It’s more than just flag waving
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.
Regardless of their constutional views, Scots should seize the business opportunities that 2014 will bring