Alex Salmond’s Harvard speech, 2008

This is a speech then first minister Alex Salmond gave at Harvard University on 31 March 2008. It has had a chequered public history, summarised at one stage by the New Statesman. At that time, it had appeared on the Scottish Government website and then been removed. The New Statesman placed a copy on the Wayback Machine, an internet archive, from which it has also now disappeared. Meantime, it reappeared on the Scottish Government website. When I searched for it there a couple of weeks ago it had again disappeared. I was gearing myself up to make a Freedom of Information request for the text when, lo and behold, there it was for a third time on the government web site, this time in an archived section.

In case the speech disappears yet again, I reproduce it in full below. I haven’t gone soft on separatism but it contains so many delicious errors of judgement that it is always handy to have a copy for reference. As I write this (29 November 2016) Salmond’s successor as first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has just coined the phrase ‘Celtic corridor’ in a speech to the Irish senate. This has an eerie echo of Salmond’s doomed ‘Celtic lion’ and ‘arc of prosperity’ that he touted in his speech. You will find many other misjudgements in it, not least ‘RBS and HBOS … global leaders today, tomorrow and for the long-term.’

Enjoy. Or alternatively weep and despair.


Free to Prosper: Creating the Celtic Lion economy


Thank you very much for inviting me here. It is an honour to be with you today at the start of my programme for Scotland Week.

Events are being held across the United States and Canada and my Ministers and I will be touring your country all this week. And the culmination of this year’s events is of course the fantastic Tartan Day Parade along 6th Avenue in New York.

This Scotland Week we want to do full justice to the enormous wealth and potential of modern Scotland and its people – our cultural success, business expertise and academic reputation.

And we are saying that for Scots in the United States, in Canada, and across the globe, celebrating your Scottish connections is as much about the future as it is about the past. Indeed there is a very special opportunity for international Scots to visit the old country as next year we are celebrating the year of the homecoming on the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns.

Let me start by thanking our generous hosts here at Harvard University. Today’s event has been sponsored by both the Center for European Studies and the Business School.

To be honest I would have been delighted with either. And to have both schools taking part is a tremendous honour.

The reputation of Harvard Business School and its contribution to the American economy, indeed the global economy, are unsurpassed.

And the Center for European Studies does superb work for a vital mission. And I know that a faculty which boasts such figures as Stanley Hoffmann, Theda Skocpol and of course Niall Ferguson is more than equipped to explain the weird and wonderful patterns of European politics to millions of curious Americans.

Today, on this first day of the first ever Scotland Week, I want to speak with you about Scotland’s place in the world.

About major changes and challenges underway in the global economy.

About how Scotland is responding to those changes – about our strategy for success.

And I want so speak with you about the growing ambition in my country – our belief and our aspiration in building a Celtic Lion – a new economic powerhouse that will be one of the great success stories of the global economy.

This is the defining mission of my Government. It is the purpose that lies at the heart of the decisions we have already made, and those which are to come.

It is an aspiration that is within our grasp. And, on the eve of a major tax cut for Scottish business, it is an ambition we are daily bringing to reality.

So I am here today not only to tell you about the great change underway in Scotland, but to invite companies and individuals across America to share and join in our success.

The economic outlook

Let us start by considering the current global economic outlook. And let us consider the challenges we must meet to deliver long-term success.

There is realisation that the credit crunch is hurting the real economy in America and in Europe as well.

But encouragingly we see that policymakers are taking concerted action, determined to protect jobs and maintain stability.

Central banks are providing liquidity and most are cutting rates in a coordinated way.

And the U.S. Congress has responded quickly with a major stimulus package, with rebates for families and tax cuts for businesses.

Financial shocks happen even if they seldom happen on this scale. But if effective action is taken and if the underlying problems of poor financial regulation and insecure lending practices are dealt with, the economy will prove resilient and the rebound from the downturn will be strong and vigorous.

Therefore I am optimistic about the medium term prospects for our economies. Because I believe that the prospects for a resumption of growth are strong.

Sometimes we should stand back from immediate difficulty and take a considered view. For one thing, we are coming off a long period of continuous growth. . We have to go back as far as 1991 in America to find a year of negative economic growth.

Those intervening years have brought continued expansion, while inflation and unemployment were kept firmly in check.

And while demand across the western world has grown steadily, we also have a new, growing and long-term source of impetus in the world economy – with China, India, Brazil and Indonesia injecting new demand and dynamism into the world economy.

And while that expansion will inevitably place great pressure on resource costs unlike for example the 1970s the world economy has a much greater ability to recycle balances from resource rich to resource poor countries.

So these are the reasons why I am positive about our long-term economic prospects.

And therefore wise investors will not be spooked by the latest ‘R’ word count or be battered into submission by the latest morning Op Ed columns.

Successful companies will keep the steady view and invest to make the best return over the medium term. Invest in the economies of the future, where the prospects are brightest.

My message to you today, it is my belief that across the whole of Europe, Scotland has the brightest prospects of all.

The favourable winds of globalisation

Let me explain why the future looks particularly bright for Scotland.

Because as a small, open and dynamic economy, the winds of globalisation are blowing strongly in our favour.

This is an argument that I expect will be familiar to many here at Harvard. And it is one that researchers here at the Center for European Studies will find borne out day after day in their work.

That among the big winners of globalisation are the small, dynamic trading nations of Europe – those countries with the skills and the flexibility to claim a major stake in the knowledge economy and the sectors of the future.

Let us look at a simple and objective measure of success: the United Nations Human Development Index. Among the top five nations in the world we see three of our European cousins – Ireland, Iceland and Norway. These countries are of course being affected by global forces just like their larger neighbours but all recent evidence suggests they will rebound quickest and strongest from current difficulties.

And these countries are not just cousins, they are neighbours. The distance from Scotland to either Ireland or Norway is less than that from Boston to New York.

Why is it that Scotland looks out on this Arc of Prosperity, to the west, to the east and to the north? Why are small European nations enjoying this outstanding economic and social success over the last generation? And for that matter, why is it that today there are two hundred nations in the world, when a century ago there were only fifty?

Here we can turn to Professor Tom Nairn, or for that matter Harvard’s own Professor Alberto Alesina, and others like them, who see the emergence of a ‘New Deal’ for small countries at the heart of globalisation.

During the first half of the last century and perhaps later, smaller nations faced two major disadvantages in the global system. One was guaranteeing their security. The other was gaining access to markets.

However, over time global markets have opened to countries large and small while the threats to international security do not come by and large from territorial acquisition but from international terrorism.

And in this environment, the disadvantages of smaller nations have disappeared, and they are now exercising their natural economic strengths. Flexibility. Speed of decision-making. And the ability to clearly define national interests in pursuit of a clear economic strategy.

Where this occurs within the framework of a European Union and single market place of 600 million people, it creates the ideal environment within which small nations can take the most of their comparative advantage.

It is against this back drop that the case for an independent Scotland has re-emerged – and it is case which I will make tomorrow at the University of Virginia – the homeland of Thomas Jefferson.

But back to the immediate question. What conclusion should American business draw from this new pattern of globalisation?

Well, one lesson is that when American companies consider where to invest abroad – particularly for a base to supply that 600 million strong European market – small countries provide the ideal platform to deliver big results. Because small, highly skilled nations are the future of Europe.

That’s why Dell Computers is the biggest exporter in Ireland and why Wyeth Pharmaceuticals has major operations in Scotland and Ireland.

And looking at our near neighbours, consider the remarkable success of indigenous companies that have become global, Nokia in Finland, Ericsson in Sweden, Maersk shipping in Denmark or for that matter the Royal Bank of Scotland.

All these examples show us that the smaller economies of Europe are just as well equipped as the larger economies – if not better – to provide the skills, the incentives and the regulatory environment that big business needs to succeed.

Building the Celtic Lion economy

The economic evidence is clear. The people of Scotland, our industry and government collectively have an unprecedented chance to deliver lasting economic success.

There are two questions, then, that we must answer. First, do we have the right economic strategy? And second, what is the limit of our ambition?

When the Scottish Government published our economic strategy in November last year, we made clear the scale of our ambition. The immediate target we set was by 2011 – the end of the legislative term – to raise Scotland’s economic growth rate to match the UK average.

And the second target, much more ambitious, was by 2017, to raise growth further, to at least match the growth rate of those small independent nations around us – Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Denmark.

And the lesson we draw from our neighbours in Ireland – the Celtic Tiger economy – where annual growth has averaged more than 6% over the past two decades, is that with the right strategy, there are no limits to success in the modern global economy.

So Scotland must have the right strategy.

In its essence, the economic strategy of any nation tries to achieve two linked aims. To maximise the potential of its people – the stock of human capital – and to match it to the major sectors of comparative advantage.

This is the explicit aim of Scotland’s strategy, and it will be the basis of our success.

Let us consider human capital first. Because of Scotland’s world-class education system, this has always been a potential source of strength.

Today more than one quarter of the working age population has been to university, a third of those aged 18 to 30 hold a university degree and now a half of school leavers go into higher education.

Scotland’s workforce skills are excellent, by UK and by global standards. And our higher education research base is among the very best.

My government will not only protect the potential of our people. We are enhancing it, with new investment in our schools, colleges and universities – and with our historic move to restore free education at all levels in Scotland.

And we do this in pursuit of a principle that has great resonance in America: that each one of our people has the opportunity to make the most of his or her talents and abilities.

Our aim is not only to retain the best and brightest of our own people. We seek to attract talent from across the globe – from Europe, from the U.S. and elsewhere.

The US census says 9 million Americans are of Scots descent while others suggest as many as 27 million have a Scottish affinity. It is a fabulous compliment that so many Americans identify themselves with Scotland in this way. I hope many of them will find ways to work in, study or indeed visit the land of their forefathers.

So that is how Scotland will maximise its human capital. The other basic question is how will we use our potential in the global economy? What will be our sectors of comparative advantage?

Scotland’s economy is broad based with many strengths. So let me pick out some of the brightest prospects.

Take the life sciences – a growing sector and a sector of the future, founded on Scotland’s world class skills and a scientific base in the world’s top three – behind only Germany and Switzerland in terms of research impact.

Take our creative industries, which are 4% of the Scottish economy and growing strongly. In new media sectors, such as multimedia and games – and in traditional forms, literature, film and theatre – Scottish talent is thriving.

And of course we Scots are lucky enough to have the one of the best brands in the world – a global recognition and affection for our culture that money cannot buy.

Take financial services. With RBS and HBOS – two of the world’s biggest banks – Scotland has global leaders today, tomorrow and for the long-term.

And a growing number of American firms – not least JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and State Street – are discovering that the Scottish financial sector can do anything you can do in London and can do it better and rather importantly in the current environment can do it at lower cost.

Take the energy sector, where we a major player. Aberdeen is the world’s second largest energy hub, behind only Houston. And I believe we can translate our expertise in oil and gas into the renewables sector to lead global development of marine energy and hopefully carbon capture technology.

Vice-President Al Gore has already praised Scotland for our courage and leadership on climate change. And on Wednesday, at the National Geographic headquarters in Washington D.C., I will outline the next steps in Scotland’s campaign to become the world’s leading centre for renewable energy.

And it is not just venture capital in the US that is attracted into renewables sector; the Royal Bank of Scotland is today the largest investor in renewables in the world.

And therefore, if I could paraphrase Horace Greeley the “most perfect Yankee this country has ever produced” it is not a question of go west young man, but go east young industry, go east to Scotland.

Across the board – with our people, our skills, our business environment and our new industries – Scotland is holding a strong hand.

That is why I am so confident in our economic future.

That is why just last month the Financial Times Group, in its FDI magazine, awarded Scotland the title of Europe’s place of the future – beating competition from 38 other nations and regions.

And that is why, if you invest in Scotland – on our people, on our ambition, on our future – you can only win.

The latest indicators are encouraging compared to elsewhere in the UK: employment rates are higher, the mortgage market remains more buoyant, business optimism more resilient and consumer spending, at 7.1% growing at almost twice the rate.

Scotland is a nation on the move. We will accept nothing less than success.

Tomorrow, all across Scotland, businesses will receive a tax cut, with property tax reduced by 80% for 120,000 premises. This will lower fixed costs for Scotland’s small businesses and set them free to grow and compete.

This new tax cut is powerful symbol of my government’s profound commitment to enterprise.

It is one of our first steps, and there will be many more. Scottish industry demands it. The people of Scotland demand it.

There is a new ambition for our country, and for our economy, which we cannot ignore.

Scotland will become a Celtic Lion. We will build an economy that is the envy of Europe.

That is my aim. That is my ambition.

And, on behalf of all the people of Scotland, this is our welcome – to the American people and to American business – to share in this future.

Thank you.


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