The National:

THIS week saw the first meeting of the new All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Arctic and Nordic Councils at Westminster.

I’ve taken the initiative to set up this group to help elected members in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords to better understand both these bodies and the vital work they do in the High North. There’s never been a more important time for Scotland and the UK to cement our alliances with these Councils as we grapple with the major challenges of the Covid pandemic, Brexit and the enormity of the climate crisis.

The Arctic Council was founded in 1996 and is a leading intergovernmental forum which promotes collaboration and interaction between the Arctic States and indigenous people, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the USA. The UK already has observer status on the Arctic Council and, at present, the UK Government has a temporary Minister for the Polar Regions, Lord Ahmad.

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I have long argued for the appointment of a UK Arctic Ambassador to champion closer political, cultural and social ties with this important region, especially given the implications of far-reaching changes to Arctic conditions and extreme weather events. So far, the UK Government have failed to take me up on this proposition, despite support from the House of Lords, which published a report in 2015 arguing to pursue this end, and academic, writer and senior advisor to the APPG for Polar Regions, Duncan Depledge, making the case for the same influential role.

From a geopolitical perspective and in terms of shared cultural ties and a belief in social justice, Scotland has a great affinity with the High North.

As the closest non-Arctic neighbour to the region, our small nation has already cemented these ties with our Nordic Baltic Policy Statement and Arctic Connections Policy Framework from the Scottish Government.

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Outwith Holyrood, important work by broadcaster and writer Lesley Riddoch (above) with Phantom Power films in her Nordic Nations series has highlighted how closer ties could be “transformational” for Scotland, while Danish historian Bjarke S. Drejer thinks Scotland “should come back to Scandinavia”, with Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat calling for us to become “the Sixth Nordic Country”.

This goodwill from our Northern neighbours was cemented by Finnish Minister Mikko Karna’s recent announcement that, in light of the SNP’s victory at the election, he would like to launch an initiative to help Scotland gain observer status on the Nordic Council.

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I met with Mikko this week to follow up on his exciting intervention and to discuss ways for Scotland to action his invitation. He pointed out that the Council already includes the autonomous Faroe Islands, Aland Islands and Greenland, who are not fully independent nations like Scotland. In our case, yet!

Formed in 1952, the Nordic Council is the official body for formal inter-parliamentary cooperation, with 87 representatives from Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland and Sweden plus the autonomous nations mentioned above. As part of their International Strategy, they aim to form closer bonds within their Council membership as well as with Baltic and European states, entering into formal relations with the EU last month.

Scotland has long been on their radar, reaching out to Holyrood on collaboration and shared values on a number of visits and exchanges, with the former Presiding Officer, Ken Macintosh, meeting online with Bertel Haarder, President of the Nordic Council, just this past March.

At times like this where we face huge crises both at home and abroad, forming alliances with like-minded countries is vital, especially those with a focus on fairness, sustainability and a desire to work on equitable terms. I’m sure many Scots would gladly accept this hand of friendship from the Nordic Council while engaging beyond to the Polar Regions with the wider UK too.

I hope the work of my new APPG can add to this interest and open eyes to fresh possibilities. Because Scotland is seeking new horizons - it’s time to Look North.