It’s more than just flag wav­ing

The Herald Business - - Straight Talking -

SO FAR in the de­bate over in­de­pen­dence, we have heard a lot about what Scot­land might not have if it were on its own, or what pow­ers it needs, which it does not cur­rently have, for its fu­ture pros­per­ity.

How­ever, while it goes with­out say­ing that the in­de­pen­dence referendum is a huge event in Scot­land’s his­tory, what­ever the re­sult, it is more cru­cial than ever that the coun­try fo­cuses on the pos­i­tives as it takes a star­ring role on the global stage next year.

It should also go with­out say­ing that Scot­land has a huge amount to of­fer, whether as an in­de­pen­dent coun­try or as part of the UK. How­ever, amid all the po­lit­i­cal claims and counter-claims over what Scot­land might lose if it were in­de­pen­dent, or what is cur­rently hold­ing it back within the union, it does no harm to be re­minded of this fact.

Scot­land has long been known for its in­ter­na­tional out­look, a per­spec­tive which is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant at a time when the UK econ­omy re­mains in grim shape, amid what at times looks like ide­o­log­i­cal aus­ter­ity. Sure, the UK es­caped triple-dip re­ces­sion in the first quar­ter, but it re­mains well adrift of its peak in out­put be­fore the onset, five years ago now, of the Great Re­ces­sion of 2008/09.

Over­seas trade is more im­por­tant than ever, given the woe­ful per­for­mance of the UK econ­omy over the last few years and par­tic­u­larly its fail­ure to mount any kind of con­vinc­ing re­cov­ery af­ter the very sharp fall in out­put in 2008/09 which re­sulted from the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

Scots ap­pear far more com­fort­able with their po­si­tion within Europe than some peo­ple south of the Bor­der, as per­haps demon­strated by the surge of the UK In­de­pen­dence Party in the re­cent English coun­cil elec­tions. It is cu­ri­ous, and some­what wor­ry­ing, that peo­ple are blam­ing the Euro­pean Union for the UK’s eco­nomic and so­cial ills. While the Great Re­ces­sion arose from global fac­tors, with the US fi­nan­cial sec­tor play­ing a huge part, any blame for fail­ing to achieve re­cov­ery lies at West­min­ster and not across the English Chan­nel.

And many of the Coali­tion Govern­ment’s aus­ter­ity mea­sures look like the wrong medicine not just for the econ­omy but for so­ci­ety, par­tic­u­larly those changes af­fect­ing the most vul­ner­a­ble (who un­like some of the big earn­ers in the UK fi­nan­cial sec­tor played absolutely no part in the eco­nomic down­turn).

Scots have al­ways demon­strated the abil­ity to achieve great suc­cess by tak­ing their ex­per­tise around the globe. In cen­turies past, there was the like of Thomas Glover, “the Scot­tish samu­rai”, who played a key role in the in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion of Ja­pan. To­day, many Scot­tish-head­quar­tered com­pa­nies in the oil and gas sec­tor are play­ing big parts on the in­ter­na­tional stage, while pro­vid­ing sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits to the econ­omy at home.

As well as the in­de­pen­dence referendum, 2014 will see Scot­land stage the Com­mon­wealth Games and Ry­der Cup. It is also a Year of Home­com­ing. This pro­vides an un­prece­dented op­por­tu­nity for Scot­land to show what it has to of­fer, what­ever the con­sti­tu­tional set-up turns out to be.

In The Busi­ness Her­ald last month, Orkney jewellery de­signer Sheila Fleet high­lighted the im­por­tance of Scot­land’s craft in­dus­tries. She also pro­posed a “Made in Scot­land” mo­bile phone app to di­rect vis­i­tors to the coun­try in 2014 to where they can buy the best of what is on of­fer.

Scot­land has huge ad­van­tages, not only in the form of rich tra­di­tions in the likes of jewellery, tex­tiles and knitwear, but also in terms of food and drink, and of course its land­scape, to name but a few. The coun­try’s nat­u­ral beauty will en­sure that many of the huge num­ber of vis­i­tors at­tend­ing the Com­mon­wealth Games or Ry­der Cup, or ar­riv­ing for the Year of Home­com­ing, un­der­take ex­ten­sive tours of Scot­land.

Re­cent Scot­tish food ex­port fig­ures high­lighted a rise in sales of fish to Ja­pan for sushi or sashimi, with salmon in de­mand. Closer to home, the Ger­mans are show­ing a healthy ap­petite for Scotch beef and lamb. And the Scotch whisky in­dus­try achieved record ex­ports of £4.27 bil­lion in 2012.

There are myr­iad other ex­porters in Scot­land mak­ing a name for them­selves, sell­ing ev­ery­thing from so­phis­ti­cated au­dio play­ers to dou­ble-decker buses. And 2014 will give Scot­land the op­por­tu­nity to show­case it­self to po­ten­tial in­ward in­vestors, many of which have al­ready been at­tracted here by fac­tors in­clud­ing the skills and at­ti­tude of the work­force. Scot­land can also present it­self as a won­der­ful place to live and work.

And the whole feel­good fac­tor which will hope­fully be whipped up by all that is go­ing on in the coun­try in 2014 may play a part in per­suad­ing some more of Scot­land’s bright tal­ent to pur­sue their dreams here rather than over­seas, even if the macroe­co­nomic sit­u­a­tion in the UK is less at­trac­tive than in the likes of some of the high-growth Asian economies.

Re­gard­less of what side of the con­sti­tu­tional fence peo­ple in Scot­land are on, or whether they are perched atop it wait­ing to learn more, they must seize the op­por­tu­nity pre­sented by 2014.

Na­tion­al­ists and union­ists alike are pas­sion­ate about all that Scot­land has to of­fer. This pas­sion will surely rub off, to Scot­land’s ben­e­fit, on the huge num­ber of over­seas vis­i­tors com­ing here in 2014 to see for them­selves what is so great about the coun­try.

(pic­ture: Gor­don Ter­ris)

Re­gard­less of their con­stu­tional views, Scots should seize the busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties that 2014 will bring

IAN MCCON­NELL

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