By Kenneth Roy
What is the quality possessed by Michelle Mone that has made her a successful businesswoman? Could it be bottled for more general consumption? She is glamorous, pushy, articulate and often quite annoying – but the brand works. I would have her cloned.
A thousand Michelles, with their entrepreneurial ability, would stir our post-industrial wasteland from its torpor. They would ignite the young to follow her example and shake the old men of the Rotary Club out of their complacency. They would create jobs and take people off welfare dependency. They would make a tremendous fuss all over Scotland – the sort of fuss we need. A creative, wealth-generating fuss.
Alas, I do not think it will be possible to clone Miss Mone; and, even if was possible, I am not sure that we could be bothered to try. We inhabit here an essentially anti-business culture. We do not trust people like Miss Mone and we do not hold them in much regard. They are not like the rest of us, who would rather work for the council or, failing the council, the NHS, or failing both the council and the NHS, for that American lot who make something or other up at the industrial estate.
I first became aware of our addiction to the self-destructive idea that others know best when I worked briefly for an economic regeneration agency. It devoted most of its time and energy to sending men in suits across the Atlantic with begging bowls. Lots of lovely dosh – our dosh – was thrown at corporate America in the hope of persuading it to invest in Scotland. How well I remember the weary phrases we were expected to turn out for the marketing guff: 'world-championship golf courses' (that was our big selling point); 'a clean environment'; 'a skilled, adaptable workforce'. Some of what we told them was even true. The golf courses were terrific.
For a while, this policy of turning Scotland into the 51st state seemed to be paying dividends – even if the dividends went straight into American pockets. New factories did spring up, especially in the new towns. The cost in grants and other incentives was tremendous and, conveniently, has never been properly quantified; and the visitors did not invariably stick around. The appeal of the world-championship golf courses eventually wore off. The branch factory economy was exposed as fragile and fitful, vulnerable to the first adverse trade wind. It was also a dreadfully abject policy. Where was native ingenuity? Where were the Scottish men and women of enterprise? Did we have no self-respect left?
I think of young people in Scotland, perhaps still at school, with a hazy notion that they might like to start their own business. There will not be many of them, but there will be some, and you can pretty well guarantee that they will not be receiving much encouragement.
To the last question: possibly not. Most of the old businesses had been sold down the river by the weak sons of strong men. In a way you couldn't blame the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) for chasing the Americans. They had taken one look at the chins of the remaining Scots and boarded the first flight to New Jersey. But it never seemed to occur to the Scottish Council, or successive governments, that it might be possible to build a new breed of inventors and entrepreneurs here in Scotland.
I am not at all clear about the business philosophy of the present Scottish government, if it has one, and whether it is serious about reviving and encouraging indigenous business. But we certainly cannot afford to lose the bright Scots among us, people like Miss Mone. She is not a happy bunny. She dislikes the idea of an independent Scotland and has threatened to move her business, and herself, south of the border if it happens. Mr Salmond should be trying very hard to persuade her, and others, of the merits of the business case for independence. As a symbol of what can be done, she has more than a little value.
Sadly, however, our anti-business culture has been everywhere in evidence this week – in the derision heaped upon Miss Mone and, of course, in the public humiliation of Fred Goodwin. I see my old friend Dorothy Grace Elder has been writing in favour of further indignity for the fallen banker. She would not only have stripped him of his knighthood; she would 'strip him of his pants' and have him walk naked around the country. In this weather? Perhaps she would prefer Mr Goodwin simply to perish in the cold, cold snow, and for any good he ever did to be interred with his bones in the traditional manner. In the same column, my old friend is scornful of Miss Mone's threat to quit; she suggests that Miss Mone has been up to this sort of ploy before. And now we have Mr Salmond supporting Cameron's shabby decision to pull the knighthood, calling it 'correct', and expressing regret for his former warm support of Sir Fred.
I think of young people in Scotland, perhaps still at school, with a hazy notion that they might like to start their own business. There will not be many of them, but there will be some, and you can pretty well guarantee that they will not be receiving much encouragement. Still, they have this idea; this half-formed ambition in their mind. And now I imagine how they will be reacting to the visceral loathing of business implicit in so much of the comment in the last few days.
Why would they persist? Why would they take the enormous risk of striking out on their own? Better to aim for a nice wee job at the council.
Courtesy of Kenneth Roy - read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review