Scottish Government splurges £6m per year on offices in seven countries

The Scottish Government is spending almost £6million a year on a network of overseas offices in seven countries.

Foreign policy is not devolved to ­Holyrood and the UK Government runs embassies around the world.

But data released through freedom of information shows Scotland now has bases in Canada, China, America, France, Ireland, Germany and Belgium.

They are led by Ken Thomson, the ­Scottish Government’s Director-General for Constitution and External Affairs.

Offices include a ­£2.5million base in Brussels – the home of the European Union – which employs around 20 people.

MSP Ross Greer supports Scottish Government offices overseas.

We can reveal salaries, upkeep, day-to-day running and hospitality costs across the network will amount to £5,942,000 this year.

Social media accounts in all countries ­promote Nicola Sturgeon and a Twitter feed for France and Germany includes a message from the First ­Minister criticising the UK Government’s settled status scheme.

The offices are all fully staffed and are often based within UK embassies. They are supposed to ­function as trade offices promoting ­commercial links around the world.

But opposition politicians have ­criticised the outlay.

Stephen Kerr, ­Scottish Tory chief whip, said: “The SNP Government don’t seem to be getting value for money for these overseas offices.

“Despite spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money running these ­projects, there is precious little to show for them.

“It’s looking likely these trade offices are wasting more cash than they’re creating for Scottish businesses.”

Before the 2014 independence ­referendum Sturgeon said Scotland would have about 100 embassies and consular offices around the world, compared with the UK’s 270, in the event of a Yes vote.

Scottish Labour spokesperson for External Affairs Sarah Boyack said: “It is important for Scotland to have good links with the rest of the world but given the ­pressures of the pandemic, I would question whether this is the best or most ­strategic use of resources.

“No one doubts that ­Scotland can be a force for good in the world but given our international ­development ­commitments to countries like Malawi, could this cash have been better spent helping secure access to vaccines and playing our part in the global recovery from the pandemic?”

Scottish Government splurges £6m per year on offices in seven countries
Sarah Boyack questioned whether it was “the best or most ­strategic use of resources” for the Scottish Government.

But Scottish Greens external affairs ­spokesperson Ross Greer supported the offices and called for more.

He said: “Brexit has reduced our ­influence in the world, so the need for Scotland to be better ­represented ­overseas is greater than ever.

“Our existing overseas offices provide an excellent return on their cost, for example by regularly securing new business for Scottish companies.

“Given this success, the Greens want to expand ­Scotland’s overseas network to include offices in places like Warsaw, San ­Francisco, Sao Paulo, ­Nairobi and Tokyo.

“Our international ­interests certainly won’t be represented by ­Westminster, so it makes sense to get on with doing it ourselves.”

Former senior Sturgeon aide Joni Smith is ­Scotland’s “ambassador” to the US in Washington DC after she was made ­Scottish Affairs Counsellor to North America in 2017.

Martin McDermott, another civil ­servant who was at the heart of the IndyRef preparations in 2014, holds a similar position in China.

Ex-journalist Smith previously worked as a senior policy adviser to Sturgeon and was in charge of preparing the SNP leader for First Minister’s Questions.

McDermott headed up public and stakeholder engagement in the run-up to the Scottish ­independence vote in 2014.

His Beijing role is to promote ­Scotland’s “cultural, educational and economic interests” across China.

The salary to head one of the ­international bases is thought to be about £65,000 a year but a generous overseas allowance is also available.

Inward investment body Scottish Development International also boasts of having more than 30 offices worldwide.

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