Ewan Morrison is one of the most celebrated and innovative of novelists to emerge in post-Devolution Scotland. Winner of the 2012 Glenfiddich Writer of the Year, the 2012/13 Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book of the Year, and an acclaimed film-maker to boot, he explains here some of the reasons why, after much soul-searching, he has finally taken the plunge and decided to vote Yes
I’ve Decided To Vote Yes
Not because I buy into any of the retro leftist idealism that seems to please the majority of Yes voters I know, but because I think its important that Scotland stops blaming the UK for its woes and tries to survive as an entrepreneurial capitalist country. I vote Yes to force a change in the Scottish psyche away from Nay saying, resentment, and ‘prolier than thou’ righteousness. I vote Yes to begin the cull of turn of the century unreformed and uncritical socialist ideals that have been holding this country back and scaring away investment. Thanks to all the great friends and adversaries who have engaged me in debate over the last month of skeptical enquiry and put up with the pains of debate. May it continue.
One of the problems facing an independent Scotland is changing engrained behaviours (and I don’t mean getting the government to socially engineer a change in consciousness). Over and above the general change in tone that is going to be required to move away from self-defeating negativity and the two-faced self-loathing that keeps us tied to a Westminster that we loathe we are going to have to start seeing our economy differently – not as some top-down phenomenon that is remote to most of our lives but something that we all engage with and take part in and ‘grow’. We have to become involved in building our own businesses, from cottage industries to hi-tech. The biggest hurdle at the moment is the almost total lack of venture capital in Scotland. I cite my own experience in books, films and media as an example – the brick wall of the lack of venture capital has impacted on the making of a feature film (written by myself) in Scotland and creating an innovative ‘book app’. This meant that in the former case money had to be found outside of Scotland and that in the case of the second the project had to be abandoned. I have experienced venture capital in other countries and it is a dynamic force for wealth and talent generation.
I’ve come across businesses in Scotland from laser designers, glass makers, publishers and media makers, who all have complained that the lack of venture capital in Scotland has forced them to drastic measures which include relocation; selling their concepts because they can’t afford to manufacture prototypes and joining the waiting list for govt subsidy which when it comes is too little, too late with too many arbitrary bureaucratic strings attached .
The lack of venture capital in Scotland means time and time again that people have to go cap in hand to the government and this has bred a culture of state dependence and failure among small enterprising businesses in Scotland. Government never picks the right projects and never invests enough because it cannot take risks or be seen to be taking risks. It backs mediocrity. One need only look at the tragic and well concealed track record of the ironically titled quango ‘Scottish Enterprise’ to see evidence of this systemic failure. An employee told me three years back that over 90% of all businesses invested in fail.
Relying on the government to replace the missing tier of venture capital has become an engrained habit in Scotland. Government funds come out of the tax payers pockets and spending such funds does not grow the economy but only further empties public coffers. Furthermore the government are not the right people to be asking to invest in innovation. We are lacking an entire tier of money-wise venture capitalists in Scotland, who are willing to stomp up a million towards a business idea that they think will fly. The notion of venture capital is foreign to Scotland and it is going to hit us hard when we try to grow our own economy by ourselves.
Where is Scotland’s wealth, and why do adventurous and innovative businesses not benefit from the risk taking of venture capital? The answer is another example of how the clichés about the Scottish mindset are true. Scotland does have wealth but the wealthy in this country secret their wealth away in very conservative forms of investment – pension funds, mortgage funds. These are not really risk-taking forms of investment at all and are cowardly and stingy, offering only a few percentage points more return than the interest rates of any actual bank. The rich in Scotland are mean and they keep their money secret and to themselves, they don’t take risks with it, they are not enterprising with it, and the last thing they spend it on, at the moment, is reinvesting in Scottish business start-ups and innovative ideas.
This is a mindset problem that a new Scotland is going to have to address. I say Scotland and not ‘The New Scottish Government’ because we are already far too dependent on government, far too statist. The new Scotland should be a powerhouse of invention and venture, and should have to be reigned in by Government, not the way we tend to see it at the moment, as utterly dependent upon government and government hand-outs, that are only there to replace the lack of financial trust we have in our own people.
What I’m proposing here may sound punitive, it may sound like a Robin Hood tax, but I’m saying quite the opposite. I don’t want the government to get its hands on the wealth that lies hidden within Scotland, I would like the wealthy to reinvest it in their own country. This is not even an issue for government but a question of decency and ‘putting your money where your mouth is’. If you have wealth and you are going to vote Yes you should be looking to reinvest your wealth within Scotland. If you do it wisely enough and you back the right horses, you might earn a lot more in return than you would hiding away your wealth. In fact I’d go so far as to say that among the wealthy within Scotland it would be an act of hypocrisy to vote YES and then fail to invest venture capital in growing businesses within your own country.
We need a better word for Capitalism in this country, one that is not tarnished with guilt. One that means shrewd businesses investing in the future and taking risks. Why is risk a bad word? Are we stuck in the penny-pinching cliché of the Calvinist counting his coppers in the dark? After all what is a YES vote but the biggest risk we have taken yet. At the moment the only capital that is being risked is social capital – people. It is time for the wealthy in Scotland to invest in their own country.
There are so far only 22 investor groups in Scotland – 5 are backed by Govt, 5 are UK wide and based in England. They are listed here: Investor Groups and Angel Communities in Scotland