THIS month’s edition of the Scottish Business Monitor report, now in its 25th year, has come at an important time in our leadership contest for our next first minister.

The University of Strathclyde’s Fraser of Allander Institute’s analysis of the last 25 years of Scottish business tells a story of great resilience and fortitude against an ever-changing economic landscape in Scotland, not least in the last few years with businesses up against the double whammy of a global pandemic and Brexit, only to then have to deal with the ongoing energy and cost of doing business crisis.

Published in partnership with international law firm Addleshaw Goddard, the report reveals our business is an all-around tough cookie – resilient, agile and pragmatic despite many shocks. In the face of an energy crisis, businesses have reassessed their energy efficiency measures; in the wake of Covid-19, they turned increasingly to new digital solutions. SMEs have adapted and re-adapted in order to survive.

However, although many have innovated to stay afloat against all the odds, the report concludes that a future without targeted support looks bleak, where overall poor performance in terms of business investment and export activity – the key drivers of productivity and economic growth – is a major concern. Businesses are looking to governments at Holyrood and Westminster for credible solutions.

With this in mind, I’m reassured to see the candidate that I’m supporting as our next FM, Kate Forbes, re-assert her commitment to a sustainable economy front and centre of her plans for her new government at Holyrood.

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Kate is keen to emphasise “delivery” and “impact”, with an emphasis on competence and the ability to execute plans successfully to maximise opportunities for economic growth. She recognises that growing small businesses is positive for the overall economy, to create jobs andopportunities that lift people out of poverty and access a more diverse talent pool and workforce.

She’s proved herself on this front through her work as Finance Secretary, with plans outlined in the National Strategy for Economic Transformation, and support for enterprise and entrepreneurialism. Now these plans need to be actioned and success measured.

This focus on delivery and impact may seem like a no-brainer but given the challenges faced by businesses and citizens in this current volatile economic climate, this needs to cut across every part of government in order to realise our enormous potential to be wealthier, fairer and happier. Working with business experts and those at the coalface with more of a co-operative spirit could be our key to helping us meet these epic challenges as we steer Team Scotland on a course to a better economic future.

In terms of changing our poor performance on export activity as highlighted in the Scottish Business Monitor report, SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn has included rejoining the single market in the party’s five-point plan to reduce bills, raise incomes and boost economic growth ahead of next week’s Budget.

The National: SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday October 26, 2022.

The Prime Minister has just been extolling the virtues of Northern Ireland’s “privileged access” to the single market as “special, exciting, and attractive” via his Windsor Agreement, and wait for it, good for business too.

Where has he been the last six-and-a-half years since the Brexit referendum? What about Scotland which, like our Northern Irish cousins, also voted to Remain?

Fraser of Allander analysis reveals that it’s difficult to separate the ill-effects of Brexit from the challenges of the pandemic given their proximity in terms of rapid and increasing cause and effect, a difficulty the Tories continue to exploit to muddy the waters on the Brexit devastation.

But I’m guessing many of our small businesses would be able to give a clearer picture of how leaving the biggest trading market of the EU has impacted their individual concerns.

The OBR has revealed there has been a 4% hit to GDP because of Brexit, with the trade deficit between UK and EU at its highest level on record. Brexit has been most definitely bad for business and Scotland needs to look at lateral and imaginative routes to address our export issues as a result.

Actively setting in motion direct export routes from Scotland to address this gap in performance and potential is one solution, rather like the Irish did before Brexit “got done”, with freight routes redesigned to avoid the UK land bridge altogether to escape huge bottlenecks at Dover for instance.

My campaign to re-establish a Euro Ferry passenger and freight service for export opportunities from Rosyth to Zeebrugge continues to make progress and received a boost this week when Kate committed to having early talks with the government of Flanders should she be elected as first minister.

Once again, post-Brexit trade barriers have put a spanner in the works in terms of progress on this new service, despite support from DFDS, haulage companies, exporters, potential customers and those in the tourist industry who see great potential in its re-instated.

Hopefully, Kate’s involvement could kickstart more serious discussions around collaboration with Flanders and put pressure on the border authorities, for example, to be more flexible with the current arrangements.

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Finally, in terms of addressing poor performance on business investment, we can’t do this without some serious input from the private sector, but it needs to be done in partnership with public bodies on sustainable economic “missions” to address the big crises we face. The word “growth” has been taking a bit of a knocking recently in certain political corners but if growth is managed sustainably and fairly, with a chance for community input, and local co-benefits sown in rather than just a tick-box exercise without impactful delivery, we can transform Scotland to realise our potential and create a fairer future.

Because these partnerships need to be for the benefit of the people of Scotland and make our revenue cake bigger, we all need to have a stake in these national enterprises not just a set of already wealthy shareholders or shadowy organisations located in a far-flung tax haven.

It’s no secret that I’m keen to get the National Energy Company back on the table where Scots are stakeholders in our natural resources and profits are fed back into communities, addressing decarbonisation of our built environment and fuel poverty, while new jobs and opportunities to retrain are part and parcel of this process, bringing in existing expertise and talent from across the private and public sectors. Good for business, good for the climate and good for the people of Scotland.

To use that well-worn political campaign catchphrase, “it’s the economy, stupid” – addressing economic blockages in your own backyard is the best way to create a fair, stable and supportive environment to build our nation on our road to independence. The exciting thing is that it’s for everyone!