Crucial need to map out a safe path for Scotland - Jim Duffy comment

Scotland has not prospered from its rich oil reserves – far from it, says Duffy. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell.Scotland has not prospered from its rich oil reserves – far from it, says Duffy. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell.
Scotland has not prospered from its rich oil reserves – far from it, says Duffy. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell.
There has to be a dividend in becoming an independent country, even being a small and capable country.

Some form of upside that means Scotland wins. But, from what I can see playing out so far, it will take radical change. By a dividend, I mean one plus one equals three. That is a well-known idiom in business when there is any form of change. A plus side that adds value.

Yes, yes, yes, I know that Scotland has oil and oil reserves. Millions of barrels of poison embedded in the sub-sea structures around our beautiful coastlines. Black stuff that will bring in tens of millions of pounds for the country. But alas, that might have been a good argument ten or 20 years ago as oil was still very much loved. But it is going the same way coal went. It’s on a downward global trajectory.

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Implications of switching to assets of tomorrow - Jim Duffy comment

For two reasons. The first is that oil is now seen as a truly dirty product. The products that originate from it are no longer sexy. Petrol is being replaced by hydrogen and electric batteries. And as for plastics! Already in the UK, large plastics recycling sites are being planned to get rid of landfill and create hydrogen instead. No longer is it just tree-huggers that despise oil.

We all can see the consequences of its environmental footprint. Then there are the economics of oil. The price of a barrel of Brent crude has tanked. It is not economical to drill in deeper water and we can already see big oil companies packing their cases.

It feels like they have simply squatted here for a few decades, paid the UK some tax and are now off to explore elsewhere. This leaves decommissioning and that is another basket case. No, I do not think Scotland has prospered from its rich oil reserves. Far from it. And while it is easy to blame the Westminster government, we saw it coming years ago. So, no real dividend from oil.

How about entrepreneurship, innovation and business-building? I read this week, with great sadness actually, that the Scottish SNP government does not appear to have its finger on the pulse. Business leaders, serial entrepreneurs and business support organisations seem frustrated with the rebuilding process during and after Covid-19. The Higgins Report does not appear to have gone down well in some quarters.

Whether it was how it was put together or the actual recommendations, it has brought out its critics including Sir Tom Hunter. No-one knows the Scottish Government landscape better than Sir Tom.

His involvement with the Scottish Edge project, the Royal Bank of Scotland business acceleration centres, the University of Strathclyde and many other entrepreneurial initiatives is well-documented.

Compelling case

So when he hits the press seeking a better way to re-energise and re-imagine start-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises and scale-ups in Scotland after what has been and still is a bruising time for business-owners, we should listen. And so should the Scottish Government.

Scotland is a small country and it is very easy to get the right people in a room and get things down. I have been there and as Sir Tom alludes to – it works – when the government lead sits, listens and then breaks down doors to make stuff happen!

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Big heavily laden committees are not what is needed. Scotland needs to be nimble and smart with dynamic and workable outcomes driven by business. It looks like we are already behind the eight ball with no immediate dividend in sight. But I am optimistic that something can be done here.

There has never been a better time to restructure how business is supported and funded in Scotland – from ignition to fruition. And while it sorts itself out now that the agenda is on the front pages of the newspapers, it needs to move fast. There is a horrendous recession looming. Think of it as an iceberg. It will take foresight and skill from those used to avoiding them, to guide Scotland through – at speed.

The dividend for an independent Scotland, notwithstanding its current predicament, is its capacity to steer quickly with great, motivated business people leading on the bridge.

Jim Duffy MBE, Create Special

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