Re:wiring Scotland-it might make a difference!

by Julian Westaby.

A number of the Dunning team attended the Annual SCDI forum, which took place last week in St Andrews. Whilst we didn’t ‘Re:wire’ Scotland as the topic of the forum in the Fairmont Hotel suggested, we feel we’ve now helped to turn-on Scotland’s digital capability and the event certainly got a few people pulsing!

A few hundred of Scotland’s entrepreneurs, political hotshots, rich and successful people and general movers-and-shakers got together to listen and contribute-to a broad debate on the future of Scotland. Bold Thinking, Tough Choices and Clear Focus were the three sub-plots for discussion and although there were a number of avenues not investigated (not surprising in only a day-and-a-half) there was a great deal of food for thought and, we feel, a large amount of forward momentum created.

Chief protagonists and those with the most forthright opinions and we thought the most interesting opinions were those who could best be described as ‘ex-pats’. People who had gone abroad to rise to exalted positions in their chosen field. Those more in a position to ‘see oorsels as ithers see us’ and comment on Scotland’s Global position, in a more enlightened and definitely, a more frank, honest way.

One of these ‘ex-pat’ speakers, Mike Murphy, who heads-up Communications giant Grayling and is now based in London seemed to think Scotland lacks a cohesive ‘identity’ and suggested the creation of a joined-up ‘Scotland’ brand is what’s required. Members of the audience reflected on the ‘Scotland The Brand’ initiative of the 1990’s which was ‘ahead of it’s time’ or a complete fiasco, depending on which point of view you thought was relevant.

Was it time for a bit of unity and a holistic message to be sent out by one, unified National promotion body? Basically, he hinted at an amalgam of government bodies quangos and others?

Another speaker, Professor Russell Greig – President of SR One, Glaxo-Smithkline’s venture capital arm, he suggested that creating ‘The University of Scotland’ might be another way to help us punch above our weight.

The University of Scotland would be one holistic, sophisticated, ‘Super-University’ consisting of all the existing, University ‘jewels in the crown’ . Would the coming together of one, multi-campus seat of learning excellence be a ‘dream ticket’ or would it simply be creating a monolithic, slow-moving monster?

He compared Scotland, not with other Countries but more realistically, (and rather unflatteringly for Scotland) with an American State! He showed how, on a like-for-like basis, we badly lagged behind the State of Massachusetts (chiefly Boston and its environs), when it came to a number of basic but fundamental economic measures. It made for very sobering listening, particularly for those of a ‘wha’s like us?’, ‘Braveheart’ standpoint.

Political speakers, Jim Murphy and Alex Salmond were both understandably ‘pre-election-cagey’ and didn’t really cause any controversy or add that much to the debate, in our opinion. They both explored a common theme though and echoed a voice that ran through the entire Forum. Their common thread was expressing the importance of ‘renewables’ as a building block for Scotland’s energy-generating future. Our new ‘oil’ is Scotland’s wind and water, which could be capable of providing 10 times our power requirements, according to Mr Salmond.

However, there was concern expressed that a lot, if not most of the technology to harness this power was being developed outwith Scotland, mirroring what happened in the 1970’s. Are we going to see firebrand students with button badges bearing the legend “It’s Scotland’s Water!” in the future?

The Forum also featured the ‘Scot 10‘ (see above) a panel of respected ‘been-there-done-that’ individuals and ‘leaders’ who had only ONE MINUTE each, to map-out their vision of Scotland. This was a hugely entertaining aspect of the Forum and one which demonstrated that sometimes, ‘less is more’, particularly when it comes to oratory opportunities!

All-in-all, a fascinating 48 hours and we’re looking forward to seeing just what form the ‘forward momentum’ we mentioned will take. We think Re:wiring Scotland was an event that just might make a difference!