This was the advice traditionally given to Americans in search of fame and fortune, that is that they should leave the East Coast and head into the great unexplored West of the United States.
I have little hope of fame (beyond this blog!) or fortune and am sadly no longer young, but I decided to follow the advice anyway and headed off to Gothenburg last week for my first “official” visit as Ambassador.
I come from Scotland and studied at Glasgow University. Arriving in Gothenburg and learning a bit about its history, I was struck not only by the obvious Scottish influences (Chalmers University, Keiller Park and many other Scottish street names), but also to the wider resemblances to the great Scottish West coast city.
Gothenburg, like Glasgow, had for many years a large shipbuilding industry, which has had to make big adjustments in recent years to new economic circumstances.
Like Glasgow, it has embraced culture – the world-famous book-fair was opening as I left. Locals tell me it also has Sweden’s best football team, but I’m too diplomatic to pass comment on that!
Like Glasgow it is said to have perhaps more than its fair share of rain as well as a healthy rivalry with its east coast rival, Stockholm. Again I was (for once!) too professional to express any controversial opinions…
I greatly enjoyed visiting Stena AB, one of the biggest Swedish investors in the UK, responsible for thousands of jobs in my home country. It was also a great treat to meet a huge range of local politicians, businesspeople and journalists, as well as members of the British community.
We met at a reception in the local offices of Handelsbanken, which now has more than a hundred branches in the UK, and is opening new branches there at a rate of one very two weeks. Our host was Pär Boman, CEO of Handelsbanken and also Chair of the British-Swedish Chamber of Commerce. The BSCC is based in Stockholm, but will, we hope, be developing a presence in Gothenburg, too.
My visit was organised by Lars Wiklund, the UK’s excellent Honorary Consul in the city. Honorary Consuls are a great diplomatic asset – they’re people who work unpaid for the UK, helping UK nationals visiting or living overseas, in this case in Gothenburg, but also strengthening the whole range of links, particularly commercial, between Sweden and the UK. They help make my job easier – and in the case of last week’s visit – hugely entertaining and interesting.