Scotland can lead the next era of radical technological change

Scotland is a bold and positive country, rich in history and heritage, but forging ahead in a way that is progressive, pioneering and inclusive.

A talent for innovation runs throughout our history. Many of the advances that shaped the modern world – the steam engine, the telephone, penicillin, the television – were discovered or invented by Scots.

And that tradition endures to this day. Scotland’s businesses and our universities remain at the cutting edge of research and development – in key sectors like energy, life sciences and digital technology. We want to build on that, by supporting the talent and potential of Scotland’s entrepreneurs, our inventors and our businesses.

So we are taking decisive action now to ensure our country take the lead in the next era of radical change – not trail in its wake. That is why we recently launched ‘Scotland is Now’, a major new campaign that sees the Scottish Government, VisitScotland, Scottish Development International and Universities Scotland join forces to put Scotland in the international spotlight and showcase the country’s world-leading assets to a global audience.

Brexit looms large and is obviously relevant to any discussion of our economic future. Attracting more migrant talent, international students, expanding overseas businesses and high-spend tourists will grow Scotland’s economy and further cement our reputation as an open, diverse and welcoming country.

I deeply regret the UK’s decision to leave the EU and I believe the absurdity of the ongoing UK Cabinet dispute over post-Brexit customs arrangements strengthens the basic argument which the Scottish Government, together with many businesses, has always made. The best approach – if the UK government is determined to leave the EU – is to remain in the Single Market, which is around eight times bigger than the UK market alone, and the Customs Union. However, the prospect of Brexit, and the inevitable harm it will do to our economy, reinforces the importance of all of the other steps we are taking to create a strong business environment.

For example, we have increased support for business research and development by 70 per cent. We know that one of the best drivers of innovation is businesses’ own expenditure on R&D. We are establishing a National Manufacturing Institute, aimed at putting us at the cutting edge of manufacturing skills and research.

We are also establishing a Scottish National Investment Bank backed by a public capitalisation target at the level of £2 billion over the first 10 years to provide support for ambitious businesses through strategic and patient capital over all stages of firms’ and businesses investment lifecycle. Our R&D excellence is attracting global interest and has resulted in the UK’s fastest growing tech innovation community, representing a rich source of data-driven innovation suppliers and partners. Scotland’s tech sector is home to 1,000 companies, with 97,000 graduates from tech related fields – and we are the birthplace of some incredible success stories, like Skyscanner and Fanduel.

Scotland’s national brand has never been stronger. We are making the most of that by expanding our existing network of Innovation and Investment Hubs in London, Brussels and Dublin, with a hub opening in Berlin earlier this year and one in Paris planned.

Our message to the world is: join us, be part of Scotland’s future, and part of the ongoing success story of a country that is a great place to live, work, invest and a progressive nation taking the lead on key global challenges.

A version of this article was published in the Times.