An Englishman on the Scottish economy

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by Russell Bruce

“Those rich in intellectual property can lead the way. Scotland has the third most patents in the world in relation to GDP, and this needs to be translated into new and innovative products and services.

“The creative industries are a dynamic part of the economy. In Scotland there are 8,000 creative firms, a 27 per cent increase in the last decade. We need more to replicate the success of firms like Rockstar North, the Edinburgh-based producers of the blockbuster computer game Grand Theft Auto.

“High-speed internet is critical to this, but only 61 per cent of Scots have broadband compared with a 74 per cent UK average. This needs to improve.

“Scotland is endowed with some of the best energy resources in Europe. It’s a net exporter of electricity, provides 25 per cent of Europe’s wind power and is number one in the world in developing deep-water offshore wind farms.

“And we know about the first-class expertise and experience within the Scottish oil and gas industry, providing 100,000 jobs in 2,000 firms up and down the supply chain. We should value and build on this strength, not punish it with damaging taxes.

“It’s not the only natural resource Scotland has: tourism is worth more than £5bn a year to the economy, and the lower pound, ‘staycationers’ and the trickle-up effect of the Olympics could add to the 15 million visitors a year Scotland attracts.

“Manufacturing productivity has recovered faster in Scotland than in the rest of the UK, which could bode well both for profitability and investment.

“And you can’t be in Scotland without mentioning whisky. It’s one of the UK’s top-five manufacturing export earners and supports 41,000 jobs: 36 bottles a second go overseas.

“But Scotland’s export base is narrowly focussed, and needs larger companies, greater inward investment.

“Research and development is an important part of this. Here links with Scotland’s strong higher education sector must be exploited.

“And we need to rebalance the economy away from the state sector and financial services.

“In Scotland, public spending rose 50 per cent between 1999 and 2006. Even after the job losses, public sector employment in Scotland will be 10 per cent above the UK average. That’s an over-reliance that must be tackled.

“But we mustn’t forget the continuing importance of financial services. They’re responsible for a large chunk of GDP and many high-value jobs. In Scotland they employ 100,000 people directly and 70,000 indirectly.

“Taking the big picture and looking ahead, success is predicated on confidence and clarity on future policy direction – both economically and politically.”

How interesting. So we are not the poor incompetents that we are so often told we are.

Who said this you ask?  Sir Roger Carr, President of the CBI up from down south to talk at that dinner in Glasgow last Thursday that produced rather different reports in our ‘what can we do today to talk Scotland down’ media.

Naturally Sir Roger went on to talk about the Union. He is not unsurprisingly a supporter but he recognises that whether Scotland continues in the Union or not is for us in Scotland to decide.

Sir Roger added “But this isn’t just a question of sentiment, and I respect the arguments that are passionately made by others. For me there’s strength in critical mass and risks in separation.

“So it’s a balanced judgement, and it’s right that the people of Scotland should determine whether or not they wish to go it alone.”

Business operates wherever there is business to be done and Sir Roger acknowledges that Scotland is a good place in which to do business.

Those business people who would prefer the Union to continue are entitled to their views but they might be wise to listen to Sir Roger’s more conciliatory tones.

When you are in business it does not help to be on the wrong side of the tide of history.