John Ferry John Ferry

Can Scotland become Singapore on the Clyde?

(Photo by Russell Cheyne - Pool/Getty Images)

Scottish multi-millionaire Sir Tom Hunter is frustrated. Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme to promote a new report commissioned by his foundation on Scotland’s economy, he said: ‘The general consensus in business up here is that the current government don’t really listen to business. They make policy in isolation, which makes bad policy, and that’s not good enough for Scotland in my opinion.’

Sir Tom, who famously started out selling trainers from the back of a van before going on to make hundreds of millions in retail, wants to see Scotland’s private sector given the tools and assistance it needs to turbo-charge the economy. His paper, produced by consultants Oxford Economics and entitled Raising Scotland’s Economic Growth Rate, aims to stimulate the debate needed to make that happen.

The paper addresses low productivity, poor business birth rate and a lack of success in businesses scaling up, pointing out, for instance, that Scotland’s business birth rate came ninth out of 12 UK nations and regions in 2019. It considers policies under three headings:

  • Increases in government borrowing and/or cuts in interest rates to stimulate stronger growth in demand and hence output
  • Significant tax cuts and deregulation to improve competition and incentives in the economy
  • Large increases in government support for businesses, either directly or through increased spending on infrastructure, education and skills, innovation, or the green economy.

Scotland’s politics, rather than the structure of the economy, is the major block to change.

The paper is useful in some areas, not so useful in others, and avoids one very big elephant in the room.

It starts by providing an up-to-date, in-depth state-of-the-nation summary of Scotland’s economy. This is useful for highlighting strengths, weaknesses, and in setting the scene for policy discussions. Less useful is the lengthy high-level outline of macroeconomic challenges that could apply to any state, and which seems incongruous in a paper aimed at legislators in a sub-national parliament.

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