No-nonsense businesspeople will be very much what’s needed in the aftermath of the Scottish Catastrophe, as it will surely come to be known whichever way the vote has fallen. No nation, independent or semi-autonomous, can hope to prosper on the basis of the wild welfare promises of the SNP, unsupported by any plan to attract investment and stimulate growth. Only a resurgent private sector can drag Scotland out of the tax-and-spend peat bog into which this referendum has driven it deeper than ever — and that will take quite some grit on the part of entrepreneurs, given the fundamental hostility of both the SNP and Scottish Labour.
But grit —even granite ruthlessness — is a characteristic shared by the outstanding Scottish business builders of the past. Think of Dr William Jardine of Lochmaben, who became the great opium trader of Canton; or Dunfermline-born Andrew Carnegie, robber baron of 19th-century American steel; or Robert Fleming, Dundonian financier of American railroads. In more recent times I have personally encountered three who typify the breed: Sir Ian McGregor from Kinlochleven was the implacably tough National Coal Board boss who defeated the 1984 miners’ strike; Sir William Purves from Kelso (happily still with us) was a formidable chairman of the Hong Kong Bank; and Gordon Baxter was the hard-as-nails force behind the cosy image of his family’s soup and jam enterprise at Fochabers.
Today’s Scottish business role-model is Michelle Mone, Glaswegian inventor of the Ultimo push-up bra, who looks a lot friendlier than all those old-school chaps. But I suspect she’s just as tough a cookie — and she threatened to move her company to England in the event of a ‘yes’. That’s the other problem with Scottish business talent: so much of it, down the centuries, has been exercised outside Scotland. Who will now persuade the wealth creators to stay at home and pick up the bills?
This is an extract from this week’s Spectator. Subscribe here.