THE First Minister earlier this month announced plans to create a dynamic government ministry to drive industrial policy once we become independent.

This is something I welcomed with an Early Day Motion (EDM) to Parliament at Westminster.

In the face of the UK’s low growth, poor productivity and high debt as a result of 13 years of Tory mismanagement and chaos, all minds must be focused on reversing this economic demise, this “systematic immiseration” of our citizens, to quote the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty.

Why should Scots – regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum – with our abundant natural resources, renewable potential and skills expertise, accept the Bank of England’s warning that people across the UK need to prepare to be poorer?

Why shouldn’t Scots work together on a bigger, more positive vision to create security, resilience and sustainable growth for our nation?

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My EDM concludes that we should “prepare to be prosperous” as a “doing” statement and not just an aspirational announcement. I believe it’s a mantra that Scots will be more than enthusiastic to adopt. And I believe we have to start preparing to deliver as soon as possible from the starting point of devolution, but with the attitude that we are already independent.

Because the crises are backing up, with climate change accelerating at a terrifying speed; citizens battling with post-Covid woes; a cost of living and energy crisis; a cost of doing business crisis; and wars raging in Europe and the Middle East.

There’s never been a better time to do things than NOW! We need to act, to deliver and to make short-, medium-, and long-term gains to improve our situation. With this urgency in mind, I believe an industrial policy is something we can build on in the here and now, this year, as we creep dangerously close to our net-zero targets of 2030 and 2045, with a view of doing more once we are independent and have more autonomy as a sovereign nation.

People here have often said we should act as if we are already an independent nation, but I am also reminded of the words of one of Dunfermline’s most famous sons, Andrew Carnegie, who said: “The older I get, the less I listen to what people say but instead I watch what they do.” It’s that “doing” bit that is our problem.

The Scottish Government has already announced a Green Industrial Strategy off the back of extensive consultations on its Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan.

With strategic and imaginative use of our existing devolved powers on heat and planning, transport, agriculture and land, we can kickstart the process, while exploring new ways to bolster our revenue budget and encourage investment in these key areas of comparative advantage, as the First Minister pointed out, such as renewables, FinTech and bioscience.

The FM also repeated the call for Scotland to rejoin the European Union once we are independent as a means to bolstering our industrial ambitions. In the meantime, we need to stay as close to Europe as we can and ensure our physical connectivity to the continent, something we can do through transport and exporting goods and services of course.

I am still pushing the campaign to re-instate the Rosyth freight and passenger ferry to Europe with this very aim. It would be good for the economy, with direct trade routes to the port of Dunkirk; good for connectivity and tourism for our citizens and mainland Europeans; and good for the environment in terms of the reduction of carbon emissions from road transport and rail. And most of all it would be good for busting out of this Brexit dead-end.

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The FM also promised a go-getter, an envoy no less, to cement our future relationship with the high heid yins in Brussels. We need someone with the skills, knowledge and credibility to knock on doors, make a contribution to or be able to comment constructively on EU policy and to explain clearly how Scotland, as the newest member state, would fit into the EU eco-system.

This is a “soft power” appointment and if we’re serious about being back in the EU – identify the most skilled individual and make the appointment NOW!

Even if a change happens later this year at Westminster, we can’t rely on a possible new Labour government negotiating on re-entering the single market as the party has made it quite clear where it sits on the Brexit meaning Brexit continuum.

So, Scotland needs to chart our own path on this – and with no ifs and no buts. Meanwhile, in the shorter term, I would argue that the creation of a minister for industrial strategy role needs to happen NOW!

On top of that, we should convene an emergency council of industrial leaders and experts to craft this new industrial strategy and identify ways of maximising our potential in key areas. It’s important we cast the net wider than all the usual suspects that appear on these strategy groups – Scotland has an extensive and diverse talent pool, and we need to make the most of it, not least hearing more from small to medium-sized business owners, trade unions and policy thinkers that have so far been kept out of the tent. 

If the Green Industrial Strategy is already being formulated, we are off to a good start on this. Indeed, every strategy needs to be green now given how catastrophic climate change affects all aspects of our lives.

A successful industrial nation is a resilient one, with confidence in tackling new technological advancements and with a vibrant skilled workforce ready to expand on innovative opportunities and respond to their nation’s unique strengths and resources.

We must be agile, adaptive and ambitious – and I think Scotland has all these ingredients by the bucketload – plus a healthy dose of pragmatism on the importance of shared success and fairness.

This means government getting proactive and bringing industry on board and we’re already seeing good moves in this direction with a reset at Holyrood on economic relations as well as ensuring cross-party support and citizen engagement.

After all, success is all in the preparation and we are much more likely to succeed if we all pull together on delivering for Scotland. This must be the year we prepare to be prosperous, but we’ll need to be more decisive, dynamic, expansive, big and bold ... and yes, do it NOW!