A FORMER right half for Northumberland's under-21 hockey team whose interest in Scottish independence was piqued because he wanted to debunk the nationalist arguments is an unlikely star of the Yes campaign.

But Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, 56, the founder of Business for Scotland, is a man hard to put into a box. He describes his politics as neither left nor right. He left school with no qualifications only to later graduate from university and land top jobs in the business world.

He arrived in Scotland a Unionist, left an independence supporter and returned to become one of the country’s most prominent pro-Yes voices.

He will speak as part of a panel of non-SNP members at the party’s independence convention this weekend and his words will hold particular sway with grassroots supporters of the SNP.

At Yes grassroots meetings, MacIntyre-Kemp’s organisations – including Believe in Scotland – are brought up with an air of reverence.

Put to him that this could be down to the notorious paucity of players in the Yes scene with experience of the business world, MacIntyre-Kemp rejects the idea people look up to him, describing himself as the "secretary" of the movement. A servant rather than a leader of the campaign. 

More than any other Yes organisation, MacIntyre-Kemp claims, his groups are more effective at building bridges with others.

Part of this ability can be put down to MacIntyre-Kemp’s origin story. The father-of-one, who now lives in the West End of Glasgow, left school with no qualifications.

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An instinctual Tory, he worked in the hotel business before a dyslexia diagnosis allowed him to get specialist help which got him into Heriot-Watt University, where he studied business and economics.

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“I was brought up in England in a small country town called Hexham and I consider myself to be Scottish and a Northumbrian, I even played hockey for Northumberland.

“I basically came to [Scotland] as a mature student – I’d been in the hotel industry and I’d been a manager in a hotel – so as a mature student I came to university to study business and economics at Heriot-Watt University, late 80s early 90s.

“At that time, having been brought up in Hexham, which at the time was a Conservative stronghold, I was a Conservative and a Unionist and then decided to look into the economic arguments for independence largely to debunk them and eventually realised that I was a nationalist, because everything I’d thought, I’d heard about Scotland being brought up in England and I saw the potential and from that point on, I saw the potential and I became an independence supporter.”

Dyslexia is MacIntyre-Kemp’s “superpower”, he says. It allows him to think more creatively and form connections in his mind others don’t see he tells me.

“One of the things that makes me think this way is that I am dyslexic. Which is a strange thing for someone who makes his living writing newspaper columns and books to a certain extent. But what that does, it’s a disability in some respects, it takes away certain aspects of my memory.

"I can’t remember phone numbers, I can’t remember licence plates for cars, these sorts of things, I can’t sequence various things in the way other people do, when they’re thinking very logically.

"So it’s a disability in that respect – but it gives me a superpower when it comes to creative thinking. At least, that’s how I’ve always thought about it.

"The reason I was a mature student and didn’t go straight to university, is because I left school without any qualifications.

"It was only when I discovered I was dyslexic that I then got specialist help, went back to college, then got into university and realised that I actually had a skill.

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"That skill is seeing connections that other people can’t see within data, within strategies and policies and as a result it’s kind of actually been my career to look at things from a different angle and that’s why I looked at economics from a different angle and come up with the ideas that I have.”

After leaving university, he moved to London to work for Procter & Gamble. If you ever bought shampoo in Britain in the early 90s, there is a good chance MacIntyre-Kemp had some involvement in its pricing.  

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“Having left university I went to work for Procter & Gamble down in London and a lot of the work I did there was numbers-based, working on what prices shampoos should be – Pantaene, Wash & Go, Oil of Olay, those were the brands I worked on,” he says.

“Procter & Gamble is one of the world’s biggest fast-moving consumer goods companies, I was analysing promotions, that sort of thing and I wasn’t really involved in politics. All I knew was I didn’t support any political party that I could vote for in the UK at that time. I then came back to Scotland to work for Scottish Enterprise.”

It was when he started at Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Government agency to promote economic development, that he began to feel more keenly his politics were out of step with the prevailing mood.

“I kind of felt, although I enjoyed working for Scottish Enterprise, I kind of felt that all of my economic plans and ideas and how I would run the economy just seemed to run completely contrary to everybody else,” he says.

“So it wasn’t left or right because left and right didn’t match my belief system.”

Now, that situation is in reverse, MacIntyre-Kemp argues. He says that people are increasingly disillusioned with the economic orthodoxy and want to explore new ways of putting the economy to work.

The wellbeing economy approach, an idea gaining increasing traction within the Yes movement and society at large, posits that economic growth cannot be the main goal of a country – the state must improve people’s health and strengthen society while growing the economy in the traditional sense.

He said: “I used to be heterodox – I think that in the next five to 10 years that the ideas I and many many other people across the world are championing right now are actually going to become orthodox. I think we’re going to move towards, call it what you like a Scandinomics, Scotianomics or call it wellbeing economics, or enlightened economics.

“There is a movement now of understanding that last century’s economic ideas don’t deal, can’t deal with climate change, robotics, AI, the post-work economy and we’ve got to think things differently and we’ve got to go back to principles and say, ‘What is the point of the economy?’”

Now I would say that it’s a global trend, to think the way I think, to think that left and right are last century’s ideas, that they’re just tribal boxes that politicians want to put us into.

“One of my key mantras is, ‘You can’t have a strong society without a strong economy; you can’t have a strong economy without a strong society’.

“If you think left and right as exclusive concepts which is why you can’t actually get that balance which is why we keep swinging the political pendulum in the UK from left to right.

“The Conservatives run the country and society starts to collapse and then we get Labour back in and Labour would – not any more – but Labour would try and sort out society, they’d increase benefits, they’d increase pensions, increase spending et cetera then business would start to struggle and we’d bring the Conservatives back in because we’d had a recession etc.

“And we just repeated the same mistakes over and over again, with nobody realising that, actually, you must hold both left and right-wing views, development views simultaneously right across the board in order to actually create the harmony that society and the economy need to work to boost one another.

“No government exclusively hunts down GDP with every policy it ever makes, because they’d never be elected if they did.

“But it does seem the semi-religious mantra of successive British government is to emphasisese economic growth, when that economic growth is a) harming the planet and b) completely and utterly unsustainable because it doesn’t take everyone in society with you.”

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