It has been a black month for jobs in Scotland as the latest unemployment figures showed another rise of 6000 to 135,000 – yet again contrasting with a fall to a ten-year low across the rest of the UK.
This is exactly the sort of trend that used to get Nationalist MPs jumping up and down, blaming Mrs Thatcher in the eighties. I don’t see any SNP MPs or MSPs jumping up and down blaming Nicola Sturgeon or her Finance Secretary Derek Mackay.
Why not? Could it be they are embarrassed?
Thirty-five years ago Scotland was going through great change, losing its heavy industries and much of its associated manufacturing after they were priced out of markets. Nobody owed us a living and others offered better value, better designs and, sadly, even better workmanship.
It was a harrowing time – but it was leavened by the new jobs that were coming through in the service, electronic and knowledge sectors.
Thanks to policies which deregulated and reduced taxes, our businesses bounced back, attracted fresh investment and created new jobs – eventually reaching record levels of employment – including many jobs for women who, more and more, were joining the workforce.
The worry I have about Scotland’s economy now is that official attitudes have clearly gone into reverse. Jobs are being killed in Scotland, not by austerity politics from Westminster but from tax and regulatory policies from Holyrood.
Business and personal taxes are going up and our Scottish Parliament has taken an attitude of “if it moves, regulate it, if it is successful penalise it”.
Meanwhile Scotland’s food and drink exports to Japan climbed an amazing nine per cent last year from £90.3 million to just below £98.7m, an all-time record. Interestingly Japan is not a neighbour but a country on the other side of the planet that we have no free trade agreement with. This impressive export performance that Scots should be proud of exposes as a lie the slogan that “we need to be inside the single market” to do business there.
Likewise, our biggest international export market is the United States. Again it is thousands of miles away and we have no trade agreement with the US – but it’s our best customer.
The potential to grow these markets by negotiating free trade agreements that help reduce trade barriers, especially in our strengths of food and drink manufacturing, and financial services, is immense.
India – a huge market of a billion people – has an import tariff of 150 per cent on Scotch whisky. Reducing that, or even better, abolishing it, would boost our exports and create jobs in distilling, packaging, marketing and distribution.
Instead of moaning about Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon should appoint a minister to seek out the opportunities it represents.
She should demand a place for her government on Liam Fox’s ministerial trade visits (which are already taking place), so that any agreements that are being prepared include what’s important to our Scottish businesses, like cutting whisky duties across the world.
That’s how we start the ball rolling to win more export orders and create more jobs.
Much-needed new houses are being stifled by city planners who hate cars
There is a desperate need for more housing in Edinburgh and especially homes for first-time buyers and young families.
The proposals for new apartments at the Standard Life site in Portobello, therefore, make absolute sense on first impressions – but not everyone in Porty agrees.
Complaints about additional traffic gridlock and the demands on scarce resources have been voiced. But when we start denying people the chance of a home there is something seriously wrong with our city. So many of Edinburgh’s problems keep coming back to it being the city whose officials hate cars; a city that used to have many two-lane roads that have been narrowed into one; where free-flowing traffic has been ground to a halt by the imposition of Glasgow-style traffic lights that only let one carriageway cross a junction at a time. Nothing moves now and more cars risk making matters worse.
I have some news for our planners. The car is not going away. As I said more than a decade ago in these pages, pollution-pumping petrol cars will eventually be replaced by cleaner electric cars.
I will now go further – they will be replaced by driverless electric cars that can be limited to 20mph in built-up areas and will be far better at keeping the traffic flowing.
We should get used to the idea now and free up our roads once more in readiness for this revolution.
That would also mean we could accommodate more housing without worrying about the traffic.
Derby replay deserves place on our screens
The Hibs v Hearts Cup replay is a sell-out, with the level of demand so high supporters were queuing up from the wee sma’ hours to get tickets.
So there should be no problem with broadcasting the match to supporters – but there is and so the TV cameras will not be allowed in. Radio or periscope TV will be the best bet for those without tickets.
Unfortunately teams of no relevance to Hibs and Hearts supporters, playing in games that few are aware of and nobody could care less about, mean that a UEFA ban on broadcasting matches played at the same time has been invoked.
The idea that swathes of Scottish football fans would be tempted away from watching Porto v Juventus or Sevilla v Leicester City is a spiteful conceit. They will be watching something else.
This pointless regulation needs to be tested in court as a restriction of trade. Unfortunately our SFA is as spineless as a tailor’s dummy.