Forum to kick-start engine of Scotland

A HIGH-powered group of politicians and businesspeople will today seek to kick-start the stalled debate over using devolution to make Scotland a modern, more prosperous nation.

George Reid, the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, will chair the first meeting of the new "super-think-tank", the Scotland's Futures Forum, which aims to look ahead ten years at the opportunities and problems the country will face.

Mr Reid has spent months trying to persuade the political parties at Holyrood that Scotland needs such a forum.

Although the Presiding Officer presented the new forum - which will commission work on key areas of policy from the economy to population - as a Scottish initiative, there are echoes of the "committee for the future" set up in Finland after the disintegration of the Soviet bloc.

Mr Reid said: "We have got to move on. All of us in Scotland are caught in a constant electoral cycle - Holyrood, Westminster and European elections. And there can only be a one-term agenda for whoever is elected.

"We have been a parliament good at engaging with civic Scotland, but we have not done enough with wealth-creators, academia, artists, free-thinkers and entrepreneurs."

The Presiding Officer added: "I am not going to use the phrase the second enlightenment, but we could use a bit of that spirit emanating from that piece of land at the bottom of the Canongate.

"Futures is not about predicting the future and doing nothing about it, but looking ahead and then repositioning the country to cope with the future.

"There should be scope in a parliament designed for facilitative, participative government to bring in players from overseas.

"It is not for the forum to make policy. What the forum does is pose questions, and it's up to the politicians to provide the answers."

Mr Reid said issues that the forum may look at included:

• developing intellectual property rights, to build on the idea of "smart successful Scotland";

• generation of economic growth;

• looking at how other devolved areas in Europe have developed their economies;

• a deeper look at Scotland's research and development base;

• an in-depth study of the Scottish workforce and its likely future make-up;

• the Scottish public sector and the Executive's budget process.

Although it took a long time to convince the political parties, Mr Reid has won over the Executive to the idea and John Elvidge, the most senior civil servant, will sit on the board.

He will be joined by a strong group of senior figures from business, politics and academia, including Professor Tim O'Shea, the principal of Edinburgh University, Susan Rice, the chief executive of Lloyds TSB Scotland, Campbell Christie, the former leader of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, and Margaret Ford, a Scottish-based management consultant who now heads English Partnerships, a major regeneration quango south of the Border.

Sarah Boyack, the former transport minister and Labour MSP, and Alex Neil, a Scottish National Party MSP, are also on the board.

The forum will have a budget of 80,000, mostly from existing resources.

There will be one staff member, but Mr Reid will arrange for much of the basic research to be done by some of the 50 staff of SPIC, the Scottish Parliament information centre, many of whom have PhDs.