John Denholm: Is Brexit a golden opportunity for Scotland?

John Denholm says Brexit could present a 'wonderful new chance' of attracting talent to Scotland. Picture: Contributed
John Denholm says Brexit could present a 'wonderful new chance' of attracting talent to Scotland. Picture: Contributed
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Since the news broke last Friday that the UK is poised to leave the EU, businesses including ours and many of our clients have been nervous about how this might affect future prospects.

Echoes of 2008 and the economic meltdown come uncomfortably to mind. So far Armageddon hasn’t quite arrived and the stock market and currency markets seem to be rallying.

An interesting question is around whether a golden opportunity for Scottish-based companies can be grasped from the current state of uncertainty.

Since Monday, we have had a remarkable surge of interest from marketing candidates based down south, primarily London, asking us about career opportunities in Scotland. What’s driving this is unclear, but early indicators suggest that many people see Scotland as a relaxed, confident, outward-looking nation, one in which they may consider relocating to. And in marketing, we all know how important perception is in shaping reality.

One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced over the last few years has been the yawning skills gap, particularly in digital marketing. Our clients tend to be household names in Scotland, both in established financial services and FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) sectors and the new tech start-ups – many of whom are crying out for digitally savvy marketeers.

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We’ve been doing all we can, with quite a reasonable amount of success, in attracting candidates from the rest of the UK and overseas. So, the question does now arise of whether or not it could be easier for Scotland to attract talent as a result of the Leave vote?

Contrast the antics of Nigel Farage at the European Parliament with the EU-friendly approach of Alyn Smith at the same meeting and it’s not hard to see which approach is more likely to enhance a national employer brand – employer brand being a measure of how attractive a company is perceived to be. Scotland has always had to battle hard against the lure of London for scarce marketing talent, particularly in the digital age.

I recognise that there are massive practical hurdles to overcome if Nicola Sturgeon is to achieve some form of associate membership of the EU for Scotland (let’s leave the Indyref question for another day, because the twin challenges of borders and currency will be difficult to solve, to put it mildly). The jury is out in terms of how successful Sturgeon’s meetings with European Parliament president Martin Schulz went on Wednesday, but you’ve got to hand it to Scotland’s First Minister, irrespective of political leanings, for taking the sentiment of Scotland’s majority directly to Brussels.

If this begins to offer a credible roadmap towards an agreement that would reassure our clients that Scotland will be a stable and attractive environment in which to do business, those of us in the recruitment and talent attraction industry could be handed a wonderful new chance of attracting superbly qualified talent into Scotland within the digital marketing sector on the back of a national employer brand which has suddenly been given a huge boost towards competitive advantage.

• John Denholm is chairman of Denholm Associates and co-founder of The Leith Agency