I have been asked by the organisers of this conference to welcome you to Edinburgh, - something I’m only too pleased to do.
I’m told that this is the point in the conference where you are all brought together for a fairly informal gathering before being free to circulate, to renew old acquaintances, to ‘network’, to acquire new friends and get down to the serious business of the Conference in the morning.
I hope you also find time to enjoy this Edinburgh, its landscape, its people, its many wynds and haunts, and to experience a city in the midst of a vibrant political debate.
I am inordinately proud of this city. Although it is not my home town, it has loomed large in my life – I was called to the Scots bar in the courts which occupy the old seat of the Scottish Parliament; I am a UK Government Minister, with offices in Edinburgh. I was an original member of the new Scottish Parliament, established here in Edinburgh in 1999 and I am a former Deputy First Minister of the Scottish Government, based in this city.
You’re are here this week because of your commitment to an industry which specialises in making working capital and cashflow finance available to business throughout the UK. It is fitting that you are gathered in one of the UK’s, indeed Europe’s, major financial centres.
The financial services sector contributes about £8.8 billion to the Scottish economy, and about 7 per cent of the employment (that is, 85,000 jobs). Many more jobs, about 100,000, are indirectly dependent on that sector. Many of the financial institutions have a long history in this city. They grew out of a Union, a common market for jobs, services and capital. The United Kingdom has achieved the degree of economic integration to which the European Union aspires. The Union of 1707 created single market long before that expression became fashionable.
And we not only share a strong currency and a stable political constitution, we - uniquely - enjoy membership of the European Union, The Council of Europe, NATO, the UN Security Council the G7, G20 and the Commonwealth. We have built a great democracy together, based on a culture of human rights and the rule of law. We built the NHS and the Welfare State. We have resisted invasion and conquest, and we did not fall for the totalitarian ideologies which blighted the last century. Among those achievements, England still exists, Scotland still exists. We have each retained our identities – in Scotland we retain our legal and religious institutions, and our international profile. Our football team can play in the World Cup – or rather, it is eligible to compete in the World Cup We have evolved, and continue to develop, a system of governance in which we have the best of both worlds.
And our financial services industry can also take advantage from having the best of both worlds. It can enjoy constructive and productive relationships with both Scottish and UK governments.
As Scotland’s Enterprise Minister in 2005, I established Scotland’s Financial Services Advisory Board, which continues today, chaired by a senior Minister and charged with the task of delivering and developing a strategy for an innovative, competitive and thriving international financial services industry in Scotland.
The industry also benefits from being part of a wider United Kingdom with a common regulatory framework, a common macro-economic policy and the clout in EU and other international institutions to achieve outcomes beneficial to the industry and your customers.
Edinburgh is built on a rock – we are standing on it now – and that is a fine symbolic location for a financial city. But, as you survey the city, you’ll see that it is overlooked by a volcano, Arthur’s Seat. An extinct volcano, we’re assured, and I make no secret of my belief that it is far better for Scotland and Britain if the political volcano doesn’t erupt on September 18th.
That is the context in which you meet here in Edinburgh. There is passionate debate, but don’t let that inhibit your enjoyment. Rather, relish being in a city famed for its history and beauty and rich in debate, both fierce and reasoned, wherever you go, in the streets, cafes and bars of this city. Enjoy the buzz and energy, and remember, for Edinburgh, that isn’t anything new. The 18th century philosopher and the great voice of the age of reason, David Hume, (born only a few hundred yards from this room) said “The truth springs from argument amongst friends”
Enjoy Edinburgh, enjoy your conference and enjoy friendships, old and new.