Global Entrepreneurship Week

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 9th November 2017.

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Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

I join others in thanking Gillian Martin for bringing the debate to the chamber and I pass on my officials’ thanks to her for giving us a year’s heads-up as to what her subject matter will be next year, so they can get prepared nice and early. I also thank both Gillian Martin and Jackie Baillie for all the important work that they do as the convener and deputy convener of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on women in enterprise.

Global entrepreneurship week is very welcome and it is right and just that we have this debate on it today. The week is designed to get people to think about taking any ideas that they have and making them a reality to help drive our economy and social improvement. The week is also designed to connect people with regard to collaboration, mentoring and investment opportunities. It is an important initiative generally but, as we have debated previously in this specific context and in many contexts that relate to other aspects of the economy, it is especially important for us to reach out to those who are underrepresented in all parts of our economic activity. That has to include the area of entrepreneurship, so I very much welcome the terms of Gillian Martin’s motion in focusing the debate, particularly in relation to female entrepreneurship.

That a gender gap exists in enterprise is not in question. Currently, only around 20 per cent—a fifth—of Scotland’s small and medium-sized enterprises are led by women, and men are almost twice as likely as women to start businesses. Ivan McKee, like others, was correct to set out that that represents a huge waste of potential and a huge loss to Scotland’s economy and society. We are working to change that, and I will talk a little bit about that in a few moments. However, as I should do, I will first try to pick up on as many of the speeches that have been made during the debate as I can.

I was delighted to hear about the range of good activity in local areas across the country. All members referred to that but none more so than Kezia Dugdale, who I think finagled a reference to every part of the country into her speech. However, it is well worth putting all that activity on the record. If there is a particular activity that any member thinks I would benefit from visiting or seeing, I would be happy to receive an invitation to do that.

It was useful and salient for Kezia Dugdale to mention the Serenity Cafe in particular, because we tend to think—there is nothing wrong with this, of course—of entrepreneurship in terms of commercial activity, but it is not always about that. There is also a tremendous amount of entrepreneurial activity around creating social capital. Kezia Dugdale might like to know that, as part of living wage week, I was delighted to visit the Grassmarket Community Project, which won an award on Tuesday.

Given that this is global entrepreneurship week, I welcome the fact that Alexander Burnett brought an international perspective to the debate, which was useful—although I cannot promise to visit Azerbaijan.

Alexander Burnett mentioned the suggestion from the Federation of Small Businesses about classroom activity. Clearly, we will not sit here and direct what should happen in each classroom, but there is an opportunity for us to better influence that through the developing the young workforce activity that we are taking the length and breadth of the country, which is bringing employers in all sectors closer to the school environment. That represents an opportunity to take forward some of that work.

Ivan McKee and Jackie Baillie both spoke about gender stereotyping, which is an issue right across economic activity and it clearly filters through to entrepreneurial activity. We are working to challenge gender stereotyping, but I think that we would all accept that that is a long-term activity, because gender stereotypes are so well ingrained. I have said before that even all of us in the chamber who are working to challenge such stereotypes will be susceptible, from time to time, to reinforcing them unconsciously, so we always need to challenge ourselves as well as challenging others to step up to the mark.

In respect of economic activity, the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council has a gender action plan. Skills Development Scotland has its equality action plan, within which there is a specific commitment to better balance modern apprenticeship frameworks. Some progress has been made, but more has to be done.

A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Shirley-Anne Somerville launched the STEM strategy, a hugely important part of which is about challenging gender stereotyping, which is important to this debate. We know that there is a lot of activity in STEM areas and that a critical part of entrepreneurial activity is the creation of new ideas.

Jackie Baillie tried to invite me to an early Christmas. I should say that my children are already badgering me about Christmas, so why should members of the Scottish Parliament not start to do so, too? I cannot say that I will give Jackie Baillie a Christmas present here and now—