The ‘no’ vote in the Scottish referendum was supposed to have created certainty for business, but it seems to have only raised more, and very fundamental, questions about Scotland’s future
The referendum has happened, and now Scotland needs to look forward. At AHR’s annual chairman’s dinner, hosted recently in Glasgow, we wanted to address the next five years. What will be the impact of HS2? Will devo max and city devolution be damaging to UK Plc in a global market? Does Scotland need a new identity post referendum and should Scottish cities have mayors to create real vision?
An individual who is coming to the fore in all of this discussion is Sir Howard Bernstein following a recent visit to Edinburgh. There is wide acclaim for the role he has played in Manchester and the creation of One North. This real cohesive thinking and preparation in advance of HS2’s arrival. Is Scotland as well prepared? Yes, there is some joined up thinking in terms of the Scottish Futures Trust and the five Hub companies, but are they and Scotland really ready for the potential of HS2?
The AHR dinner discussion was reminded of a micro project in the scale of this debate in the form of the M77 motorway down into Ayrshire from Glasgow. Hailed as a step for investment into Ayrshire, what transpired was an enlargement of the commuter belt to the west of Glasgow making Kilmarnock, Troon and Ayr easier places to live while now being able to drive to Glasgow in much shorter times.
Will HS2 be a similar drain to Scotland and the far north of England? Will HS2 be the conduit that will allow the best talent in these areas to live a lifestyle they want and can afford yet still work in London? The antithesis of this is that many 40 year olds cannot afford a property in London. There is a housing shortage in the regions and worse a skills shortage to actually deliver the required housing in the regions. Scotland should get prepared now. If we build the infrastructure in the form of improved media connectivity and develop the housing stock we will be ready for when business gets priced out of London. This would have to be carefully done so that we created communities.
As we look south we see the demand for devolved power to the English conurbations. Is Scotland about to lose out to something the Scots thought they started?
Glasgow already battles on the UK stage in the retail market. Briefly losing their status as the UKs second retail centre, Glasgow realised that they had to fight to maintain the position so proudly held. The Commonwealth Games clearly showcased Glasgow as a destination for tourism and also a pretty fine place to live and work.
Identity seems to be key. Glasgow has its very own campaign of People Make Glasgow, but can Glasgow do it on its own? Other Scottish cities are working very hard most notably Dundee. As we look south we see the demand for devolved power to the English conurbations. Is Scotland about to lose out to something the Scots thought they started? There is certainly a general mood of malevolence to Westminster.
Bernstein has had real vision coupled with drive and longevity to see it through. Scotland needs a character like Bernstein to undertake this challenge almost without regard to the political cycle. Scotland will have had a year and a quarter of no decision-making by the time we get to the general election in 2015, leading to the new word of “neverendum”.
There was an initial sense of relief in the business community in Scotland and in particular the Scottish property industry that the “no” vote occurred. Decisions were clearly being held back until the big decision was made. The key word then was certainty. This certainty prevails but could be greatly improved by a clear Scottish plan and perhaps a brand refresh for Scotland to clearly set out our identity post referendum. Scotland must do something to keep pace with power being devolved to the English cities and increasing Scotland’s standing in a global market.
Richard Blair is a board member at AHR, and works between Glasgow, Manchester and London