The opening speech of the conference was held by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet secretary of Culture, Tourism and External Affairs of the Scottish government. Ms Hyslop underlined Scotland’s close links to the Arctic, through culture, geography and history. Scotland also shares many of the characteristics of the high North, many rural communities, long distances, a dispersed population, heavy dependence on natural resources. But Scotland has also strong institutions of higher education and research and development, which have led to industrial innovations and developments. Renewable energy is one example, medical technology is another. Advanced operations related to oil and gas extraction in the North Sea are also located in Scotland. And it goes without saying that the traditional industries of whisky production and textiles are still important, they have been able to innovate to be competitive in a world market. Many of the universities and institutes conduct research and run educational programs of high merit, much of this with strong relevance to Arctic issues.
To this observer it is evident that a closer partnership will benefit both parties. UArctic can contribute to Scottish institutions, giving them easy access to its network, and giving them a platform to disseminate research. UArctic institutions cover a range of fields that are relevant to social and industrial development in local communities throughout Scotland. And Scotland has, with its cultural ties, relevant educational programs, and historical traditions and present day activities in Arctic research, much to contribute to the UArctic family. Combined with values and a contextual understanding of “northernness”, developed from being far away from the political and cultural center of the UK, Scotland has the best prospects of being a valuable partner in the strive to fulfill the UArctic vision of “An Empowered of North – With Shared Voices.”
This was illustrated in the research and higher education session, where we had presentations of contemporary Scottish Arctic research. Prof Finlo Cottier and Dr Jordan Grigor, both connected to Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) (University of the Highlands and Islands) gave examples on how their work and personal careers involved partnerships and engagements with other research institutions the Arctic. In this session, UArctic Vice President Paul Markusson presented UArctic’s mobility program, and the opportunities this gives for students to connect to other northern institutions. A study abroad period at another northern institution will give young people experiences from other contexts which have similar characteristics, but still different, inspiring them to see new solutions to challenges in their home communities.
In addition to the science and education session, the conference also had sessions on business opportunities, on young people’s perceptions of challenges and opportunities in a northern rural context, and a session on the historical lines in Scotland’s interests in the Arctic. The conference was a manifestation of the scope of today’s Scottish engagement in the Arctic, and of the future potential of such an engagement. Knowledge, competence and skills are essential for developing innovations to make business and communities sustainable and resilient, and higher education and research are crucial in this context.
The timing of this Arctic focus in Scotland is not coincidental. The Brexit process in the UK has met strong opposition in Scotland. The referendum showed a strong support for "remain" in all Scottish electoral regions. Even if the final outcome of Brexit is not clear at the moment, establishing stronger ties towards the North, especially the Nordic countries and the North Atlantic region, can be seen as a strategy to open up other doors. To this end, Scotland has demonstrated a strong will to position itself as an Arctic stakeholder. The Arctic Day conference in Inverness is one event to show this, but the ambitions have also been demonstrated by participation on ministerial level at the Arctic Circle and Arctic Frontiers conferences. Scotland plans to develop an Arctic Policy Framework, due to be released in September this year, and this conference was one of the inputs to this policy development. UArctic appreciate the opportunity to contribute in this process, and we are confident that an increased engagement with UArctic will be mutually beneficial.