Mike Vickers' Blog

August 7, 2014

Business for Scotland – A Conference

Filed under: Business Development, Politics, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 8:33 pm


I attended a conference on Business for Scotland held at Dynamic Earth on 05/08/14.  I understand that Business for Scotland is non-political but the whole tenor of the Conference was to encourage a Yes vote.

The topic was why Scottish Business should vote Yes for Independence..

Iain MacWhirter was in the chair and he stressed the conference was to look to the future rather than to rake over the past – though this was not always kept to.

The highlight was a talk by Alex Salmond; he was in ebullient form despite his somewhat gruelling session the evening before with Alistair Darling.  One of his themes was women back to work through better pre-school – it wouldn’t happen till after independence as 80% of the tax return would go to Westminster – taxation is one of the levers of power that must be repatriated.  Another theme was that Scotland has five great universities but there are insufficient jobs so the graduates just emigrate – where have I heard the brain-drain before! Growth in Scotland has only been 2% rather than 2.5% for the UK as a whole over the last 50 years.  Interestingly the longest time scale into the future he referred to was 10 years. And the shared Pound was not mentioned. (This was the first time I have heard Salmond speak in person and he speaks very well without notes;  the only oddity was except where he was answering a question from the floor he was repeatedly looking sideways at the wall).

Graeme McCormick talked about the domestic housing market.  He said Helensburgh has lost 2000 inhabitants in the last ?5 years; he commented that Faslane employment doesn’t help Scotland; the 2,500 employees decamp across the border at weekends and all their provisions are on-site.

Philippa Whitford gave a good emotional speech on what would happen to the Scottish NHS when the English move further to private provision – Scotland would inevitably get cuts through the Barnett formula – and we would inevitably be pray to the US Insurance Industry.

Tony Banks – chair of Business for Scotland and in the care business took up the theme of austerity affecting too many people’s lives and deplored the need in Scotland for ‘food banks’, a need not needed since 1948.  He is keen on the legal introduction of ‘homesteading’ as a way to get people into working for themselves – legal as it would require compulsory purchase of land. The Germen Mittlestand approach also came up and I discussed this with him in the short networking session after the meeting closed.  We both agreed that keeping business in the family is a better way forward and away from just building the business then selling out while the going is good.

On Business itself there were talks on the Scottish ‘Brand’, the success of the food industry and deploring the fact that Scotland has no large companies;, not only for itself but the fact that large companies are a source of bright spin offs.  Taxation was only just touched on as the session on it had to be abandoned as Salmond was late and overran but where it was, it was how to use taxation to foster incubating new businesses.

Martin McAdam stated that 50% of Scotland’s energy now comes from renewables with 2/3 of that from wind – renewables already employs 12,000.  Oil and Gas should be seen as bridging the gap until renewables completely take over and for funding the development of different forms of renewables.  He considered that it won’t be too long before wind becomes as competitive as gas.

Grahame Blackett quoted that, despite the common perception, private industry in Scotland employs 2020,000 staff while the public sector employs only 521,000. He listed the products that Scotland exports as Renewables, Oil & Gas, Food, Asset management, Tourism, Life sciences and education.  But he also listed areas that an Independent Scotland would need to face up to as: Infrastructure, Exports, Joining the Nordic Council, Targeting aging, Sourcing long term capital, and coming out with a package of tax reforms.

Carol Fox talked about the need to properly integrate women into the workforce.

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp bemoaned that fact that 80% of private new jobs are in London.  That Scotland has a debt of £72bn accumulated over ?3 years while it should have accumulated a surplus of £50bn.  Once Independent, Scotland should be growing at 5% per annum.

To my hobby horse – localism did get a mention in passing – I tried to raise the matter with Iain MacWhirter afterwards but he failed to bite.

I came away having not heard much new but with a couple of  thoughts,

  • The referendum debate is still grounded in the next 10 years – just renewables may be recognised as having a longer gestation
  • the drive for independence is less to do with splitting from the UK as a whole but from splitting from Westminster. A couple of barmen I spoke to in one of the tea breaks put it this way if Scottish Government is only 5% better than Westminster it’s worth it; it can’t be worse. Let’s hope that Holyrood in the years to come doesn’t just replace Westminster.

Finally the conference was about not just business in Scotland but business in Scotland with an ethical face – this is good.

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