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A Trading Nation

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 30th May 2019.

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Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

I will try to go as fast as I can.

In the short time that I have, I will highlight three areas that are of particular interest as we take forward the strategy in “A Trading Nation”. Those areas are the digital technologies and services, opportunities for Ayrshire to grow its share in a number of markets, and the experience of the Irish as an independent trading nation.

“A Trading Nation” must be one of the most comprehensive documents that I have seen in my 12 years in Parliament. It is more than 200 pages of detailed analysis that shows not only Scotland’s strengths, but where we can make significant improvements. It has a useful country-by-country analysis to help us to target where we might best look to increase our exports, and the sectoral analysis lets us see where the greatest opportunities to grow particular parts of our economy lie.

One of the target areas is technology, digital and media services. Scotland already has a thriving technology sector—more than 11,000 technology enterprises operate here, and about 8,000 of them are directly related to digital industries. The sector accounts for about £3 billion of export value internationally, and about the same in relation to the rest of the UK. Therefore, the technology sector is crucial for us.

In my view, there are two key issues that we need to deal with if we are to make further progress in the sector. The first is to tackle the skills gap that we already know about. We need more people in software and web development, and in sales and marketing, to complement the great work that is going on in cloud computing, in developing apps for a number of digital services and, of course, in our amazing gaming industry. According to ScotlandIS, we need about 12,500 people each year, but are producing only about 5,000 from our universities, colleges and apprenticeships. More needs to be done to bring new talent into the sector and to reach out and invite people to retrain and join that fantastic industry.

The second issue is how we continue to be part of the European Union’s digital single market. If we are pulled out of it, as the inept UK Tory Government has stated is its intention, that would really damage Scotland’s economy. That market is worth about €400 billion per year to economic growth, and it boosts jobs and innovation. It is probably worth about €5 billion to the Scottish economy, but only if we are part of that market and not merely watching from the outside, where the UK Government seems determined to take us.

The Ayrshire picture is already a success story with regard to quality exports. Grant’s Foods Ltd, of Galston in my constituency, specialises in high-quality traditional Scottish recipes and exports 40 haggis products to 50 countries worldwide. It relies on its reputation for high quality and standards, as does our famous Dunlop cheese, which was mentioned earlier by my colleague Emma Harper.

The continuing Brexit uncertainty must not be allowed to undermine the reputation that Ayrshire and Scottish exporters have worked for years to preserve. Despite what some people say, manufacturing in Ayrshire still accounts for a high proportion of jobs and gross value added in the county.

On the Irish experience, if we look at the section in “A Trading Nation” on Ireland and how it developed its international export performance, we can see that in the 1970s it exported about 60 per cent of its goods to the UK, which—as one member said—is similar to Scotland’s current position. By using all the powers and levers that it has at its disposal, Ireland’s international exports to other countries now account for nearly 90 per cent of its entire output because of the incredible growth in those markets. The value of its UK market is still rising year on year, but the international dimension of its growth has been a stunning success, which I know that the Scottish Government aspires to replicate.

“A Trading Nation” offers Scotland and Ayrshire a new focus to increase and develop our key markets in the coming years. It allows us to learn from the successes of others and allows Scotland to develop our key industries in a uniquely challenging and competitive global market.