Busy business day in Toronto

6 04 2009

It being (officially) Tartan Day – the anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath – it was fitting that my principle task was to deliver  a lunch time address at the Economic Club of Canada on how Scotland is responding to the economic downturn and what our distinctive strengths are in the  midst of this downturn – the strengths in other words that will carry us through.

It  seemed to be a good , productive, session  with the business people gathered raising issues from engagement with Europe, to cultural links, to the market for Scottish meat.  Next we were off, img_41491battling through the snow, to the great business success story that is Research in Motion.  They produce 32 million BlackBerrys per year and I was not surprised to hear that innovative Scots play a leading role in the organisation.  I am grateful to David Perston (originally from Renfrew)  who took us on a facinating tour of the production plant and then we met with a group of ten employees from Scotland who are deeply involved in  the phenomenal progress of the company which just last week announced record results, despite the downturn.     Today’s business focus was cemented with aninterview on Business News Network to talk about Scotland’s economy, the parallels between our countries and most importantly, the opportunities that exist for business expansion.  This was also of course an opportunity to fly the Homecoming flag and I invited the Scottish diaspora to come home, although not all at one time!  Watch the  interview in a clip online.  On BNNAnd now it’s back to culture and I am away  out to dinner with the Consul General  who has invited  an very  interesting group of cultural figures to explore our links and what promise they hold for the future.  Tomorrow I am meeting the Mayor of Hamilton to make a real “Homecoming” link, then giving a lecture at the Munk Institute for International Affairs.  In the afternoon I have several meetings – including one about Scottish Oysters and another about Scottish music – and my brief stay in Toronto concludes with a reception for Canadian Scots and others , jointly hosted with SDI.


Feeling at Home

6 04 2009

The weather is making us feel at home – rain turning to snow, turning back to rain – and so on though some cars going past hast have (in Scottish terms at least) a healthy dollop on top !

After a late arrival (the delay turned out to be four hours) and some late preparation for today’s speech to the Economic Club, there was an early start for a breakfast with the Edinburgh University Club of Toronto.   James Hunter was the person who had made it happen, who is not only a fellow graduate but was the year ahead of me at Marr College in Troon.   The discussion was wide ranging – Gaelic, the Economy and historic buildings – and then it was on to meet the Mayor of Toronto, Mayor of TorontoDavid Miller.  Film Production was at the top of the agenda there though we also talked recycling and composting – both topics that were close to my heart when I was Environment Minister and remain of abiding importance given our urgent to combat climate change and adopt one planet living.

A brief pause now – a final check over the speech for lunchtime – and then off to the Economic Club.  Then a visit to Research in Motion (makers of the Blackberry) and a range of interviews.

I spoke too soon…

5 04 2009

…because more than an hour later I am still at La Guardia and will be for at least three and a half hours more.  A broken bit of the plane and the need to bring the replacement from Canada is the problem.  So it is sitting on the tarmac (see picture) and the group of us who are traveling are trying to fill in the time.  Plane at LG

From Central Park to Toronto

5 04 2009

It has been  a glorious spring day in New York.  After breakfast in a traditional Diner (bagels and all) With Harrison Bailey III at the Burns statue in Central ParkI had to go to  Central Park to meet with Harrison Bailey III, an athlete from Philadelphia, who is coming to Edinburgh this summer to take part in the Highland Games as part of The Gathering.   In conversation it turned out that I would have seen him before, competing at the annual Games in Durness, where I go every year.  

 Thankfully my duties were restricted to a photo call with no heavy lifting!   He however was picking up vast lumps of metal with one hand.

Now I am  at  La Guardia about to board and Air Canada flight to Toronto to begin the Canadian leg of the trip.  Tomorrow is Tartan Day itself and I will be talking to a few of the  Canadian Papers  about what this means to Canada and Scotland  and about  how our deep historical links have paved the way for the business and trade relations that exist today and can exist in the future.

After a breakfast with the Toronto Edinburgh University Society – hosted by someone who was at Marr College a year or two above me – I will be meeting the Mayor of the City, the Ontario Culture Minister and then addressing the  Economic Club of Canada (in a speech which will be available  on the Scottish Government’s You Tube site).  I hope to talk about why  Scotland is a great place to do business and highlight the potential to do even better.  I will also be talking about what the Scottish Government is doing to fight the effect of the recession on Scottish citizens whilst wanting the powers to do so much more.     Later in the day I am scheduled for a visit to Research in Motion, who make the Blackberry, amongst other appointments.

But the plane is being called, so time to go…..

Saturday night in the big apple

5 04 2009

A quick cup of tea after the Parade and then we were off again.  This time to the Museum of Modern Art (the first museum devoted to the modern era), an impressive building which uses space and dimension to showcase some 150,000 works.  We were in after hours (it felt as though secretly) and were taken on a tour of the painting and sculpture floors which hold some of the most iconic pieces from the late nineteenth century to present day.  One: Number 31, 1950One of the pieces I was struck by was Jackson Pollock’s intense One: Number 31, 1950. The democracy of art, the idea that it can be and must be open to all for appreciation and critique is one that is celebrated here.   It’s that very ethos that links to our own Artist Rooms which will take contemporary art across Scotland with Ron Mueck in Aberdeen and Bruce Nauman in Glasgow.  How Scotland performs on the international stage is so intertwined with our culture and all that it represents.  This has been clear to me this trip and tonight I gathered a group of New York-based actors, writers, theatre producers – people with a track record in flying the flag for Scottish culture – together at the MoMA.  We explored the international context in which our artists operate and what we can all do together to enliven and enrich our contribution.  The ideas were exciting and I was impressed with the work already going on such as the RSAMD’s recent launch of its American Foundation to keep alumni links strong.  The overwhelming feeling tonight was one of remaining potential and that’s a feeling we must turn into realisation.

Kirkin’ and the Parade

4 04 2009

The ceremony of “Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan” has been a part of the Scotland Week activities since its inception but I believe I am  the first Minister to attend it and the first to speak at it (I read “A Man’s a Man” in honour of Burns, Homecoming and 10 years of the Scottish Parliament) .  The Order of ServiceHeld in the grand surroundings of the Church of Our Saviour it featured readings, solo singing and hymns as well as the bringing forward of symbolic tartan by some of the children of the organisers, the St Andrew’s Society of New York, which was founded in 1756 (of course three years before Burns was born !).     There was also a Pipe Band, and  a cross party delegation from  the Scottish Parliament  led by the Presiding Officer.

After a wonderful brunch (though it being still early most of us made no use of the large bottle of Grants sitting on each table) we made our way to  the famous Algonquin Hotel (which I have long wanted to see, because of the literary round table it hosted in the first quarter of the 20th century ) .  Certainly it was lively, not least because lots of bands for the Parade assemble outside.   This year’s Parade Grand Marshall, actor Alan Cumming, was there too and he and I  got our picture taken with one of the bands before it all set off.Algonquin assembly

The Parade itself was remarkable – huge crowds , lots of saltires , wooly hats with the Scottish flag and a 6th Avenue without traffic apart from three open top buses and a police car.   Each of the streets that cut across had the traffic stopped, which I am surprised didn’t cause gridlock.

Alan is, of course,  instantly recognisable and the crowds were constantly shouting so that he would see them.   Lots and lots of people wanted their picture taken with him which actually delayed the start of it all.   He was great fun to chat with and later this evening I am having dinner with him as part of a group which I am hosting in  the Museum of Modern Art to discuss the arts in Scotland.

As we reached Central Park (or almost) the leading group, which included Alex Fergusson and the Presiding Officer of the Parliament, took up position on the bus to wave to the parade as it passed.  There were 25 bands including one from St Columba’s in Kilmacolm and  everyone seemed to have a fantastic time. (as confirmed later in Alan’s blog – watch the video of the day on it !)

What a great day.   Scotland and its symbols are instantly recognisable here (and world wide)  and there is huge affection for us.   That gives us a huge advantage in working with, and trading with, so many different partners.   New York is a key destination and in everything I said today (and in much of the branding of the Parade) “Homecoming” is writ large and being successful.

Homecoming BannerBus Wave

Safe Arrived….

4 04 2009

…which is the first line of a short poem by Robert Burns about the difficulties of 18th century travel.  21st Century is a bit easier – got to Newark via Amsterdam with remarkably little difficulty, but driving into New York we were assailed by a terrific thunderstorm, with stair-rods falling by the time we made it to the hotel near Central Park.

RSAMD at Carnegie HallIt looked as if the photocall with the RSAMD students might have to be cancelled, but just at the right time the rain stopped and eventually “Scotland the Brave” was being piped right outside Carnegie Hall.  And here is the picture to prove it !

Then after another photocall for a story for Monday and a brief visit to the inspirational Edward Steichen Exhibition at the at the International Centre for Photography it was time for a quick meal and the end of a long day.   For it may only be 9.30 here but it is 2.30 am in Scotland  so I have been up for 23 hours.    And tomorrow is  the parade of course !