Analysis

How is Labour's 'Brand Scotland' idea any different to SNP overseas offices?

Labour plans to use the Scotland Office to boost export of Scottish goods.

Anas Sarwar is enjoying himself during this election campaign.

Labour has not stuttered at the starting line like the Conservatives’ gloomy announcement of the general election while the SNP’s campaign has been somewhat overshadowed by the Michael Matheson £11,000 iPad data saga.

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Mr Sarwar, who shrugged off questions over his father’s business paying the living wage at the weekend after he initially underplayed his dad’s commitment, visited a fudge and tablet factory to launch Labour’s plans to sell ‘Brand Scotland’ to the world through the under-used reach of the UK government’s Scotland Office.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar called the National Service proposal a "gimmick".Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar called the National Service proposal a "gimmick".
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar called the National Service proposal a "gimmick".

A tablet factory is a hard sell for a dentist like Mr Sarwar, but you get the feeling he’s enjoying the campaign so far, joking that “this tablet doesn’t cost the taxpayer £11,000”.

Labour has received a huge boosts after 121 business leaders declared that Keir Starmer’s party is the best for businesses - a reputation usually bestowed on the Tory party. But seemingly not this time.

Labour’s ‘Brand Scotland’ idea is to essentially use the weight of a UK government department, the Scotland Office, to help punt Scottish goods overseas - but the party’s elephant in the room is still Brexit. How can you boost exports without access to the single market or the customs union?

After pressing Mr Sarwar on his party’s plans sounding awfully similar to the function of the Scottish Government’s overseas postings, the Scottish Labour leader candidly admits that not everything the SNP administration at Holyrood does is wrong, stressing “there are some individual things that are successful”.

But he adds: “What the Scottish Government lacks is a coherent strategy. I don’t think it puts economic growth front and centre - they are bureaucracy-heavy and delivery-light.”

Mr Sarwar insists that the Scottish Government has “spent the last 17 years trying to sell Scotland to the Scots rather than sell ‘Brand Scotland to the rest of the world’”.

He is adamant that is where a Labour government will change things by “tapping into that selling power of Scotland to maximise export opportunities and create more jobs”.

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It’s not just the SNP that’s in the firing line as Mr Sarwar took aim at the Conservatives’ stewardship of the Scotland Office under Scottish Secretary Alister Jack.

Mr Sarwar said: “The Scotland Office, over the last 14 years, has felt like it is the UK government’s eyes and ears in Scotland rather than Scotland's window to the world.

“We want the Scotland Office fully integrated and engaged with the government departments across the UK to fully maximise the opportunities for Scotland.”

The Labour leader acknowledged that for Scotland’s salmon and whisky industries, “exports are absolutely phenomenal”.

But he insists that “they’ve built up a huge relationship”, adding that “ if we can partner with those industries to open up those networks to other producers here in Scotland, the opportunities are absolutely huge”.

Mr Sarwar and Labour’s approach to growing exports appears laudable but something we have heard from the Scottish Government in the not too distant past.

But when businesses are turning to Labour and see them as the government in waiting at a UK level, policies becoming a reality helps those ideas sound a lot more polished.

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