Scotland the Blog: Scotland’s Future and the Skills Challenge of taking the High Road

In Glasgow and across Scotland we are all shocked and saddened by the dreadful events which befell revellers in the Clutha vaults. Having been there and knowing what a jumping joint it is I know how rammed it would be on a Friday, when the police helicopter crashed into it. The terrible news just before Christmas for some families must be too much to bear. The united grief and sympathy of all of Scotland must be at least some consolation.

>The united grief and sympathy of all of Scotland must be at least some consolation.

Before that terrible tragedy two big things happened in Scotland: The SNP Published its White Paper Scotland’s Future and some massive horse sculptures known as “The Kelpies” were unveiled near Falkirk. Both are monumental in their own right. As yet you cannot get inside the Kelpies, but you can get inside the White paper. As I surf through it on my I pad I get a real sense that people are trying to convince me. As with all documents of persuasion it’s selective.  The main up front commitments should be fairly well known, the detail is currently being destructively tested by opponents and hopefully by more neutral voices. It’s worth a read to contemplate the future the SNP and the Yes camp envisage. This is our even handed assessment of what’s in there.

  • Universal child care support up to 38 hours a week is promised as is promise of 35,000 jobs in the nursery care centre.
  • A new Scottish Fair Work Commission which will seek to protect the value of minimum wages and provide advice on business competitiveness and fairness.
  • A much more liberal immigration than the and a special focus on restoring student’s visa’s and the right to remain after study.
  • A commitment to boost already generous Scots old age pensions
  • Withdraw from the UK governments (albeit dormant) shares for rights scheme
  • Abolish the Personal Independence payments developed as part of UK coalition welfare reform

The paper also engages with a number of Scotland’s shortcomings on the skills, productivity and innovation front. In short these amount to the return of an industrial policy.

  • An acknowledgement that though identical to UK levels, Scottish productivity is 12% lower than that of the Scandinavian countries Scotland compares itself to. So there is a target to develop a high productivity economy on the basis of more manufacturing.
  • Align education and skills policy with employment and industrial polices to facilitate high value job opportunities and achieve the objective of full employment.
  • Tap the value of our higher education institutions to drive a high value human capital approach

The debate has already begun about the financial viability of the programme and indeed its assumptions. However from the point of view of Scotland’s Skilled Future it offers a mix of corporatism, technology enabled change and a renewed focus on workforce skills.

None of these labour market challenges are unique to an independent Scotland. A Scotland continuing in union with the UK will still have the same challenges and opportunities. It’s really now down to a vision thing and so far as the skills agenda is concerned it looks like Scotland is taking the “High Road”. The thing is when productivity is significantly behind the countries you intend to follow up that road, you need to have a strategy for closing that gap.

The Scottish Government is more inspirational than evidence focused on this. It genuinely believes that control of the economy as an independent nation will generate a vibrant highly productive workforce, which will pay for a generous welfare state. There is an assumption a country of 5 million plus has the scale to be sustainable. Equally compelling arguments can be made about the scale and scope advantages of being plugged into the UK economy and labour market. It will be interesting to see who this debate shapes up.  I will be highlighting some of the key evidence over the next few months.

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  • Anonymous

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