visit and do business with. But the two governments and the members of each government have very different ideas about the future of Scotland and what is best for Scotland in the long run.
And both governments are currently making their ongoing arguments as to whether it is better for Scotland to be a fully independent nation, or whether is better for Scotland to remain a part of the UK.
So, now that you have an understanding of the players involved…
…it is true, as Mr. Mundell claimed, that these tours that Scottish ministers are currently going on are being hosted by UK government officials, as they work in support of the UK & Scottish governments’ goals of expanding trade relations between the nations of the world and Scottish businesses.
And yes, it is true that without the support of the UK government and the utilization of the embassies and staff working for the UK government, these trade missions would be a lot less doable and a lot less impactful. They could definitely still happen, but would lack the already existing networks , staff and facilities that the UK government already has in place, and has had in place in some cases for hundreds of years.
So Mr. Mundell is correct in the statements he has made. And he is also correct that if Scotland does gain independence, the clout of the Scottish government worldwide will not be as impactful as the current clout it can have as part of the UK.
For a time.
It is also quite true that if Scotland establishes independence then they will set up their own embassies and consuls, and will build their political and business foundations upon an already strong cultural presence worldwide, just as they are currently doing. In time, this can potentially rival or surpass that of England. But it would take time.
In the here and now, the Scottish government impact is similar to a representative of a US state making a trip overseas. It can have powerful impact in connecting businesses and building relationships, but it can have only limited impact as Scotland cannot enter into treaties or official government connections without working through the UK government in London.
As for uncertainty being created among US businesspeople and potential investors, that may or may not be the case. It is not the case with me. However, I fully believe Scotland has a lot to offer as a business partner regardless of whether they are independent or whether they remain part of the UK.
So while all the political positioning goes on, as both sides passionately fight for what they see as the best future for Scotland, I would strongly encourage all businesses to take a long and serious look at Scotland. Because it is a great place to do business, they offer innovation to the world, and they have a strong and vibrant future ahead of them.
No matter what the Scotsman writes in order to sell papers.