As I took the train from London up to Edinburgh earlier this week, I could not stop admiring the scenery as soon as we got to Scotland. Arriving in Edinburgh, along with the wonderful architecture, I observed again the passionate pride of a nation, an openness to the wider world, which seems to have become even stronger over the last seven months, and a friendly atmosphere. I knew I had arrived at the ideal place for my first annual general meeting.
In my three days in Scotland I spent time meeting and talking to members and our guests followed by a day of meetings with senior officials in Scottish Government and NHS Education for Scotland. During these conversations, it became clear that as England is going through change in a variety of areas that affects our work in health higher education and research (funding reform, NHS crisis, nursing associates and apprenticeships to name a few), Scotland is moving in a different direction in terms of its response to those changes. Add to those opinions on Brexit and you suddenly feel like an Outlander.
First, we heard from the Cabinet Secretary for Health in Scotland how ‘proud’ she was of degree level education in the healthcare workforce and how committed she was to preserving that and continuing to invest in the higher education of healthcare professionals in a sustainable way. Some of us wondered whether we would ever experience a Secretary of State for Health making that statement down south. Secondly, I noted the difference in the issues our Scottish members are focusing on vis-à-vis our members in England, Wales or Northern Ireland and finally I observed a level of frustration at times that England due to its size and complexity can often dominate debates.
What I took away from my three days in Edinburgh was the need to look at devolution as part of our wider strategic thinking and embed diversity in whatever we do in addition to seeking commonality. As the Council moves to the development of the next iteration of its strategic plan, thinking about devolution constructively will be a key theme for us as an organisation.
So all in all, far from being an Outlander (although I must confess I am a big fan of the TV series!) we will want to see ourselves as members of one organisation recognising and supporting diversity and devolution in its entirety. And my new tartan diary is just a tiny and happy reminder of that commitment and a souvenir of an enjoyable stay!