Looking beyond the horizon: The week in Scotland

By May 2, 2014Uncategorized

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Scottish political firmament was in the midst of an early summer holiday silly season, because this was the week that Russian foreign policy extended its tentacles through the doors of the Scottish parliament and took a stranglehold on proceedings. 

It all started back in March when some bright spark in government comms thought it would be a good idea to sit the First Minister down for an in-depth interview with former Labour spin-doctor Alastair Campbell for GQ magazine. What could possibly go wrong?

Fast forward to May and Mr Salmond’s qualified praise of Vladimir Putin’s track record in bringing a renewed sense of “pride” to Russia looked decidedly ill-judged coming as they did in the midst of Russian aggression toward Ukraine and in the wake of human rights abuses at home.

Ill-picked they may have been, but the fact that some off-the-cuff remarks came to dominate First Minister’s Questions is a depressing sign that the long debate about Scotland’s future is leading us up some dark alleys.

Needless to say, having deployed his very own political barricades, Mr Salmond refused to budge from his stance that his admiration for Putin shouldn’t obscure the Scottish Government’s public condemnation of his record on Crimea, human rights and much else besides.

And though the whole sorry episode seemed to fixate Holyrood, the debate over Scotland’s future moved on not one iota.

Elsewhere this silly season, the CBI managed finally to extract itself from the clutches of the Electoral Commission’s referendum campaign group registry. How it got there in the first place, thereby managing to alienate, irritate, confuse or concern just about every paying member from Lerwick to Land’s End, is too convoluted a story to relate in full here.

Needless to say, the reputational damage to CBI Scotland, as well as the damage taken to its capacity to represent the interest of business in Scotland to Scottish policymakers, will take a long time to mend and will require hard work. Even then, the jury is out on whether the CBI in Scotland is now a very lame duck.  

That’s important, because there is a real appetite among businesses in Scotland to have a voice that helps companies to penetrate the fog around the referendum. Indeed, a major survey released this week by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said just that, with 56% of respondents rating the quality of the debate so far as either “poor” or “dismal”.

On top of that, 24% of firms said that they had already changed business decision due to the independence debate, nearly half (49%) said they would change their business strategy if Scotland became independent. As many as 10% of firms were considering moving away from Scotland and 8% had definite plans to move away.

What would they be moving away from?  This week, Indigo was at the SCDI Forum 2014, which focussed on the theme of Scotland: Beyond the Horizon, to think up some answers. For many of the senior business leaders at the event – a yearly highlight of the business and policy calendar – there is desperation to look over the artificial horizon created by September’s vote because they are keen to grow, not shutter ambitions because of perceived risk.

That’s why initiatives like the SCDI Forum are important – they get people together to think constructively about what might come next. Could it be at last, that silly season is making way for a warm front of blue sky thinking?

Peter Smyth
Account Director, Indigo