Arctic Blog – by Kateryna McKinnon, HIE
“There is a lot that Scotland can offer to the Arctic but also there’s a lot that we could learn through cooperation”.
At the end of October I attended my first Arctic Circle Assembly which gathered around two thousand people from all over the world in Reykjavik over the course of October 19th-21st 2018. Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop presented in the plenary and she hosted a breakout session on “Examining Scotland’s Growing Relationship with the Arctic”, at which I spoke about the Highlands and Islands region and its long-standing cooperation with the Nordic Arctic. I have previously attended two smaller Arctic Circle Forums in Edinburgh in November 2017 and in the Faroe Islands in May 2018.
Scotland’s connection with the Arctic Circle fora started in 2015-2016, as I understand, from a meeting between the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the former President of Iceland Mr Grimsson. First Minister since had attended two Assemblies in Iceland in 2016 and 2017 and she hosted a Forum in Edinburgh. And now Scotland is developing its own Arctic Strategy.. Our connection and relationships with the Arctic however are not new – they are deeply rooted in culture and history and trade and transport links.
I have been asked by non-Arctic nations – “why is Scotland developing an Arctic strategy? Scotland is not in the Arctic”. Indeed, Scotland is not geographically defined as one of the Arctic states, but it is the closest nation to the Nordic Arctic region and over a long period of time we have built strong links and connections and have collaborated extensively. My Nordic colleagues and friends tell me that they feel Scotland is very similar to their home regions. There are many similarities in geographic, demographic and economic contexts between the Nordic Arctic and the Highlands and Islands. The North of Scotland is much like the North of Sweden or Norway – the regions share similar challenges or sparsely populated and coastal communities and remoteness and lack of critical mass – features that are quite unique and often misunderstood by other, more populous parts of the UK and continental Europe.
There’s a growing global interest in the Arctic. The region is changing rapidly due to the global climate change, and this change is hugely and disproportionately pronounced in the Arctic. The region is opening up and this attracts economic interests – from Europe, Asia, America and Russia. No matter how global the Arctic is it has a ‘local’ dimension – through indigenous nations and local people living in these and neighbouring regions and these people are being right in the centre of this global change..
The North of Scotland is not far from this – in fact, Shetland is located further north than the South of Greenland! We are located on the periphery of the UK and Europe, but we are in the middle of the global geopolitical interest. This presents with both opportunities and challenges.
Yes, I guess Scotland is not a geopolitically defined Arctic nation, but on the regional, peoples’ level, I believe the North of Scotland is very much an integral part of the Arctic region. This was the key message of my presentation at the Assembly.
The Highlands and Islands have been involved in a formal cooperation with the Nordic Arctic for over 20 years, starting off back in 1994, with the Nordic-Scottish cooperation agreement. This then evolved into a formal EU-funded mechanism, the Interreg Northern Periphery Programme and most recently Northern Periphery and Arctic, with a specific Arctic regional policy focus.
As Cabinet Secretary pointed out at the Assembly, there is a lot that Scotland can offer to the Arctic but also there’s a lot that we could and need to learn through cooperation. In our uncertain future, it is imperative that this cooperation continues, to ensure the links and networks are maintained and we continue to work together on solving the common challenges of people living in the Northern Periphery..