The Arctic Circle (in red)
Until now, I thought the main SNP interest in Iceland was Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil’s Icelandic lessons which, according to his expenses claim, cost you and me £5,300. Now we discover the interest is more profound, with our first minister giving the keynote address today at this year’s Arctic Circle assembly – ‘Scotland and the Arctic.’
I don’t know if Angus is in the FM’s delegation. I hope not since he’s a member of neither the Scottish government nor parliament on whose behalf, presumably, the FM is attending. Anyhow, his invaluable language skills are unlikely to be needed since every Icelander I’ve heard speak in the media is word-perfect in English.
His presumed absence will also save a bob or two: the full Glasgow-Reykjavik return fare on Icelandair comes in at between £397 (economy) and £529 (business class – which politicians normally use), plus of course the costs of any overnight stay(s).
Ms Sturgeon isn’t travelling alone since the 7th seems to be something of a ‘Scotland Day’ in the assembly with, as well as her keynote speech, an ‘exhibit’ she is opening on ‘How can Design and Technology Transform Community Engagement Across the High North?’ curated by ‘Architecture and Design Scotland.’ Here’s a taster of its delights from the assembly programme:
Where do you start with a sideshow that has the smack of desperation about it, something thrown together at short notice when we have little enough to add to an event not really about us? A child in a polar bear mask. Apart from Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park when did polar bears last tread the frozen wilds of Scotland? I assume the first minister will not have to don a polar bear mask to open the exhibit, although …
I assume also that our expertise notwithstanding, the High North is High North as in Greenland and Murmansk rather than Kirkwall and Lerwick, in which burghs Scotland might have more community engagement expertise than said locations within the Arctic Circle itself. Scotland, you don’t need telling, is somewhat South of the red line on that map above.
Still, when I was checking what interest our SNP government might have had previously in territories within the Arctic Circle, I was surprised to find Fiona Hyslop, ‘External Affairs Secretary,’ saying at an event in 2014 that:
With Shetland lying only 400 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle, Scotland is the next most northern country outside of the eight Arctic Council states.
So that’s alright then. Expect for the fact that Scotland has no devolved responsibility for external affairs and of course, if geographically correct, Ms Hyslop’s statement should have read, ‘the United Kingdom is the next most northern country outside of the eight Arctic Council states.’
I’ve been trying for the life of me to work out why the first minister has been invited to give the keynote address at an international conference on the Arctic Circle. Unless it’s the fact that she met the chair of the group and former president of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson at the 2015 Paris climate change conference, where not representing a nation state she was effectively part of the fringe programme.
I’m not aware of any particular expertise the Scottish government has in the Arctic Circle beyond that available more widely across the UK. As for design and technology transforming community engagement, I can’t say I’ve noticed much of that in Scotland, certainly not that we might have to teach the likes of Canada and the Nordic countries. Plenty to teach the Russians perhaps, with whose propaganda broadcaster Russia Today a few SNP politicians seem to be infatuated, but fat chance of them taking any lessons from our democratic UK.
The obvious conclusion which you’ll have probably already reached is that this is all about grandstanding and playing to the vanity of Ms Sturgeon’s separatist audience.
The rest of us will watch from afar and wonder not only what her wee expedition has cost but what benefit it will bring Scotland.
One of Ms Sturgeon’s delegation takes a well-earned dip in Reykjavik‘s famed Blue Lagoon