Our future lies beyond our shores
Scotland has a new world-class think tank, the Scottish Council on Global Affairs. This new institution was launched in Edinburgh Castle on 27 April and will bring together the brightest minds to develop public policy and disseminate new ideas to the nation and participate in the global dialogue. This focused approach to engaging with global issues is a great initiative and long overdue.
Led by the three universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrew’s, with the endorsement of the Holyrood and Westminster Governments, as stated, “the new Scottish Council on Global Affairs, Scotland’s first global affairs institute, will be marked by its academic freedom.” “It will develop critical thinking on international issues and Scotland’s place in the world, using the excellent expertise, researchers, and universities that Scotland already has.”
While the term “think tank” is modern, the concept can be traced to the humanist academies and scholarly network including the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th century.
In response to the launch of The Council, External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson added his endorsement: “As Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine continues, prompting Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since the last world war, it has never been clearer that the challenges that nations face today are global in nature. Although the Scottish Government warmly welcomes and supports the establishment of the Scottish Council on Global Affairs – as committed to in our latest Programme for Government – this initiative is independent, supported as it is by parties across the political spectrum, making it truly non-partisan”.
Ten years ago I founded the Asia Scotland Institute with the mission to inform, educate, and inspire tomorrow’s leaders in Scotland with a better understanding and grasp of pan Asia in this the Century of Asia. As a convener and catalyst, the Institute set out to invite global business leaders, economists, politicians, policy thought leaders, and academics to bring their ideas to Scotland to discuss and debate the pressing issues of our time. When the Asia Scotland Institute was launched in the Playfair Library of Edinburgh University in March 2012, I was asked by someone in the front row, “Mr Gow, what makes you think anyone of any importance will ever come up to Scotland as a speaker?” While startled by this question, I knew from my experience living and working abroad that there is a great interest and affinity for Scotland – and that the future for Scots lies beyond our shores as it always has. Some ten years later, ASI has demonstrated with scores of events that the interest and commitment of global business and political leaders has been palpable, and the enthusiastic response from our audiences, both young and old, has been significant. Even with the onset of the pandemic and the need to move to “virtual” events, we have invited many more international speakers and increased our reach to a global audience.
Historically, Scotland and the Scots have had an outsized influence around the world and especially in Asia. There is hardly a country where they have not settled and played a part in developments. Indeed, Burma, or Myanmar, was known as the Scottish Colony and its river shipping company, run from Glasgow, was the largest in the world.
Those of us who have been engaged in developing links between Scotland and the world have networks that can contribute to the growth and success of the new Scottish Council on Global Affairs. There is a great network of Scots who are eager to see their home country succeed, which we can do by helping the new Council to reach a global audience and have a positive influence on the world.
Roddy Gow, Chairman, Asia Scotland Institute