Why it is optimistic to expect more interest in Scotland from Joe Biden than Donald Trump - Brian Wilson

During the election campaign, a reporter tried to snatch a word from Joe Biden with the introduction: “I’m from the BBC”. Biden laughed off the request: “The BBC?... I’m Irish!”

Joe Biden walks the parade route after his inauguration

It was a light-hearted cameo but quite revealing. Though four generations removed, Biden takes his Irish heritage seriously. If Brexit had breached the Good Friday Agreement, that would have become very apparent.

The irony is that the man he succeeds had a far, far closer familial connection with Scotland than Biden or any American president with Ireland, where most of them are keen to identify an ethnic link, however remote.

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As President, Trump showed not the slightest interest in his roots and most Scots were happy to leave it that way. It would be optimistic to expect Joe Biden to have any more interest in Scotland than his half-Scottish predecessor.

Yet there are several areas in which his involvement would be welcome. Most urgently, the Scotch Whisky industry is now suffering significant damage from the dispute between the United States and the EU over subsidies to Airbus.

This has nothing to do with whisky but World Trade Organisation rules allow an aggrieved party – i.e.the US - to impose tariffs on unrelated imports up to a value equal to the damage inflicted. The list is eclectic and designed to exert political pressure.

As I know from my own time as Trade Minister when a similarly arcane dispute arose over bananas, trade wars are easier to start than to end and the US Trade Representative’s office carries a surprising degree of autonomy. Even when Tony Blair asked Bill Clinton to help sort it, in the interests at that time of Scottish cashmere knitwear, it dragged on a bit longer.

Joe Biden’s trade advisers may want to get rid of this baggage from the Trump era, though not out of any concern for Scotch whisky. The EU has retaliated with its own sanctions against imports which include American whiskey and that industry is now feeling much pain.

The British Embassy in Washington will have been working hard to extract UK businesses from what is a US-EU dispute. That would at least be one benefit from Brexit. The change of presidency offers an opportunity for peace and our diplomats will do their best to encourage it.

Scotland must hope that the UN COP26 mega-conference goes ahead in November. The UK Government’s decision to hold it in Glasgow offers a huge opportunity to showcase the city and advertise our climate change credentials. There must be a reasonable chance of President Biden attending – but it all depends on Covid.

Biden is a lifelong diplomat and will have no desire for involvement in other countries’ domestic politics. In 2014, when the Scottish referendum called for an opinion, Barack Obama came out firmly against breaking up the UK. It is unlikely the American strategic interest will change in that respect.

There is no obvious basis for a close relationship between Biden and Boris Johnson whom the new President has described as a “clone of Trump”. However, British diplomacy is adept at circumventing personalities to retain its highest prize - a special relationship with Washington at working level.

There are still many mutual interests and I have no doubt that objective will be achieved – though it would be prudent to bear in mind Joe Biden’s Irish loyalties.