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  • Ian Ritchie : Scottish Business Insider

An administration all out of ideas to boost innovation

IN AMONG THE UNUSUALLY high Scottish news content over this summer, notably the repercussions surrounding the release of terminally-ill convicted terrorist Abdelbaset Al Megrahi to die alongside his family in Libya, and the confirmation that the SNP intend to go ahead with their planned referendum on independence in 2010, one new initiative from the Scottish Government has gone completely unnoticed.

In the middle of the summer, when journalists were sunning themselves on Mediterranean beaches, the Scottish Government sneaked out a key strategic document called ‘Innovation for Scotland, a strategic framework for innovation in Scotland’ ( Given the huge fanfare given to this type of initiative in the past, one has to assume that they hoped that nobody would notice this one, because they surely must know that it is a very flawed effort indeed.

This ‘Innovation Framework’ reports that the long-term GDP growth in Scotland over the last 30 years has trailed all of our industrial competitors. We are poorer per head, have lower life expectancy, and exhibit a greater inequality in wealth, than all of our smaller European comparators, including Ireland, Norway, Finland, and Denmark. Needless to say, we also trail the rest of the UK on almost all measures of economic performance.

It quotes distinguished economist William Baumol who presented at the Allender lectures in 2004: “the all-too-obvious conclusion that a reliable stream of innovation is the most important requirement of the remarkable long-run economic growth that has been experienced by the industrialized economics in the past two centuries.”

This is all fine and dandy, you might think. We are not performing very well, and the best solution to this economic failure would be to encourage more innovation in business, education and the public sector. But as we read through the rest of this depressing document we search in vain for any new ideas. It is a catalogue of all the current initiatives.

Eventually, as we reach the conclusion, the mystery is answered. “This Framework does not introduce brand new initiatives nor announce new tranches of funding”.

So that is it then. As a nation, we have performed very poorly with all the current initiatives for innovation support, but despite that we are not going to change anything, or do anything different - or even innovate. Albert Einstein once gave a rather good definition of insanity, which he said was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

So where is the new thinking? If nothing else, the Scottish Government could pledge to reduce the huge pressures placed on business by planning restrictions and other red tape. With its control over the NHS in Scotland, it has successfully attracted Wyeth to set up a new translational medicine centre in Scotland. So why is it that all of our indigenous innovative medical companies, from Optos, to Voxar, to Touch Bionics have been forced to sell almost all of their products in the USA in order to build their business? Why can’t the NHS in Scotland start purchasing our own indigenous innovation?

With it’s policy to encourage renewable energy, the Scottish Government could actively encourage innovation among alternative energy companies. Apart from a mention of the ‘Saltire Prize’, no reference is made to this.

With our huge strength in life sciences research in Scotland where is the strategy to ensure that strong innovative new life sciences companies are created?

At least the Scottish Government has achieved one thing: they have created a document about innovation that has absolutely no innovative ideas whatsoever.

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