A lot of us, including myself, spent time during the referendum campaign busting myths. It’s nice to see that one more has been demolished with new figures from Scottish Development International (SDI).
Global firms were very far from being put off investing here during that time. On the contrary, inward investment projects grew by almost 17 per cent to 91 projects during 2014-15 in spite of all the scaremongering.
In fact, having a higher international profile probably did wonders in conveying just how good the investment potential is, both globally and nationally. People across the world were looking more closely at what Scotland can do.
That’s a fact that clearly hasn’t escaped the astute attention of shipyard owner Jim McColl, who is sizing up the potential for Ferguson Marine to use Inchgreen Dock in Greenock to build larger ships than its current yard can manage. We’re talking here about very substantial manufacturing in a sector where Scotland has a powerful historic record. We’re talking big ships, cruise ships, defence ships and more, not only ferries.
It is this emphasis upon global opportunity and ambitious innovation that offers Scotland the chance to build upon what has already been achieved; to really break down barriers and deliver on a “can-do” culture instead.
Economically and culturally, we in Scotland have somehow lost confidence in ourselves; in our own ability to build businesses ourselves.
It was economist Adam Smith who famously said: “Great ambition, the desire of real superiority, of leading and directing, seems to be altogether peculiar to man, and speech is the great instrument of ambition.”
Government initiatives can be a big driver. Everything from E-spark to the – now cut in half by the Tories – Capital Investment Allowance do help businesses develop, grow and create more job opportunities.
But Westminster is not the founder of economic regeneration. It was the economist John Maynard Keynes who said: “I work for a government I despise for ends I think criminal.” No, we must look to innovative ways that genuinely start shifting our attitudes to what we can really achieve. The Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, has made a good start in his Scotland Can Do report.
I have less confidence in George Osborne’s parallel report called Fixing the Foundations: Creating a More Prosperous Nation, without any sense of irony.
It talks a lot about the importance of buying houses and spending less on welfare plus the conceptual Northern Powerhouse. There isn’t much evidence of creating a climate of genuine encouragement for those who have smart, innovative ideas, or to seriously develop an integrated model for business that includes primary school children through to university spin-outs and existing employers.
Building a more prosperous nation cannot be achieved by relentless cutbacks in public services. That’s equally true whether we’re talking about Scotland or the rest of the UK. For business to achieve positive outcomes, we need a longer-term, more imaginative approach.
It’s time to think differently, to look more analytically at the scope to start and to grow new businesses. It is small businesses that form 99.9 per cent of private sector operations. They are the backbone of our economy and merit far more support than they get.
Michelle Thomson is the SNP MP for Edinburgh West