IAN Blackford has insisted a fresh paper on how sustainable economic growth can be achieved across Scotland’s world-class sectors will allow the Scottish Government to demonstrate why people should have confidence in an independent Scotland.

Blackford said the Roadmap for a Scottish Green Industrial Strategy – which includes a suggestion of creating a single body to oversee growth priorities – will give the Government the tools it needs to bring the business and academic communities along for the independence journey and show “why people should trust us”.

The paper has been led on by Sir Martin Donnelly, former permanent secretary at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Department for International Trade (DIT) and former president of Boeing Europe, and Professor Dominic Houlder, adjunct professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at London Business School.

It suggests ways in which Scotland can start delivering sustainable economic growth over the next decade in two sectors it already has a competitive advantage in – higher education and alternative energy. 

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To oversee this, the report recommends the creation of a Scottish Industrial Strategy Council – formed by, led by and accountable to the First Minister.

Blackford said the strategy set out will allow Scotland to start delivering better paid jobs, drive people out of poverty, and prove why it can thrive as an independent nation.

He told The National: “The paper gives the tools to the Scottish Government on how we bring people together – [how] we bring business people and the academic community with us.

“I think there’s a lot of good things the Scottish Government has done in putting in place structures, mechanisms for dialogue, but it’s about that specific focus [on economic growth in these sectors] and it’s about the First Minister taking responsibility for that. It’s about action.

“It’s about showing what we can do today and why people should trust us and have that confidence in what an independent Scotland can deliver.

“I’ve always said Scotland becoming independent is about demonstrating Scotland can be a healthy, wealthy, fairer and greener country, but we do actually have to demonstrate that.”


Blackford said the Scottish Government has a responsibility to change a history of economic underperformance.

He cited a book by Michael Anderson – Scotland’s Populations from the 1850s to today – which shows in almost every decade between 1851 and 2011, Scotland’s population fell as a share of the population of Great Britain and Ireland, pointing to “an economy failing to thrive”.

The National: Ian Blackford commissioned the report led on by Martin Donnelly and Dominic Houlder Ian Blackford commissioned the report led on by Martin Donnelly and Dominic Houlder (Image: NQ)

He said: “We have lost market share every decade since 1850 so I think we have to change that.

“One reason is because of the new government, because of Humza, and because of where we are in terms of that massive increase in energy production that will come in the next 27-year period. There is a specific window of opportunity that is there just now.”

The report picks out alternative energy and higher education as two areas where Scotland can focus on accelerating economic growth.

It suggests that more collaboration across the higher and further education sectors would allow more businesses to emerge from research and come to scale in Scotland – something which is rare at the moment given there are stronger ecosystems elsewhere in the world and in the UK.

Likewise, if the alternative energy sector is to develop many more jobs than those lost to the decline of fossil fuels, that will require the development of subcontracting networks, community engagement and a long-term political commitment to provide finance and wider political support for the development of necessary skills and infrastructure, the report states.

Blackford insisted the Scotland has been in need of a specific focus when it comes to economic growth.

Asked if there has been a struggle to know where to begin with an economic strategy in an independent Scotland and whether this paper provides a starting point, he said: “In some respects yes.

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“I would argue that for any small country there is a limit to the number of areas you can choose to get behind and then you need to have a clear focus right through the public agencies [from there].

“These are by far the two most important key areas [alternative energy and higher education]. This is about growing the economy for better well-paid jobs and driving people out of poverty and the only way you’re going to do that is by having a focus.

“One of the things which is key is that link between further education and higher education because if we’re serious about the opportunities there are in green energy, then you need to be able to provide the workforce for the skills, and the FE [further education] sector is just as important in that regard as the HE [higher education] sector.”

Holding onto international talent

One of the issues identified when it comes to driving economic growth from the higher education sector was the disappearance of the devolved Fresh Talent Initiative which ran from 2004 to 2008 and enabled international students to extend their residency automatically for two years after graduation.

Blackford said the paper proves Scotland will need to find a way to hold on to international talent.

He said: “Some of the things [in the paper] are about demonstrating we can accelerate economic growth today, but admittedly there are areas where we are constrained because we’re talking about the devolution settlement.

“So for example, when we talk about academia in particular, and when we think about foreign students coming here and the fact people don’t have that automatic right to stay for a prolonged period - one of the asks we have is there should be a five-year post-study work visa.

“When you’re trying to attract talent, why on earth would you bring people here for an education and close the door on them? Some of them will be the kinds of people who will be engaging in start ups and spin-outs.”

Blackford added he had had positive engagement with Humza Yousaf while the paper was being produced and is confident the strategy will be supported.

He said: “We’ve had very good engagement with the First Minister and civil servants over the last few months.

“They will have to take time to reflect on the report but I think it’s timely and meets their needs.”