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4 April 2023 | Scotland’s Future

There’s a world out there…and Scotland wants to get on 

It’s 1993 and I’m in Brussels with my boss because Scotland has a great idea* which we’re speaking to the Commission about. Naturally we pop in to Scotland Europa which has just set up in Square de Meeus for a chat with Grant Baird, who is there to ensure Scotland makes the most of our EU membership.

30 years on and my eldest daughter is the age I was then. She no longer has the freedom of movement we had, the ability to play a part in a bigger world where Scotland has always done well, the opportunity to live, work or study anywhere in the EU.

The realisation that we have a responsibility to Scotland’s future generations who won’t enjoy the same benefits we had was a key takeaway for the 20-strong delegation who joined our cross-sector mission to Brussels last week.

Representatives from higher education, financial services, the circular economy, tech and data, energy, whisky and salmon, were struck at our reduced ability to shape EU decisions from outside and learnt how we need to change our approach if Scotland is to succeed.

SCDI has a long history in shaping innovative approaches to a prosperous future for Scotland, drawing together expertise and perspectives from across industry and civil society. Ensuring Scotland plays its part in the wider world is in SCDI’s DNA. We ran industry-led cross sectoral international trade missions from the 50s to the 2010s advocating for the setting up of Scottish Development International. We ran the first missions to USSR, China and the States and following the UK’s exit from the EU, we revived our International Business Committee which identified actions to support our economy through trade and cooperation with the EU.

They come from different sectors and industries and all parts of Scotland, but our members share an ambition for Scotland and commitment to ensuring our people and places make the most of the opportunities a global economy affords. Our Blueprint defines SCDI’s vision and where we think we can make a difference but there is no substitute for engaging with our closest neighbours to get a sense of how we’re doing and check we’re still at the races.

European Union Headquarters, Brussels

In some ways we’d retreated into our respective industries and sectors as heads were down trying to ‘keep the wheels on’ through Brexit, covid and energy and cost of living crisis. The thing about focussing on your own problems is that you forget others are moving on without you. The EU, still grappling with its own ‘perma-crisis’ including migration and Euro sovereign debt, has fundamentally changed. They are thinking hard about the how to address the underlying structural causes and adapt their institutions. However, Scotland can and is exercising considerable ‘soft power’ through Scottish and UK government representatives and our hosts, Scotland Europa at Scotland House Brussels and we heard how deploying what we know from working internationally is helping ensure Scotland’s interests are heard and taken into account. Because we are a small country we know how to influence from the outside, to be smart, to hustle, to use guerilla marketing to get our messages across.

Transforming our economies to address climate change and sustainability, the technological revolution, Europe’s aging society and now economic security requires radical and politically difficult choices.

Perhaps the most profound impact of all is the Russian invasion of Ukraine – a war against liberal democracy – which could deprive future generations of Europeans of the ability to determine the environment in which they operate. The EU is therefore strongly focused on structural changes and forms of government which will determine how they can work together in Europe in an era where ‘my country first’ is undermining the role of international institutions, which can deal with cross-border challenges. China and US threaten to crush the EU in the middle as we continue to be in a period of volatility and uncertainty.

The EU is having to face up to the same polarisation and fragmentation of debate we’re seeing across the world with systems fragmenting, failure of mainstream politics and strengthening of fringes and increasingly adversarial debates. They even have a name for it – the British disease with the response to any call to action met with ‘we can’t do it because we can’t sell it at home’.

Coming together across borders, industries and sectors is the only way to deal with complex, messy issues and we heard from other third countries Canada, Switzerland and Norway about their strategies and tactics to shape a market which matters to them.

Making Scotland a global hub for purposeful businesses that ‘solve the problems of people and planet profitably is central to our 10-year vision for Scotland’s economy. Continued engagement with the EU remains vital to Scotland not least as our closest and largest trading partner but also as an innovator and regulator in a globalised world. Our members remain committed to increasing the share of our economy that comes from exports by growing free, fair, climate-friendly and digital trade and reducing trade and investment barriers so we have to make it work as best we might.

SCDI sits on the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) Domestic Advisory Group and Civil Society Forum. It gave evidence to the recent European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) Information report: The implementation of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.

SCDI is grateful to the wonderful team at Scotland Europa for their support in pulling a great programme together.

*Eurodesk – inspiring young people to fulfil their potential. A Europe-wide youth information service piloted by the Scottish Community Education Council/Community Learning Scotland and replicated across the EU with the support of DG Education and Training of the European Commission.

April 2023

SCDI Policy Mission to Brussels

SCDI Policy Mission to Brussels

Following the publication of SCDI’s International Trade Committee’s report on the future of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (“Trade and Cooperation with the EU: Actions to Support Scotland’s Economy”), SCDI committed to hosting a delegation of members to Brussels.

Among its recommendations the TCA report had suggested greater engagement with EU actors on policy development and impact, increasing cooperation with Scotland House Brussels, and facilitating a programme of regular policy missions to key international partners.

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