Tartan Day: Scotland's extraordinary links with United States are hugely important – Angus Robertson

The United States of America is Scotland’s single most important overseas trading partner.
Gail Porter leads the annual Tartan Day parade in New York (Picture Martin McAdam)Gail Porter leads the annual Tartan Day parade in New York (Picture Martin McAdam)
Gail Porter leads the annual Tartan Day parade in New York (Picture Martin McAdam)

While the EU single market is still bigger collectively, America is hugely important when it comes to exports, foreign direct investment, jobs, innovation, and educational and cultural cooperation. Scottish direct exports are worth about £6bn, amounting to 16 per cent of all Scottish exports. The USA is the top export market for Scotch whisky with £789.8m exported in 2021 while Scottish salmon exports reached £193m, almost one-third of all salmon exports.

With the strongest economy in the world, the USA is amongst the largest providers of foreign direct investment in the world, and it remains Scotland’s number one overseas inward investor. Priority sectors for Scotland include: healthtech, digital, financial services, digital business services, space, software/IT, energy transition and transport decarbonisation. In 2022, Scotland was again announced as professional services giant EY’s “most attractive/successful” investment location in the UK outside of London.

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There are 655 US-owned enterprises in Scotland employing 114,220 people, and a turnover of £35.5bn. The largest American employers include Amazon, with close to 3,000 staff, Morgan Stanley, with 1,100, and Hewlitt Packard, Erskine-based for 25 years and employing about 550. Other US companies include: JP Morgan, State Street, BlackRock, Citygroup, IBM, General Electric, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Halliburton, Oceaneering, National Oilwell Varco, and Starwood. Small satellite manufacturer Mangata has also made Glasgow its European HQ.

Higher education is a further important area, with the USA being Scotland’s second-biggest market for non-EU international students. In 1919/20, this amounted to 4,145 American students in Scotland. Sixteen Scottish higher educational institutions have 82 unique links with the USA including staff and student exchange, research collaborations and presence in the country. Harvard is the single biggest collaboration partner with Scottish universities worldwide, and there are thousands of joint publications between Scottish and US universities every year.

These important economic, educational and cultural links are amongst the key reasons why the Scottish Government has such a strong promotional focus in the USA. The national economic agency, Scottish Development International, works round the clock to secure business opportunities, boost exports and cooperation with a staff of 30 working out of four offices: Boston, Chicago, Houston and San Jose, while the Scottish Government team itself is based in Washington DC.

For 25 years the Scottish Government has been a staunch supporter of Tartan Day and Tartan Week events which take place in Washington DC, New York City and elsewhere to celebrate the contribution of Scots to the US, as well as showcase everything Scotland has to offer.

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It was an honour to represent the Scottish Government for a second year in a row in the USA with a packed schedule of business-focussed meetings, and events to promote Scottish culture and educational cooperation. It was hugely positive to see the involvement of established iconic Scottish companies as well as new enterprises, Scottish universities and colleges, and cultural organisations including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, V&A Dundee and the National Theatre of Scotland.

The Scottish Government and its agencies will always work hard to promote Scotland internationally. It helps secure exports, investment, jobs, and cooperation for our educational and cultural sectors as well as boost our bilateral relations around the world. Scotland has always been an outward-facing country. Long may that continue.

Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary

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