Last week a Scottish delegation led by the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, visited Munich, the capital of the “Free” State of Bavaria. The plan was to showcase the Scottish start-up ecosystem and to learn how the Bavarians are promoting entrepreneurialism and innovation. By sharing this knowledge and experience with our European friends, a solid basis has now been created for future trade and investment between the two nations.
Why Bavaria? It is not only that this south German region with a population of 12.5 million is a leading technology centre in Europe, there are also uncanny similarities. Both nations were independent, had their own monarch and have a very strong sense of identity. The political systems differ but the result is the same: devolved powers including control over education and planning as well as the raising of some taxes. There is also a deep sense of tradition and history – including a national drink.
This special bond between the two countries is reflected in the 17 town twinnings. The oldest of these is Edinburgh-Munich, which was founded in 1954 when a group of 20 Munich schoolchildren were invited by the Edinburgh Council Education Department to spend two weeks in the city.
The lasting impact here of this act of civic generosity cannot be overstated – all these children had lived through the Second World War bombing raids on Munich. Around 45 per cent of the physical substance of the city was destroyed and less than 3 per cent of buildings were unscathed.
Other twinnings followed: Inverness with Augsburg, Aberdeen and Regensburg, Glasgow and Nuremberg, and Dundee with Würzburg. Efforts are now being made to create “economic twinning” between some of these partner cities. For example, I am now working with the Highland Council and the University of the Highlands and Islands to develop a healthcare project with Klinikum Augsburg, a 1,700-bed teaching hospital in Augsburg. The focus of the project is medical teaching and diabetes, particularly treatment applications using telemedicine techniques. A high-level delegation from Bavaria will visit Inverness at the end of the month for meetings with local healthcare organisations and businesses.
And last week at the Expo Real property fair in Munich. senior officials from Glasgow council met with the deputy mayor of Nuremberg. Although there is a very active cultural exchange between these two well-matched cities, there has been no cross-border business generated to date. At the meeting it was agreed to plan future visit programmes.
Argyll and Bute is twinned with Amberg-Sulzbach and in September a delegation to visit their Bavarian partner region was led by councillor Aileen Morton. She said: “It is even more important that the council maintains and strengthens its European ties and partners.”
These initiatives are much more likely to succeed because of the trust and goodwill that has been built up over many years of twinning. Thanks to our Bavarian partner cities, the Scottish Government now has a special opportunity to demonstrate that we do not intend to turn our backs on Europe or to isolate ourselves from cultural, civic and commercial exchange with our friends in Europe.
l David Scrimgeour MBE, who was the Scottish Government’s investment representative in Germany and Austria in the 1990s, is the founder of the British-German Business Network.