SNP wastes millions on 'mini-embassies' overseas as cost-of-living crisis grows – Christine Jardine MP

A network of publicly funded offices across the globe, dedicated to attracting foreign investment and jobs sounds like a cracking idea.

That is especially important at the moment when our economy is stretched and we need trade to replace the economic union that we have just walked away from after 40 years.

So it is just as well then that the UK Government already has that in spades for Scotland and the rest of the country to benefit from.

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But it is also why this past week I found myself exasperated with this SNP/Green administration at Holyrood.

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Everywhere I go at the moment people are worried about the cost of living, rampant inflation and public service strikes, and yet none of that seems to be the priority of our government.

I can’t help but wonder how the First Minister explained to her hosts in Denmark why their countrymen should invest in somewhere of which they were seeing TV pictures of streets piled high with rubbish.

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I know that Nicola Sturgeon is probably not my biggest fan but if she could just take a minute to read this and consider my plea, I would appreciate it.

And so would most of the people I have been listening to in my constituency of Edinburgh West.

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Nicola Sturgeon should be focussing on Scotland's domestic affairs (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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During the pandemic, the First Minister gained praise for her handling of an unprecedented health emergency in which her public performances engendered confidence.

But just at the moment, that image of public concern has been dented by the impression that her priority is not the potentially catastrophic situation we are all facing.

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Flying off to Denmark for three days in the midst of a crisis to promote an expensive and largely unnecessary ‘mini-embassy’ seems, to many of us, an odd priority.

That is not to argue that we should not be seeking international contacts and contracts for Scottish firms.

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But there is already that world-class network of international offices provided by the UK Government at our disposal.

We also know from experience that it works for Scotland.

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As a special adviser in the coalition, I was aware of trade missions run through those embassies specifically to promote Scottish interests and industries.

Scotland Day in New York has been hugely successful for decades now.

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Previous First Ministers were more than capable of promoting Scotland’s interests on the international stage through the existing UK network.

There are currently 84 UK embassies and 49 consulates across the globe providing services not just to British citizens on the ground but through our trade departments.

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We have UK Secretaries of State for both Foreign Affairs and International Trade who are paid to represent Scotland’s interests. Because devolution reserves those powers to Westminster as UK functions. To put it simply. It is not the job to which the First Minister was elected.

So why, I still have to ask, is this SNP/Green administration spending an estimated £9 million of valuable public money setting up these so called ‘mini-embassies’ in cities where facilities already exist?

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Two answers which have been offered point at the same ultimate conclusion: it’s all about the independence obsession. Again.

My party’s Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has described them as “a vanity exercise” and called for the Scottish Government to focus instead on the fears of families about the impact of the soaring cost of living. Scottish Labour and Scots Conservatives have also criticised it as spending money in non-devolved areas and “mission creep”.

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And certainly examination of the figures suggests they have a point.

The Scottish Government’s own projections for the current financial year estimate spending of more than £500,000 in each of Ottowa, Paris, Dublin, Berlin and Beijing and £750,000 in Washington. The remainder of the £9 million is in Brussels, Copenhagen and London.

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What, the people of Scotland are entitled to ask, is actually gained by duplicating the effort in this area at the cost of domestic investment? Or, put another way, at the cost of doing the job for which the Scottish Government was actually elected.

How far could that money go towards supporting families and pensioners currently facing what, for many, are catastrophically high energy costs this winter? Or providing support for businesses who have made it through the pandemic, only to find their profitability destroyed by business rates on which they do not currently get the same support as other parts of the UK? Or maybe invest it in schools, public services, the NHS, or fighting the shameful number of drugs deaths every year.

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I know that £9 million will not solve all of our problems. But it could help.

And it could convince those very many Scots who are beginning to doubt it that this SNP/Green Government has an interest in anything other than its own narrow nationalist agenda.

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I heard the Deputy First Minister John Swinney this week defend the new offices as a response to the disaster of leaving the European Economic Union.

Yet he seemed unaware of the irony that this mission creep is designed to take us out of a much more complicated, more mutually dependant, longer lasting and more successful union. A course which would carry even greater consequences for us.

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One last point for the First Minister. Please do not dismiss this as so-called “coming for devolution” as you have with others.

Devolution is fundamental to everything I believe in and hope for, for this country. But it demands certain things of Holyrood and that is where this administration is failing.

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Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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