Being first minister of Scotland doesn’t just involve debating in the Scottish parliament, discussing domestic economic policy and setting a new minimum price for alcohol. Alex Salmond also travels the world promoting trade with countries far and wide – which is why he is currently on a five-day trip to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Mr Salmond has hailed the “remarkable similarities” between Scotland and Qatar during his visit. In discussion with the Qatari Emir, the prime minister and the foreign minister, he talked of how both nations “have considerable expertise in oil and gas production, but as we look to the future and a low-carbon economy, we must increasingly develop new technologies.
“Although both Scotland and Qatar have common strengths in the oil and gas sector,” Mr Salmond added, “we are both seeking to develop our low carbon energy industries. This is where Qatar’s focus on becoming a global knowledge hub links well with Scotland’s considerable reputation as a world-leading education nation.”
The first minister reminded his hosts that Scotland currently has five of the world’s top 200 universities. He is keen to forge links between Scottish higher education sector and the recently formed “Education City” in Qatar, a 2,500-acre complex for 80 educational, research, science and community development organisations.
Lena Wilson, chief executive of Scottish Enterprise, added that Scotland shared “many similarities with Qatar. We’re both innovative, determined and forward-thinking and we both realise the long-term importance and economic benefits of developing low-carbon technologies whilst continuing to support our world-class hydrocarbon sectors.
“Scotland’s experience and reputation in education fits well with Qatar’s current focus on becoming internationally renowned as a centre of excellence for knowledge and education. By strengthening our relations we can learn new ways of working and help Scottish companies trade more effectively with Qatar, ultimately increasing Scotland’s long-term growth and economic recovery.”
As evidence of growing links between Scotland and Qatar, Mr Salmond officially opened a new business base in the Middle East for the Scottish law firm McGrigors. James Elwen, who is heading the new operation, said he was excited about the chance to encourage greater commercial links between the two countries:
“This is a fantastic opportunity to discuss how Scottish and Qatari businesses can work together for the mutual benefit of both countries. There is a huge amount of knowledge experience to talk about. Both countries have a proud tradition of excellence in the energy sector and I am certain that we can learn from each other in this and many other respects.”
The firm already carries out a significant amount of work in the region on energy matters. In the past couple of years, it has derived a significant percentage of its turnover from the Middle East. However, it was only granted a licence to establish the new branch office in Doha by the Qatar Financial Centre Authority earlier this year.
“By establishing a new base in this part of the Middle East,” the first minister said, “McGrigors are recognising this is an exciting time for business in this region. From its headquarters in the impressive Tornado Tower in the centre of Doha’s financial district, it will play a leading part in supporting the energy, infrastructure and professional and financial services which are at the heart of the vision for this 21st-century nation.”
Mr Salmond’s Middle East tour continues with visits to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.