03 February 2005

S2M-2361 Economy

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 3 February 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]


The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business this morning is a debate on motion S2M-2361, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on the economy, and four amendments to that motion.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Let me start with the essential paradox at the core of the Government's argument. Maureen Macmillan espoused and articulated it extremely well. It is very simple. She tells us that we have an enormous and growing deficit, but she concludes that we must therefore change nothing, stick with the people who are managing our economy and refuse to take the levers of power that would enable us to do anything about it. She says that we must endorse failure.

There is considerable discussion about efficiency in government spending. Efficiency is not about how much or how little we spend; it is about what we get for what we spend. We might be more efficient by employing more people in government; we might be more efficient by employing fewer people in government—it could be either.

In the most recent issue of Holyrood magazine, George Kerevan highlights an area where we in Scotland should perhaps be doing better. He indicates that women in Scotland are earning less than women in the UK as a whole and that the margin of difference is greater than that for the working population as a whole. That is a blot on our equality and economic ambitions. He also refers to the insidious price that we have to pay for the existing regime, in that we have to subsidise the people whom the Government chooses to have as its civil servants in London, while reneging on long-standing promises to transfer civil servants working in oil-related areas to Aberdeen, where such subsidies would not be required.

To be positive, here is some of the budget speech that I would like to hear being made:

"The theme of the speech and ... the Budget as a whole"


"Open for Business ... a natural restructuring process was commencing within our economy and I"


"notice that the Government"


"do everything in its power to ensure that"

our businesses

"remain competitive."

I speak

"of the need to sustain success in the face of ... changing times".

Our priorities are to remain

"competitive within an international marketplace, in which new rivals could emerge from anywhere around the globe and impact upon our ability to maintain our current standard of living and ... high quality public services ... However, in so doing,"

we must

"remember the social needs of all our citizens, especially those who are ... unable to directly participate".

I might continue:

"We have received confirmation of our Triple A credit rating from both Standard and Poors and Moody's rating agencies, providing further evidence of the esteem in which our finances are viewed externally ... In 2004-05, our economy is set to grow at a rate of 4.5% in real terms, a figure that exceeds the expectations of most other countries. We have a capital programme that will continue to afford work to many, full employment continues in all sectors".

We might take initiatives to create small but significant opportunities for us to position ourselves for the future—a future that Jim Wallace is unable to see. For example, we might launch a

"zero rate of tax to businesses operating within the space industry".

We might talk of the new opportunities in a

"small but exceedingly promising area",

which would

"encompass the manufacture, operation, sale or other activities provided in respect of launch vehicles".—[Official Report, Tynwald Court, 17 February 2004; Vol 121, pp 729-738.]

Where is the country where that speech was made within the past 12 months? It was the Isle of Man—not a big country, and one that is a mere 30 minutes' flying time from here. If a little country with a modest budget and modest resources, including a modest human resource on which to draw, has the confidence and ability to engage in the modern world and to build up surpluses in its budget, how much better could Scotland do by comparison, given the assets that we have, both those of our people and those that lie offshore?

Instead, what we have, and what I want to engage Jim Wallace on, is an Executive that is not even prepared to speculate as to how the world might look in 10 years' time. I asked a range of questions on that subject, but hardly an answer did there come. There was certainly nothing in relation to the economic world.

Such long-term planning is routine in the business world. Over the last three years of my business life, I was helping the Bank of Scotland to look 25 years ahead. We had to understand the future to be able to engage with and influence it. I would remind Jim Wallace of the old saying that those who do not know to where they travel will be sure to arrive there.

Success comes to those who see the future that they want and are prepared to pay the price to create it. However, the Executive is blind to the future and deaf to the opportunity and it prefers to be a victim of world circumstances, rather than influencing the future of this country and the world and delivering for people in Scotland, whose needs continue to grow and whose future continues to suffer under a lacklustre and visionless Executive.


Stewart Stevenson
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