Made in Scotland, from girders 

Iron Brew

American servicemen visiting the UK during the Second World War did more for the export of American culture, through rock’n’roll, chewing gum and nylon, than all the ad men in the world. In the second half of the twentieth century, the British reciprocated by exporting British culture in the form of movie stars and Britpop.

In Scotland, we’re blessed not only with remarkable people and a world-beating landscape, but with a culture that is both uniquely distinctive and appealing to foreign audiences. I’m not talking about what Billy Connolly used to refer to as shortbread tins and bonnie purple heather (although they all sell well too). I’m talking about our art, our music, our literature, all of which permeate the modern world to an extent that they’ve become inseparably merged with everything else to the extent that we can’t distinguish the Scottishness from anything else. Has it ever occurred to you how remarkable it is that, at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, people the world over sing “Auld Lang Syne”? I’m sure that most of them have no clue what an Auld Lang Syne is. I’m not sure I do. But it’s not bad going for an eighteenth-century taxman from Alloway in Ayrshire. When they vote for their favourite James Bond, does it not seem odd that most plump for the milkman from Fountainbridge in Edinburgh? Is the reverend’s son from Helensburgh ever remembered when they sit down to watch telly? When they look at their photos in Instagram or on Facebook, do you think they realise that the first ever colour photo, of a tartan ribbon no less, was brought to being by a 30-year old from Edinburgh during a Royal Institution lecture he was giving? Of course, these last two are as much about our technical inventiveness as they are about culture itself but try and imagine modern culture anywhere without them, let alone Peter Pan or Sherlock Holmes, both of whom were also born of Scottish parents, so to speak.

But what now? In a world awash with real-time music, imagery and iconography, how does the Scottish brand of culture survive, let alone blaze a trail? In many ways, the means by which culture is conveyed (i.e. online) makes the export of it quicker, cheaper and easier than it ever was before. The obvious corollary of that is that it is now infinitely harder to stand out from the infinite varieties that we are all subjected to in everyday life.

As ever, the first step is in education. And the education, somewhat ironically, starts at home. Speaking personally, I was born and raised in Glasgow and very lucky to go to a fabulous school (even if I hated going), but, looking back, I’m pretty sure that by the age of nine, I knew more about William of Normandy than I knew about Kenneth MacAlpine, that I was more familiar with Shakespeare than Burns, and that if you’d asked me what it meant to strip the willow, I’d stab a guess that it was something that my dad bought tools for when he visited Dodge City of a weekend.

Our people, especially our kids, are the best culture carriers we have. They need to be inculcated with not only a knowledge of Scots culture, but a burning passion and protective pride for it. I’m not saying that we’re ever going to replace a James Morrison with a James Boswell but at the same time, we don’t want everything Scottish to be erased by Spotify.

Of course, exporting Scottish culture doesn’t mean having to dream up ways to make ancient poetry and literature attractive to a modern audience. But, growing up in Scotland, I could never have imagined the thrill I would get from wearing the kilt as a grown man, especially outside of Scotland. People are fascinated by it, all the more so the further away from Scotland you actually are. And they know all about it (and under it). And that, in large part, is thanks to the writings of Walter Scott in books such as Waverley, which, when released in 1814, reawakened a sense of pride in something which had been made illegal by the Dress Act of 1746. Two hundred years later and, by some estimates, there are as many as 14,000 tartan variations to choose from, a number reflecting the global appetite for the woven patterns from Scotland. That history, that heritage, that sense of identity is a very powerful force. Sure, we all had a good laugh at an Australian/American actor playing William Wallace but can you name a Hollywood blockbuster about a 12th century English hero? The Scottish identity is absolutely unique, it’s all ours and we completely underestimate it.

What else have we got that’s unique and which other people buy into culturally? Loads. The ceilidh. Highland dancing. Highland games. Scottish humour. Traditional Scottish music. The bagpipes (believe it or not). Modern Scottish music. Scottish actors. Scottish authors. The Edinburgh Festival. The Edinburgh Tattoo. And the magical elixir, made in Scotland, from girders. We need to get better at exporting what we have, like others do. We need more Scottish film-making. More Scottish TV. More content about Scots history.

More celebration of Scots and our Scottish heritage. More Great Scots in the future.

You can follow the Great Scots Foundation on Twitter at @scotsfoundation.

The rise and fall and rise of Scotland’s economy

QE2 launch

Scotland was one of the industrial powerhouses of Europe from the time of the Industrial Revolution onwards, being a world leader in manufacturing. This has left a legacy in the diversity of goods and services which the Scottish economy produces today, from textiles, whisky and shortbread to jet engines, buses, computer software, ships, avionics and microelectronics to banking, insurance, investment management and other related financial services.

In common with most other advanced industrialised economies, Scotland has seen a decline in the importance of both manufacturing industries and primary-based extractive industries. This has, however, been combined with a rise in the service sector of the economy, which has seen significant rates of growth over the past decade and is now the largest sector in Scotland.

There’s nothing wrong with building an economy around call centres if yours is the fastest growing economy on the planet. With regret, that is not the case here.

We need to reconcile the long-since recognised creativity, drive and intelligence of Scottish people with the emerging business norms and practices of a twenty-first century global economy, where billion dollar businesses can be built by individuals on their devices and information shared at the speed of thought. Such an economy poses no disadvantage to Scotland today barring the physical requirements for infrastructure and the commercial absolutes of capital and human resources, which are covered in the second strand.

We can aspire to establish an economy which leverages modern working practices to provide work for all, which recycles existing physical spaces to provide workspace and facilities for all, which raises new capital and new routes to market for Scottish entrepreneurs and producers, which harnesses the power of the Scottish network to support the incubation of new businesses, and which looks at the opportunity to underpin this new economy with the creation of a not-for-profit Scottish challenger bank and a bespoke crypto-currency.

You can follow the Great Scots Foundation on Twitter at @scotsfoundation.

Making an example of them

One of the great wonders of Scottish education, of its greatest achievements, has been the continuous production of more heroes than the Clyde produced ships. Wouldn’t it be great to use those heroes as the inspiration for generations of new Scots? Imagine the Adam Smith School of Economics, the Andrew Carnegie School of Business and Philanthropy, the Walter Scott School of Literature, the Logie Baird School of Technology, or the Alexander Fleming School of Medicine? How about extending that to other fields? What about the Gordon Ramsay School of Cooking, or the Sean Connery School of Performing Arts or the Jack Vettriano School of Modern Art? How about in sport? Why not the Andy Murray Tennis Academy, the Chris Hoy Athletics Academy, the Kenny Dalglish Football Academy, the Colin Montgomery School of Golf or the Jackie Stewart Academy of Motorsport?

Our greatest ever export

Glasgow exports

Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen: Scotland’s three largest cities, each with long and proud histories. And yet walk down Sauchiehall Street, Princes Street or Union Street respectively and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in any other town in the UK or anywhere else in the western hemisphere for that matter. The Universities of Glasgow and St Andrews may both have opened before Columbus reached the American mainland but today American chains such as Starbucks, McDonalds (ironic Scottish name), and other national and global chains dominate in the very same shop units and buildings which were once thriving hubs of Scottish industry. On any one of those streets, you’ll find countless Italian restaurants, innumerable German cars and people brandishing Japanese and Korean technology, wearing French scents and cosmetics, and sporting clothes from the proliferating clothing chains of Spain and Scandinavia. If it weren’t for the buzz and burr of the Scottish accents thronging through these premises (and the weather), you really could be anywhere. The real irony is that in the history of the world, Scots have exported far more of their culture than they’ve ever imported. Like David Livingstone and the countless other missionaries in nineteenth-century Africa, we have sent not only our religion and our beliefs, we’ve exported our culture and our way of life to every corner of the globe. Typically, we’ve done this in the most direct way possible, by physically exporting our people. While Scots were still barred from studying at English universities during the Wars of Independence, people like John de Rate, Walter Wardlaw, William de Tredbrum and Laurence de Lindores, all Scots abroad, were themselves lecturers in the continental universities of Paris and beyond. Today, in both the US and in Canada respectively, more people would claim Scottish heritage than there are people in Scotland overall. In Australia, the “Scottish” population outnumbers the combined population of Glasgow and Edinburgh. If anything, it’s our reach, culturally, that most readily demonstrates the extent to which we’ve punched above our weight on the global stage.

This ability to trade culture is critical to the success of future Scottish generations. To export our identity and our culture into a global, cosmopolitan hotch-potch will be critical to businesses and graduates trying to sell themselves in a global marketplace. To maintain our identity while still being suitably agile enough to import and adopt the cultures and the ideas of others will not be important, it will be mission critical.

You can follow the Great Scots Foundation on Twitter at @scotsfoundation.

Ex duco 

School Archives

According to Wikipedia, the word university is derived from the Latin: universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly meaning “community of teachers and scholars”. The term was coined by the Italian University of Bologna, which, with a traditional founding date of 1088, is considered the first university.  The first English-speaking university was founded at Oxford in roughly 1096. The second was founded at Cambridge. The next three English-speaking universities were founded at St. Andrews, in 1413, Glasgow, in 1451, and at Aberdeen, in 1495. That’s right – Columbus had barely stepped foot in the Americas by the time Scotland had three universities. In so doing, Scotland played an early role in the formation of education and research structures that still exist today.

The world has come a long way since 1495 and Scotland’s relative role in the world and in the avant-garde of civilisation has dimmed. As we consider the regeneration of Scotland’s role in the world, education is paramount, as is the evolution of what is meant by education, and how it is delivered, in a twenty-first century setting. Of course, reinventing education is not going to help Scotland in and of itself. But in order to make a quantum leap forward, Scotland needs a method or vehicle of education that gets into the bloodstream of more of it’s people more quickly than one which was developed and evolved in another time.

The fifteenth century is a long time ago but those three founding universities preceded the Scottish Enlightenment and all that followed. Surely Scotland can lead another education revolution?

You can follow the Great Scots Foundation on Twitter at @scotsfoundation.

Change doesn’t always require politics 

Clyde Shipbuilding

All the world loves a label. At some point, the old labels cease to be relevant.

Supporting wealth creation and meritocracy, without looking to big government to get stuff done, doesn’t make this endeavour conservative. Supporting the needs of the poor through public support and a plan for full employment doesn’t make this socialism. Supporting the right of any person to freedom of movement and expression, doesn’t make this liberal. Supporting responsible growth which supports the environment and doesn’t produce anti-environmental results doesn’t make this green. Supporting the interests of a country and the long-term well-being of its people doesn’t make this nationalism. And so it follows that supporting the development of society through collective effort, interaction and debate doesn’t make this political.

Political credo, defined along traditional party political lines, has less relevance than it once did. Labels such as conservatism and socialism fitted more easily in a world segregated and compartmentalised by huge gaps in wealth, education and resources. In an Internet age, the availability of those advantages has increased dramatically and so those distinctions have become blurred.

You can follow the Great Scots Foundation on Twitter at @scotsfoundation.

Why so Great, Scots? Why so, Great Scots?

How an archipelago of rainy islands off the north-west coast of Europe came to rule the world is one of the fundamental questions not just of British but of world history. 

Niall Ferguson, Empire

The first colour photo, showing a tartan ribbon, taken in a live demonstration by James Clerk Maxwell.
The first colour photo, showing a tartan ribbon, taken in a live demonstration by James Clerk Maxwell.

I watched a film recently which told the story of how Steve Jobs changed the world, starting with the original launch of the Mac. Here in Scotland, we’ve been churning out world-changing Macs for centuries, but what was it that made it possible for so many Scots to do so much, to contribute so much, to change so much about the world we live in? Why us?

There is no one quality that links a Maxwell to a Watt to a Smith to a Stevenson to a Rennie Mackintosh. No silver bullet. No secret sauce. No cryptic formula. Almost all of the great Scots mentioned in my first post, “When will we see their likes again?”, came from different eras, different backgrounds, and lived and experienced very different lives. In fact, the only thing they appear to have in common is their Scottishness.

It’s as though this lowest common denominator amongst them, of being Scottish, was the same flint that lit the fuse in all of these individuals, that fanned their creativity, that inspired, that encouraged them, cajoled them and got them out of bed, that bred an indefatigable work ethic, that challenged them to challenge the insurmountable, challenge themselves and challenge the world, that gave them enough of a damn to push through any barrier alloyed to an inner confidence not to give a damn whatsoever for the doubts or opprobrium of others, and that powered them to see their visions through to reality. For much as we love it, Scotland through the ages has never naturally provided a supportive, nurturing environment to encourage pioneers like a modern-day Silicon Valley does. There was never a national honey pot of venture capital waiting to greet any half-baked scheme with limitless cash, an iPad, an army of newly baked MBAs and promises of a bright future. Yes, in Scotland we always had plenty of greetin’ and plenty of Macs, and sometimes greetin’ Macs, but rarely were either in the Cupertino sense.

“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”

Steve Jobs

But is that really it? Being Scottish defines and explains Scottish success? That’s it? That doesn’t really satisfy me but the alternatives don’t fit. Physical differences? No. Environment advantages? No. Greater natural resources? No. It’s hard, if not impossible, to link the individual successes of so many Scots to any single quality or advantage by any other means. Perhaps, having no single trait to define success is how it should be. After all, very few nations, if any, have established, on a large-scale, a model for replicable success. But very few nations, of Scotland’s size and resources, ever delivered to the scale that Scots consistently have. If anything, it’s as if something in the Scottish ether bred it’s own DNA of achievement-driven, personality traits. In that sense, it’s not that being Scottish is a good enough argument to explain Scottish success. It’s not. Rather, it’s that the adjective Scottish can be seen to represent a bundling of qualities which, when grouped, come closest to describing the collective attributes of the Scots who delivered our greatest successes.

What would those qualities be? The intellectual curiosity, creativity and innate ingenuity of an Alexander Fleming? The tenacity and dogged perseverance of an Eric Liddell? A disregard for the odds, no matter how impossible, of a William Wallace or Robert the Bruce? A delight in proving doubters or adversaries wrong of an Andy Murray? The lyrical delivery of a Robert Burns? The versatility and adaptability of a David Hume? The resolution and patience for creating work of true lasting quality of a Sir Walter Scott? The cunning and tactical wiliness of a Sir Alex Ferguson? The kinship and loyalty represented by the legend of Greyfriars Bobby? The kindness and generosity of spirit of an Andrew Carnegie?

Individually, these qualities are not unique. Most successful people must have had some or all in great measure, irrespective of nationality or origin. I am arguing that, based on the weight of evidence, something about growing up in Scotland or being brought up by Scots created a concentration of those characteristics which, in hindsight, could now be used to define the group. Could Scots have invented the television or discovered the source of the Nile or won more Olympic gold medals than any other Briton without that particular combination of qualities? Maybe our history makes us stronger. Maybe the successes of our forebears has created in us a collective belief that gets passed down through generations. Perhaps it was centuries of being underdog to vastly more numerous English invaders or a need to out-do the noisy neighbours. Perhaps the depth of poverty and deprivation in Scotland encouraged many Scots to break out and over-achieve. Maybe it was just the dreich Scottish weather. Mebbes aye, mebbes naw, but just as the Americans might be characterised, generally, by their resolute optimism, the French for their love of lengthy intellectual examination and discourse, and the Germans for their fabulous sense of order and organisation, so the Scots, as a collective, and allowing for the broad generalisation, might be similarly defined by their insistence on fighting on in spite of unfavourable odds and disadvantage. Not just known for it, maybe we prefer it that way.

Now, to be clear, no other nation or national should take offence. I’m not saying that the Scots are better than anyone else or that others don’t achieve. I haven’t said that anywhere and at no point have I meant to imply it. Firstly, it’s not true. Secondly, not many Scots would thank me for saying it. Despite their many successes, Scots are usually less tolerant of braggarts and big heads than most people and, for that reason, would never proclaim their own superiority. Yes, Scotland has nurtured a lasting, globally recognisable sense of identity which compares well with any other but every one of these other nations has had it’s own fabulous successes, achievements and triumphs. Presumably, those nations wouldn’t have survived or emerged as nations down through the years if that weren’t true.

Scotland’s successes deserve pride, merit and recognition. Understanding the common roots of those successes is critical, especially if they can serve to inspire future generations of Scots to similar heights.

You can follow the Great Scots Foundation on Twitter at @scotsfoundation.

When will we see their likes again?

“Here’s tae us; Wha’s like us? Damn few, and they’re a’ deid!”
Traditional Scottish toast

Great Scots Gallery

It happens every time I go there. As I walk into the Great Scots Bar at Cameron House on Loch Lomond, I am immediately struck by the wall-to-wall array of black and white portraits showing great Scots through the ages. The first feeling is awe, bordering on disbelief. That so many familiar faces, so many household names, so many lasting achievements, could be all associated with not just one country, one people, but with my country, with my people. These are faces and names not just famous to me or to Scots, they’re famous the world over. The second feeling is genuine, spine-tingling, cheek warming pride. Forget the world’s local bank: this is what they should put on the sky bridges when you arrive at the airports or on the railway platforms in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Like visiting the Coliseum in ancient Rome, it’s a home advantage both terrifying and awe-spiring. You can’t help but be impressed.

Travel the world and test what the term “Scottish” means and you’ll get a stramash of responses ranging from Braveheart to haggis, from kilts to Nessie, from tartan to shortbread. But there’s so much more to us than that.

Scots created much of the modern world. If you’re not Scottish, you might think I’m exaggerating but I assure you that there is barely an element of modern life that Scots were not responsible for inventing, developing or distributing. Not being so predictable as to even dwell on golf or Scotch whisky, Scots invented the TV, the bicycle, the ATM, radar, the pneumatic tyre, the permanent light bulb, and the telephone. The scientists who developed insulin, discovered penicillin and cloned Dolly the Sheep were born and raised in Scotland. And these are just the biggies, the trophy deals.

In fact, Scots have had a hand in almost every field of human development over the last four centuries.

As nation builders, our record stands next to anyone’s. Lachlan Macquairie, of Argyll, did much to shape and mould early Australia. Two Scots-born men signed the US Declaration of Independence in 1776. John Law, of Edinburgh, was the first de facto prime minister of France and founded New Orleans. It was a Scotsman who more or less invented modern, industrialised Japan. And in Africa, explorer and missionary, David Livingston, of Blantyre in Lanarkshire, walked Africa from coast to coast and discovered the source of the Nile, subsequently know as the Victoria Falls.

Closer to home, it was a Scotsman who was responsible for founding the Bank of England. A different Scotsman founded the Bank of France. Significant enough as feats in themselves but more so when you consider that at the time, the mid eighteenth century, the United Kingdom and France were the two biggest economies in the world and these central banks were the Scots-built financial engine rooms at the centre. Adam Smith, of Kirkcaldy, wrote the book on economics, quite literally. A Scotsman founded the Labour party, another was the first Labour prime minister (another, the most recent), and whilst Eton may be renowned for having produced 7 of the last 10 British prime ministers, Scotland itself has also produced 7. In recent decades, Scots including David Steel, Charles Kennedy, Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon, Gordon Brown, Alastair Darling, Malcolm Rifkind, Liam Fox, and Tony Blair have all represented Scotland on political stages across the world, whilst political and economic commentators such as Andrew Marr, Sir Tom Devine, Magnus Linklater, Kirsty Wark, Andrew Neil, and Niall Ferguson have recorded their progress.

In commerce, Dunfermline-born Andrew Carnegie was the Bill Gates of his day, both in terms of wealth and philanthropy, bequeathing to the world, amongst other things, countless public libraries and New York’s Carnegie Hall. Glasgow-born David Ogilvy more or less invented the concept of Madison Avenue marketing and advertising men, or Mad Men, when he opened his agency there in the 1950s. The New York Herald was established by a Scottish ex-patriot. David Buick moved from Scotland to America and produced a line of cars which still bear his name to this day. Thomas Lipton left Glasgow to start a new enterprise in the US which today sees his family name printed on millions of iced tea drinks globally. And in heavy industry, in the era when to be a military power abroad was to rule the waves, we built the biggest and most famous ships in the world. Nowadays, the likes of Michelle Mone, Duncan Bannatyne, Tom Farmer, Tom Hunter and Ann Boag blaze a trail for Scots in business. In fact, if you were to scan the Forbes list of the world’s most influential people, you’d find a ribbon of Scottish DNA running through many of those listed. Forbes, itself, an American magazine that was created by B. C. Forbes who was, yes, you guessed it, Scottish.

Peter Pan. Sherlock Holmes. Jekyll and Hyde. Long John Silver. All characters regularly revisited by Hollywood. All characters born of authors born in Scotland. We gave the world the first, authentic, on-screen James Bond. The author, Ian Fleming, was famously so impressed with Sean Connery that he went back to his books to give James Bond a Scottish back-story. We adopted J K Rowling and she has adopted us in return, giving back many, many times over. In architecture, William and Robert Adam, Alexander “Greek” Thomson and Charles Rennie Mackintosh each evolved a style of architecture as recognisable and evocative as any that Haussmann or Wright or Turner were to do in later eras. Sir Walter Scott. Ewan McGregor. Tilda Swinton. Dame Maggie Smith. Iain Banks. John Buchan. Simple Minds. Billy Connolly. James Boswell. The Corries. Andy Stewart. Irvine Welsh. James McAvoy. Robert Burns. I’m forgetting more than I’m naming. Omission on this scale is grand and is not intended to offend anyone. Many auld acquaintances may be forgotten but they’re often brought to mind when you’re constantly confronted with the scale of Scotland’s contribution to the culture and the arts in everyday life.

In sport, we’ve given the world Chris Hoy, Alex Ferguson, Jim Clark, Dario Franchitti, Andy Murray, Jamie Murray, Jackie Stewart, Kenny Dalglish, Colin McRae, Bill Shankly and Rhona Martin. Scottish Olympians won more gold medals than the Australians at the Olympics in 2012. Hoy is the most decorated British Olympian ever. Scottish riders and drivers have frequently dominated motor sport. In football, despite the comically implausible optimism of Ally’s army in the late 70s, we may never have been past the first round of a major international tournament but the Scots played the first ever international, hold the world record for attendance at a football match (a mind-boggling 149,000 people all crammed into one stadium on the south side of Glasgow), produced the first British club side to win a European Cup and have given birth to a production line of legendary players and, especially, managers. Oh, and in tennis, not a sport for which Scots have been renowned over the years, our boy from Dunblane ended not only Britain’s interminable wait for a male grand slam champion, for a male singles champion at Wimbledon, but then capped it, just this week, when he led the line magnificently in the team that brought home tennis’s Davis Cup after a gap of 79 years.

Yes, Scots are a unique breed. In the prize-giving at the Crufts of nations, we’re not as big or as awesome as the Great Dane. We’re not as fancy as the French poodle. And we’re not as foreboding as the German Shepherd. No, by luck or design, we are the Scots terrier personified. Brave, plucky, tenacious, fiercely loyal, hardy, rugged, tough, treading a fine line between pugnacious and cute. Loved by all, but certainly nobody’s pushover.

And yet, at no time has Scotland been the largest, the most populous or the richest of nations. At no point in time were the casino chips of all the races ever stacked more favourably towards the Scots than any other. Quite the reverse. Scotland’s population today is at it’s all-time zenith: five million. That’s less than half the population of London. And that’s us at our peak, numerically speaking. It’s only ever been lower until now thanks in large part to a combination of huge losses to war, disease, famine and, generally, a chronically low life expectancy. On that front, we’re also at our best ever standing – 74 years for men, 76 for women – and yet, that’s still the worst in the western world. In short, the odds have only ever been stacked against the success of Scottish people. But somehow, by force of collective will or nature, the Scots have not only overcome their challenges but done so whilst making a pretty sizeable contribution to things overall.

But there are aspects of today’s Scotland – largely beyond the control of the Scottish people – that threaten to dilute the future impact to society achieved by generations of the great Scots of our romantic past. In the field of invention, for example, it seems impossible to imagine us producing another Fleming, Logie Baird or Bell. For one thing, modern inventions today are churned out by mega corporations in far flung industrial facilities, not by leading scientists in small insular laboratories. But even if that were not the case, the scale of Scotland’s public health issues, the decline of most industries, and the relative reduction in standards of education have all come at a time when other nations have not only caught up with the highs previously reached by Scots (with the help of Scots) but themselves become so competitive that they have opened a gap which, if left untended, will not be bridgeable in the future. With such a gap, more and more young Scots talent will move abroad, less and less funding will be made available to Scots and the great social issues (health, education, employment) will be left unresolved.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

John F. Kennedy

With this in mind, in 2016, I want to start a charity: the Great Scots Foundation. The intention of this initiative is to make a contribution towards ensuring that future generations of Scots are able to deliver on the same spectacular scale that their predecessors achieved.

This is not a prescription for every social and economic ill facing Scotland today. No such prescription exists and I’m not qualified to dispense it. I want to be very specific about the small number of initiatives that I believe will make the lion rampant on a global stage once again.

From the tactical to the strategic, from granular minutiae to the grand scale, such initiatives could take many forms. Mentally, the key hurdle to overcome is incrementalism, resisting the urge to think in small steps in the tired but misbegotten belief that every new idea has been tried and failed already. That said, an equal and equivalent challenge is to balance an agenda big enough to bring change and measurable improvement with one which doesn’t get so big that it gets choked by an excess of analysis, planning and engineering.

At a high level, there are three key strands or headings which capture the key areas that befit the venture whilst delivering the greatest and broadest benefit, namely: Rebooting the Scottish economy; Putting information in the hands of everyone; and Improving well-being.

  • Rebooting the Scottish economy: For over four hundred years, Scottish industrial and economic output has cycled through majoring in farming and agriculture, to heavy industry, to, latterly, banking and the service economy. Call centres are the fastest growing economic sector in Scotland today. There’s nothing wrong with building an economy around call centres if yours is the fastest growing economy on the planet. With regret, that is not the case with Scotland. The purpose of this strand is to reconcile the long-since recognised creativity, drive and intelligence of Scottish people with the emerging business norms and practices of a twenty-first century global economy, where billion dollar businesses can be built by individuals on their devices and information shared at the speed of thought. Such an economy poses no disadvantage to Scotland today barring the physical requirements for infrastructure and the commercial absolutes of capital and human resources, which are covered in the second strand. This first strand would aspire to establish an economy which leverages modern working practices to provide work for all, which recycles existing physical spaces to provide workspace and facilities for all, which raises new capital and new routes to market for Scottish entrepreneurs and producers, which harnesses the power of the Scottish network to support the incubation of new businesses, and which looks at the opportunity to underpin this new economy with the creation of a not-for-profit Scottish challenger bank and a bespoke crypto-currency.
  • Putting information in the hands of everyone: At the heart of this new information economy is, self-evidently, the free flow of knowledge and information for Scottish people. This strand would therefore focus on delivering a range of benefits from free high-speed internet access and basic computing facilities which are free for all at the point of use, to looking at the repurposing and re-establishment of public libraries in an information technology economy, to establishing a world-class technology education and research facility for Scottish people, to creating new classes of educational certification, to, ultimately, giving rise to a modern, barrier-free commercial and social infrastructure that empowers Scots to make their mark on the global economy.
  • Improving well-being: Well-being in this case exists on two levels, physical and social. On the physical side, Scots need to exude and promote the health and vigour of the man on the front of every box of Scotts Porridge Oats when I was a kid or the chap from the original Irn Bru logo, and less like more recent stereotypes of Scottish health such as Rab C Nesbitt or the corpulent Scottish character from the Austin Powers movies. Achieving this would involve exploring at the tactical level, the creation of free-to-use public sports facilities in every open space, the rollout of a national “On yer bike” initiative including free bikes for all and cycle lanes in all major cities, an American style bursary and draft scheme to encourage young people into both sport and education, the creation of one or more Scottish Sports Academies, and, ultimately, the foundation of a national institute of sport not dissimilar to that established, with great success, in Australia. The social side is less easy. Great progress has been made since the dark days of the Sixties and Seventies when Scotland was synonymous with a level of social decay and neglect, accelerated by the parallel decline in Scottish industry, that was amongst the worst of any Western economy. Great improvements have been made since the Eighties. Building on those improvements would include additional funding for public sporting and leisure facilities, the funding of free tickets for young people to attend sport and cultural events, and, to address the particular stigma of anti-social behaviour in Scottish inner-cities, the establishment of a series of certificate-earning schemes and initiatives, based around skills training, to engage young people during evenings, weekends and holiday periods.

This is not a political manifesto. Yes, many ideas put forward here have historically fallen to the political classes to resolve but this is Scotland and we don’t do waiting about. Nor is this an argument in favour of Scottish independence or in any way anti-English or anti-British. It is, by definition, not elitist or exclusive. It is not a valedictory paean to the great Scots of the past or a eulogy for the passing of a time when Scots made a disproportionately large contribution in the world. That age, thankfully, still hasn’t passed. No, it fits none of those labels. Scots are a marvellous, industrious, prodigious people of immense achievement. The chapters of our past are glorious. The chapters of our future need be no less so given a collective helping hand.

I will close here with a humble ask. At some point in the future, if all goes to plan, I will come back to you to seek your support for fund-raising or to help me beat the drum for the fundraising of others. For now though, as I hatch my scheme, I need your help in spreading the word and generating interest. If you are Scots yourself, or even just a keen admirer of Scotland, and you recognise and agree with something that I’ve described here, I’d be very grateful if you could Like and Share as much as possible via every means of doing so. If nothing else, you’ll be reminding folk of our great Scots foundations. And, in doing so, we may yet put a few more famous mug shots in the bar of that hotel by those bonnie, bonnie banks.

Paul Taylor

30th November 2015 (St Andrew’s Day)

You can follow the Great Scots Foundation on Twitter at @scotsfoundation.