Peter Speirs: Update from Scotland

scotland

(L-R) JLC Director for Scotland Peter Speirs, Ken Macintosh, presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament and Ephraim Borowski, ScoJec

It does not feel like four months since I started work as the Scotland Director of the JLC. One of my first priorities was to meet with the Scottish Jewish community. A population of around 7,000 spread across a somewhat sparsely populated country has meant that I have spent a lot of time out and about, meeting community leaders and ordinary Jews. Whether in Aberdeen, Edinburgh or Glasgow, the experiences are similar: a warm and friendly community that is looking outward and keen to engage with the broader Scottish community.

A clear example of this outward looking approach from my work has been my engagement with politicians. I have met with political figures from across Scotland – members of both of Scotland’s parliaments as well as with local government figures – and put to them the issues that concern Jewish people in Scotland. This engagement has largely been welcomed, and, with the establishment of these new links and the reinforcement of existing ones between the community and politicians, the relationship between the Jewish community in Scotland and their elected representatives is strengthening.

Helping to provide greater structure to pro-Israel advocacy across the country is an important part of the work of the JLC. The new Scottish Parliamentary Cross-Party Group on Building Bridges with Israel will do just that in Scotland. Along with others, I helped identify and build political support for the CPG, and I have been appointed to provide secretariat support to the Group. The Group will be an exciting vehicle for discussions on how to strengthen existing ties between Scotland and Israel as well as creating new ones.

On this theme we were delighted to be able to provide support to the inaugural Shalom Festival at the Edinburgh Fringe. The enormous support for this day long festival celebrated the best of Israel and demonstrated that, despite negative past experiences for Israeli and Jewish performers at the Festival, Scotland will welcome performers from across the world.

Within the community I am working hard to help co-ordinate activity on the exciting 200th anniversary of the Jewish community in Scotland. Although there have been Jews in Scotland for many centuries, the community expanded enormously at the turn of nineteenth century and was formally constituted in Edinburgh 200 years ago. I am working with the Edinburgh Literary Society, ScoJec, the Glasgow Representative Council, the Scottish Jewish Archive Centre and many other groups across Scotland to bring together under one umbrella the many activities we have planned for the upcoming year.

The last four months have been enjoyable and challenging. I have met with a lot of people doing great work within the community, from rabbis and people organising youth groups to those involved in the Shalom Festival, and been able to discuss their work with politicians. I look forward to doing even more of this in the future.