Leaders: Growth is the word, but it needs political togetherness

Picture: Ian Rutherford
Picture: Ian Rutherford
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THE new year message from Scottish Council for Development and Industry, one of Scotland’s most influential economic development organisations, urges those in positions of political power to make growth their watchword in 2013. Our leaders, both at Holyrood and Westminster, should take heed.

The fact is that without growth, the coming year will be a bleak one for many Scots. Without growth, companies will not have the confidence to invest. Without growth, they will be tempted to shed staff. Without growth, they will be less likely to want to train staff. Without growth, the temptation will be to batten down the hatches, rather than pursue innovation and new markets.

The potential consequences reach way beyond the world of commerce and industry. We should bear in mind that it is only the tax revenue from growth – along with a reduction in the welfare budget as the unemployed find work – that allows the kind of spending on public services that secures a civilised society, where our children are well-educated, our elderly and infirm cared for and our streets safe.

But one aspect of the SCDI’s message sets alarm bells ringing. It calls for all politicians to find common cause. To quote the message more fully: “This requires all parties in all parliaments to work in collaboration and partnership with business and civic Scotland to develop and implement a wide ranging action plan for growth – building our exports, raising our skills levels, creating world-leading innovations and tackling youth unemployment – to deliver the vision for a vibrant and confident Scotland that we all share.”

In Scotland, at the moment, this is a very tall order indeed. Because it seems everything – yes, even the most dire economic predicament for almost a century – plays second fiddle to the long, drawn-out campaign leading up to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, a point made todayby David Watt, executive director of Institute of Directors Scotland. In fact, such common cause is more difficult on the economy than it is on some other issues, given the centrality of the economic issue within the referendum debate.

This manifests itself in a number of ways, but none greater than the Scottish Government’s reluctance to plan for the long term on the assumption that its future is as a devolved administration within the UK. Wary of the accusation that they are conceding defeat before a vote is cast, SNP ministers are unwilling to engage in long-term reform or planning that might, for example, result in key economic levers being devolved to Holyrood.

Some might see it as inevitable, given the fact of the referendum, that other politics will be sidelined. But when other politics means protecting the nation from the worst economic ravages for generations, and securing a future in work for our young people, that argument simply is not good enough.

New bridge merits inspired name

WHAT should the new road bridge over the River Forth be called? You might think anything is better than “the Forth Replacement Crossing” – the like-it-says-on-the-tin name by which the new construction is currently known in official circles. But in fact some of the suggestions from the general public are even worse.

The Haggis Highway, anyone? The Lorraine Kelly Bridge? We should, perhaps, be grateful the name is not to be decided, X Factor-like, by public vote. Given the wicked Scottish sense of humour – when, for example, naming hurricane-like storms – the end result may have been somewhat embarrassing.

Some of the suggestions at least demonstrate some humour – the Rab C Nesbridge raises a smile; and anyone who had crossed the Forth en route to a camping holiday in the Highlands in summertime would identify with the Midge Bridge. Perhaps a hidden reference to the Scottish taxpayer being stung for the billion-pound bill?

One suspects it will be one of the more dull but worthy names – the Queen Elizabeth Bridge, or one named after any one of a number of great Scots (Andrew Carnegie, Robert the Bruce, Jackie Stewart, William Wallace) – that is the eventual winner. But oh, for some poetry here. If San Francisco can have a Golden Gate why can’t the new Forth road bridge have a similarly evocative and inspirational name? Perhaps one that does justice to the sleek and elegant lines of the design?

No doubt the final decision will be taken by a very sober committee. Is it too late for them to appoint a poet or wordsmith of some kind to add some lyrical alternatives to the predictably prosaic options?