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Saltire Ball 2014 - Speech by HE Antony Phillipson

HE Antony Phillipson spoke at the Saltire Ball, organised by Singapore St Andrew's Society

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Saltire Ball 2014
Saltire Ball 2014

Honoured Guests, Chieftain, Past Chieftains, Members of the Singapore St Andrew’s Society, Ladies and Gentlemen…

On behalf of my wife Julie and me, and indeed all of your guests, may I just say to the Chieftain and the members of the Singapore St Andrews Society that it is an enormous pleasure to be invited to be here with you this evening.

When I was preparing these remarks I was looking into the history of St Andrew. Because I always like every speech I make to be a learning experience for us all…

That said, I am sure many in the room are intensely familiar with every aspect of St Andrew’s life, but I found a couple of interesting facts….

The first is that I learned that Andrew was first recognised as an official patron saint of Scotland in 1320 at the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath.

This was an appeal to the Pope by Scottish noblemen asserting Scotland’s independence from England. And that struck a chord with me, though I can’t think why…

The second is that, and I do hope that this doesn’t cause offence, but it seems that Scotland doesn’t have exclusive rights to Andrew’s patronage.

Indeed you share him with Greece, Russia, Romania and Barbados. So you see, it’s not just the weather that you have in common with Barbados…

But there is no doubt that to most neutrals it is Scotland who is most closely associated with St Andrew and that is who we are here to honour this evening…

And I must begin by expressing a degree of relief that I am actually able to be here with you this evening.

That’s for two reasons.

First, I wasn’t sure that I would be invited back after the completely cackhanded attempt I made at even the simplest Scottish dance with your Chieftain two years ago. I have to warn you that I haven’t improved….

The second reason is political. And I know this isn’t the occasion for such matters but the fact is that there is a well known political figure in town, and normally I would see it as my duty to be accompanying them.

But luckily your Honorary Treasurer got to me early on and the date went into my diary and as far as I am concerned a commitment is a commitment…

…in any case he’s the Mayor of London…

…so here I am and it’s wonderful to be here.

When I spoke at this dinner three years ago I commented on the long historical links between Singapore and Scotland.

I noted that while it was always Raffles that got the attention back in the earliest days of the development of a sleepy fishing village into one of the world’s great trading nations, he was not acting alone and many of his colleagues, or the Dutch might have said, accomplices, were Scots.

There was Raffles’ deputy William Farquhar, and the first governor John Crawfurd.

In the time since then I have also learned that Raffles’ doctor was a Scot, though you probably want to keep that a bit quieter since he died young at the age of 45…

This was after he had returned to Britain and while there is some debate about the causes, the reason given at the time was “apoplexy”…

…which may not be all that surprising since not only had he not been granted a pension by the East India Company, but he was ordered to repay over twenty-two thousand pounds for the losses incurred during his administrations.

I imagine most of us would have been pretty apoplectic too given what he had achieved for them.

Anyway, it’s a good reminder to us civil servants to do our expenses properly and to keep on top of the paperwork…

I also noted three years ago that the architects Swan and MacLaren, the latter being a Scot, were behind some of Singapore’s most iconic buildings, including Raffles hotel, the Goodwood Park hotel and the recently restored and quite beautiful Victoria Memorial Hall and Theatre.

What I omitted to mention is that they also designed a modest residence on Nassim Road by the name of Eden Hall, the home of the British High Commissioner in Singapore.

But if those are the historic links what of today?

It seems to me that the ties that bind Scotland and Singapore are, if anything, deeper, longer lasting and set fair to serve both countries very well in the decades to come.

In the three and a half years that I have been here one of the aspects of my job that I have enjoyed the most has been working with British business to do what they do so well, selling quality products and services.

Not a small portion of those have been Scottish, whose exports now amount to around £500m a year.

The range of those exports are varied and growing. Energy services, marine and engineering, IT…

But if I may I would just pick out two sectors of note.

The first is education, a big exporter both in terms of Singaporeans attending Scottish universities, and not just the one fit for a future King and Queen, or those universities offering their courses here through local partners.

Earlier this year I was privileged to be invited to speak at the graduation ceremonies for two of them, Stirling University and the Glasgow School of Art.

At both I stressed that it was about more than exports, it’s about building the people to people links that will be the foundation for the partnerships and friendships between our countries in the years to come. I don’t think you can put a price on that, but nor can you underestimate its value.

The second export sector is perhaps even closer to my professional and personal heart, perhaps too close to the latter, and that’s food and drink.

Between 2006 and 2013 exports to Singapore more than doubled and are now worth over £330 million.

Scottish brand names are all around us – Brewdog, St. James Smokehouse, Border Biscuits, Mackie’s of Scotland, Walkers Shortbread, Hendrick’s gin…perhaps my particular favourite because every now and then they set up their bath in my dining room…

And I haven’t even mentioned the water of life….

Singapore is a key market, and an important distribution hub for Scotch whisky.

Latest figures show that sales this year have been disappointing, after record increases last year, to which all I can say is that I stand ready to do my national service and to do all I can to push them back up.

I should also note in passing that the current chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, David Frost, is a former diplomat…perhaps one for me to aim for in the future….

In the meantime I look forward to continuing to work closely with Neil McInnes and his team here from Scottish Development International to take these export successes to new heights in the months and years to come.

Now, you will be relieved to hear that I am nearly done.

But I did just want to mention three momentous events for Scotland this year…

Three moments when Scotland was centre stage, front page news, dominating discussion in the pubs and clubs, titivating our twitter timelines and flooding our facebook feeds…

The first was one of the biggest sporting events in the world, the Commonwealth Games.

In July and August this year, 6,500 of the world’s best came to Glasgow.

They came from 71 nations and territories, representing a third of the world’s population, to compete in 17 sports, including disabled sports, over 11 glorious days.

Over a million people filled Glasgow’s sporting arenas, and over a billion more were willing on the athletes from their homes.

It was a glorious spectacle of sport and, like London 2012, gave Scotland a chance to invite the world to come and visit…and they did.

Then, just a few weeks later, came the Ryder Cup. The finest golfers from the US and Europe at Gleneagles, one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world.

And what a result. The Americans have a wonderful word for what they went through, it’s called a “shellacking”…though they are not so keen when it is applied to them.

We should not be too hubristic, I’m sure they will be back, but for the moment let’s savour it.

And then there was the third moment.

You probably wondered if I would raise it, or whether I would think it too delicate a matter for an occasion such as this.

Or indeed whether I might feel uncomfortable talking about it as a British diplomat.

But I don’t think I can let it pass without comment. Because it really was a life changing event for those concerned.

For months we were on tenterhooks, watching for the slightest hint of which way it was going to go, and what life for us all would be like the next day, depending on the decision.

And the bottom line is that life won’t be the same.

But, whether you were for or against the union, I think it’s important to stress that this was a decision made freely and fairly by those concerned, and I think we should celebrate that as one of the fundamental freedoms for which we stand.

I am referring of course to the news that Mr Andrew Murray of Dunblane, Scotland and Ms Kim Shears of Sussex, England have decided that life is better together….and I am sure you will join me in wishing them every happiness for the future.

Now, since I am on the topic of union I would just add that yes, I am very pleased that the other one that was the centre of much attention remains intact.

That too was a free and fair, democratic decision that generated huge interest as well as engagement with a record registration and turnout for the vote.

The process of addressing the issues it raised, for Scotland and the other parts of the still United Kingdom, is important and continues.

But, as I stand here this evening, I would just say that I am very proud to represent a government that remains wholly committed to doing all it can to enhance the prosperity and security of all its people, and I will do all I can to make that happen in Singapore.

Chieftain, Ladies and gentlemen, thank you again for inviting Julie and me to be here with you.

I would be very grateful if you would all now rise, with a charged glass…

And it is my privilege to offer to the Chieftain, Past Chieftains and Members of the Singapore St Andrews Society, on behalf of your guests, a toast on this wonderful occasion, the annual celebration of the feast of St Andrew.

Thank you.

Further Information

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Published 1 December 2014