The ties that bind the two countries are as strong as ever, says Roddy Gow
Scotland’s links with India extend back over many years and earlier this month the British High Commissioner to India, Sir Dominic Asquith, visited Edinburgh with a dual mission. He attended and spoke at the launch of the Asia Scotland Trust in the Royal Botanic Garden and the next day addressed the Asia Scotland Institute with an analysis of the recent Indian elections which returned Narendra Modi and the BJP with a strong majority.
The first event reminded those attending of the strong links in the sciences and architectural restoration and conservation and the ability of Scots to transfer those skills to others throughout Asia engaged in preserving the history of their built environment, not just in those buildings designed by Scots but in the transference of the knowledge to make the creation of smart cities possible. Over a hundred gathered in the cottage where William Roxburgh studied in the late eighteenth century before moving to Kolkata (Calcutta) where he became the father of modern botany. His name lives on in one of the projects for whose restoration the Trust looks for support – known as the Roxburgh Project. This is the repair and restoration of the house named after him, the Herbarium and the Old Seed House within the AJC Bose Indian Botanic Garden at Sibpur, over the Hooghly River from the city of Kolkata. We learnt of other important projects such as St Andrew’s Church, the Scottish Cemetery being worked on by the Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust and plans to engage with others.
This is all about initiating and delivering projects for the conservation of the shared heritage of Scotland and Asia; sharing and exchanging knowledge and skill at all levels, creating awareness of the benefits that good conservation can bring, following the principles first outlined in Scotland and in India by Sir Patrick Geddes, and promoting craft training through increased recognition of their importance in a society where they are in short supply. As the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney wrote “The Scottish Government recognises the contribution that the Asia Scotland Trust is making to preserving the shared heritage between Scotland and Kolkata. Sharing of such expertise between India and Scotland – whether in the fields of heritage or climate change – an only serve to benefit both of our countries”.
Turning from this projection of “soft power” and influence to the most recent political events, Sir Dominic Asquith, himself the great grandson of the former British prime minister Herbert Asquith, reflected on the very successfully conducted general election in which over six hundred million voted in the world’s largest democracy and delivered a clear result that attested to the success of Narendra Modi in a vote that was very much about him and his record so far. Speaking to the Asia Scotland Institute he said that the meaning of this for the UK and, within that, Scotland, should be grasped as the need to engage with India from every angle, commercial, political and cultural became clear. Scotland can build on this, especially given the deep and enduring links between the two countries evidenced in the increasing number of students of Indian origin studying in its universities.
How best to leverage both historic and current relationships in a post-Brexit or not period? As the largest member of the Commonwealth and another sports crazy country, the ties that should bind were greater than those that do not. Sectors such as robotics, artificial intelligence and fintech seemed obvious but also luxury goods, food and drink and tourism – Indians are already significant owners of luxury hotels in Scotland – in all these there are opportunities for growth.
The Asia Scotland Institute is committed to expanding knowledge of Asia and within the region the largest economies such as India and China. To that end, the talk by Sir Dominic and the subsequent discussion helped its mission to Educate and Inspire Tomorrow’s Leaders in Scotland.
Roddy Gow OBE, chairman and founder, the Asia Scotland Institute