Leader Comment: Nicola Sturgeon and SNP finally getting to business

Next week the SNP will unveil its Programme for Government, its plan of action and priorities for the next year at Holyrood.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Finance Secretary Derek Mackay. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Governments do this annually, but this is a key moment for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, coming ten years after the party first swept to power.

The general election proved that not everything the SNP says will find favour with the electorate.

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Nicola Sturgeon unveils bold vision for Scots economy

The party took the most seats, but also saw its share of the vote diminish and had to endure the loss of high-profile names such as Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond.

After the election, the First Minister talked of a need to examine the day-to-day workings of the party and hinted at the need for a refresh after a decade in power.

The announcement at Spirit Aerosystems in Prestwick of a fresh focus on the economy appeared to be stage one of this.

Previously, Sturgeon has pushed inequality and education as key priorities, and in the last 12 months has talked endlessly about independence.

The pro-business agenda seemed to be missing.

Many senior business leaders in Scotland feel that Sturgeon does not “get business” in the way that her predecessor Alex Salmond – a former economist at Royal Bank of Scotland – did.

In addition, the SNP’s forecasts on oil and gas revenue have proved to be wildly wrong.

GDP figures have also created worrying headlines. While the most recent data showed growth of 0.8 per cent – higher than the rest of the UK – this came on the back of several quarters where Scotland trailed the UK average with some fears the country could enter a recession. Add in a concerns about red tape and higher business taxes, and the SNP is on shaky ground.

Against this backdrop, it is heartening to hear the First Minister put a business agenda front and centre.

The emphasis is on making Scotland a technological powerhouse and moving towards new industries which will “shape the future” of the global economy.

Life sciences, aerospace, renewables and financial technology – fintech – were among the industries cited, alongside traditional sectors like tourism and food and drink. More will also be done to encourage businesses in Scotland to sell their goods and products overseas, as currently half of all exports currently come from just 70 companies.

Aside from some details of research and development support, most of the First Minister’s speech could be regarded as “big picture”, with further details coming next week in the chamber to MSPs.

This is to be expected at this stage.

The battle for confidence and support on the economy will not be won with a single speech, but with sustained initiatives and support.

There are many headwinds of course – including the spectre of Brexit – but Scotland can and should strive to be an innovator.

Once, Scotland did lead the world in invention and radical thinking. With the support of our top business minds and universities, a culture where risk and failure is accepted and understood, and a regulatory environment which supports, there is no reason Scotland should not aim high.

As Alexander Graham Bell said: “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”