MSPs and key investors gathered in a Holyrood committee room on Tuesday night for a presentation on the proposed Scottish Stock Exchange, a project described by one attendee as being a new and timely ‘disrupter’ in the financial services sector. Yet it was those who did not attend that raised a number of questions over Scotland’s ambitions.
While there were representatives present from across the political spectrum (apart from Labour whose delegate was called away) it was an opportunity missed by the parties’ big guns to hear from Tomas Carruthers who is steering Project Heather, the group which expects to have the new exchange operating by the end of the year.
No Derek Mackay. No Michael Russell. None of the party leaders. Jamie Hepburn, the Employment and Fair Work minister (pictured) was there, but left before the Q&A for another engagement. Tavish Scott attended for the LibDems, describing the project as “really exciting” and along with Dean Lockhart, Mr Hepburn’s Tory shadow, he addressed the meeting.
Mr Lockhart has attached himself to the project, helping to facilitate its dealings with parliament, not least with the Q&A on Tuesday which prompted some sparky questions and an admission from Mr Carruthers about partner Euronext’s worries over Brexit that gave Daily Business its top read story the next morning. Whether any of the aforesaid absentees read it, I have my doubts.
My understanding about the SNP’s reluctance to fully engage is rooted in its concern that a Stock Exchange does not play well among its rank and file. Too aligned to the wealthy classes? Whatever the explanation I’m told that it would rather restrict its support to an ‘arms length’ relationship.
If that’s the case then it leaves the government exposed once more to talking up the economy while not really being committed to wealth creation. It is also baffling that a party demanding independence is not throwing its weight behind Project Heather.
After all, a Scottish Stock Exchange is not just a place to raise money, it marks a key staging post in Scotland’s economic maturity and, dare I say it, its economic independence. Why isn’t the party showing more interest in a new institution that will offer Scotland another opportunity to release itself from dependency on London?
The explanation may simply be timidity. A fear of the unknown through a lack of understanding about, or interest in, the financial markets. A worry is that it betrays a continuing culture across Scottish politics that Holyrood exists only to find ways of spending money on populist social projects.
It’s time for politicians in Scotland to get off this hobby horse, look back at Scotland’s history of innovation in banking and investment trusts and start to consider how they create the wealth that funds them.
Iomart stunted and baffled
Another strong set of figures from the Glasgow-based cloud computing firm Iomart has once again failed to spark any life into its shares.
The business has doubled in size over five years, revenue has burst through £100m and there is a further lift in the dividend, but investors remain indifferent. The shares have shown barely any movement over any time frame during the past year.
Angus MacSween, the company’s long-serving CEO, admitted to me this week that he is “as clueless as anyone” and says the analysts following the company are equally baffled.
One explanation is that while it is growing, the rate of growth is not achieving the double digit expansion of previous years. That wouldn’t explain the potential growth of a company that has carved a strong niche in an expanding market and receives approaches almost every week from firms wanting to merge their operations.
An investor roadshow? A buy back? “We are looking at a few things,” said MacSween. “We don’t seem to be capturing anyone’s imagination yet there is still a growth story.”