Scotland turns to 18th-century poet for economic stimulus
– Can an 18th century poet help save Scotland's faltering economy?Skip to next paragraph
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Keen to find ways of boosting the economy as it heads into increasingly dark times, the Scottish government recently unveiled an initiative that banks on famed poet Robert Burns to lure tourists to visit and invite expatriate Scots to come home.
This year is the 250th anniversary of the poet's birth and the start of a year-long celebration across Scotland, much of it centered here in Dumfries, where Burns was born.
Standing by the original manuscript of Burns's "Auld Lang Syne" in Edinburgh's National Library of Scotland, the country's First Minister, Alex Salmond, used his New Year message to describe the "Homecoming Scotland," initiative:
"As we enter a new year, a wonderful opportunity presents itself to turn a threatened tourism downturn into a visitor boom."
Political opponents, while supporting the idea of a homecoming, see the First Minister's enthusiasm as little more than an attempt to deflect attention from the country's economic problems and promote his own agenda of Scottish independence. Mr. Salmond wants to hold a referendum on a split with the rest of the United Kingdom in 2010.
Since 1999, the country has had its own parliament, but remains within the UK, alongside England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It has powers over education and healthcare, but others, like defense and foreign affairs remain with the Westminster government in London. Salmond wants Scotland to go one step further and become completely independent.
Whatever his intentions, Scotland is going to need all the help it can get this year. The Scottish Council for Development and Industry predicts 2009 will be an "incredibly difficult year" for Scotland's economy, with negative growth expected for the first time in almost three decades.
Tourism, still very strong here, is viewed as part of the solution. It's one of Scotland's biggest industries, drawing $5.5 billion from tourists and providing about 200,000 jobs – roughly one out of every 12 jobs.
Few, if any, places have stronger links to Burns than Dumfries, a picturesque town of about 30,000 people near the border with England. It was once said that Dumfries was "The grandest city in the world, for thou hast Burns's grave." With this in mind, many here are banking on "Homecoming Scotland" being translated into a sharp increase in visitors this year.