Scotland – a real Arctic neighbour?
When the Scottish Government set out its intention to launch an Arctic Strategy for Scotland in 2017, twitter comments on the announcement referred to ‘grandstanding’, questioned the extent to which Scotland is an ‘Arctic neighbour’, emphasised the need to concentrate efforts ‘closer to home’; and questioned Scottish Government’s competencies in this area, as the UK also has an Arctic Strategy. At first glance, accompanying events and studies can also give the impression of trying to ‘jump on the Arctic bandwagon’, highlighting broad historical cultural links, the need to act on climate change and showing pictures of polar bears.
Yet, Scotland is a near-Arctic neighbour with shared development concerns and issues. Shetland is 400 miles (643km) south of the Arctic Circle and is as far north as Cape Farewell in Greenland. The global challenge of climate change has some of its most dramatic impacts in the Arctic, and it is reshaping development challenges and opportunities across this wider region. Brexit uncertainties are unsettling long-standing external relations with Scotland’s neighbouring EU and non-EU Member States, e.g. raising questions about potential future engagement in EU-funded cooperation programmes.
Crucially, Scotland’s involvement and engagement in the Arctic is not a new thing. There is real substance to this link. It is already embedded active and productive. Scottish partners, including local government, NGO’s, Government Agencies and Universities, are already well-established, well-respected participants in existing, direct cooperation with territories across the Arctic Region through the EU’s Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme. Almost 50% of the current Programme’s main projects have Scottish Partners. As a founder Member of the Programme, which was initiated in 1999, Scottish partners are recognised as bringing world-leading expertise, delivering highly effective management of cooperation projects and, and due to internal requirements to secure co-financing, are experienced and focussed in terms of delivering outputs and results. More generally, a recent study undertaken by Glasgow Caledonian University and University of the Highlands notes that the country has valuable trade, socio-economic and research links in key areas such as energy, environmental and climate change, sustainable development and remote communities.
Scotland is now at a critical juncture in its relationship with this region. The country has important established links. However, the pace of change and the pressures of Brexit mean that on-going efforts are needed to reinforce and carry forward commitments. A new Arctic Strategy/policy framework can:
· help position Scotland as a valuable Arctic partner; and,
· identify the academic, economic and social opportunities for Scotland to take forward projects or programmes of work related to the Arctic.
But crucially, it is important to preserve what is already there.
Don’t lose what Scotland has already. The exit of Scottish regions from The Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme, as a result of Brexit, would break a long-standing, productive link to the Arctic at national, regional and community levels. However, although this is an EU programme, Brexit does not necessarily have to mean an exit from the Programme. The Programme already has strong third-country participation, including the Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme (Norway, Iceland, Greenland, and Faroe Islands), an option which Scottish Government could look into pursuing.
Better connect what Scotland has. The scale and range of issues and pace of change in the Arctic means it is challenging to have a robust overview of Scottish stakeholder engagement in the region. However, the potential benefits of presenting a coherent view of involvement are considerable, in terms of both building networks and capacity within the country, and maximising links and connections with the Arctic. As has been suggested, there is scope to develop a ‘Centre of Excellence’ to lead and promote expertise and engagement.
Link to the EU Arctic Strategy. The EU is currently developing a policy paper on the EU’s Arctic priorities. The policy paper, which was expected to be published in June 2019, will contribute to the political thinking and priorities in Brussels with the intention of providing a bridge between the existing and the next European Commission. Following the Commission’s policy paper, a new EU Arctic Strategy is envisaged to be published by early 2020. This timeline would give a concrete target also for the Scottish Government to have an Arctic policy concept in place and to demonstrate its engagement not only with the Arctic, but with the EU more generally. Regardless of the outcome of Brexit, this is an area of mutual interest where cooperation will be key.
Sources & References
 McMaster, I. Bachtler, J. Stewart L. (2017) ‘EU Cooperation and Innovation - Delivering Value from our European Partnership’s Report on the Conference organised by Scotland Europa and Scottish Enterprise in partnership with Royal Society of Edinburgh, 29 September 2017, European Policies Research Centre University of Strathclyde.
 McMaster I (2017) UK Cross-Border and Transnational Cooperation: Experiences, Lessons and Future, European Policy Research Paper no. 100, European Policies Research Centre, University of Strathclyde
 Jafry, T. et al (2018) Scottish Government, Arctic Policy Mapping Report, Glasgow Caledonian University and North Highland College, UHI.
 McMaster I and Vironen H (2017) The Involvement of Non-EU Member States in European Territorial Cooperation, European Structural and Investment Fund Journal, 3/17 (vol. 5), pp, 235-244