As I See It: Terry Murden
First came the order to build Royal Navy frigates at Rosyth, then Hewlett Packard’s commitment to its giant computing plant in Renfrewshire. JPMorgan Chase chipped in with a plan to invest millions in a new tech centre in Glasgow. All three involve safeguarding or creating thousands of jobs. As votes of confidence in Scotland’s economy go, they don’t come much bigger.
So with the MoD and two of America’s business titans delivering some positive news, how would the Brexit worriers respond? After all, we’ve been told as recently as last month that Glasgow’s economy was about to be shredded with the loss of 38,000 jobs once Britain leaves the EU, especially without a deal. On the day that HP and JPMorgan Chase were announcing their plans The Scotsman newspaper splashed its front page with warnings that two years’ Scottish growth risked being wiped out.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon took time off from playing the Grim Reaper to greet JP Morgan’s investment as one which “sends a strong message that even in these uncertain times, we remain open for business”. Such gleeful rejoicing hardly squares with the bleak messages we hear almost daily from Bute House and the First Minister’s party about the devastation about to be wrought on Scotland by Brexit. The party’s gloom-monger-in-chief Ian Blackford regularly reminds MPs at Westminster that Brexit will cost Scotland 100,000 jobs.
Really? With Barclays expected to create 2,500 banking jobs in Brexit-fearing Glasgow and the city desperately needing more Grade A office space to meet demand it sounds like the city’s challenge is not so much how to handle bust but how it prepares for a boom.
Same story in the east. Property letting agents can’t get enough good quality space in Edinburgh which is bursting at the seams. The tech boom alone has seen the city soar up numerous international league tables with fintech creating a new industry and the biggest new retail centre in Europe due to open next year. The challenge is how to control ‘overtourism’, rising office rents and soaring property prices – and persuade planners to release more land beyond the city boundaries.
In Aberdeen, the oil crisis has become an opportunity as companies take advantage of low valuations to seek out acquisitions. Many firms have become leaner and more efficient and are applying their oil and gas skills to emerging technologies in wind and wave power. Dundee is riding the crest of the V&A wave. It is not everyone’s cup of tea (and some say that its tearoom is the best thing about it) but it has changed sentiment towards, and within the city which was voted in one survey as Scotland’s best place to live.
The SNP and the Tories, rather than share the credit for these achievements prefer to throw rocks at each other. Dealing with success is proving just as difficult as handling failure. The SNP, while criticising the Tories for ‘austerity’ and leading the country off the famous ‘cliff edge’ must still talk up the Scottish economy for the benefit of one-eared independence supporters who would never accept that any other party could be responsible for improving Scotland’s economy.
Equally, the Tories proclaim low unemployment and record inward investment are the result of ‘sound economics’ at Westminster rather than Holyrood, while laying the blame for low productivity and business creation on the SNP government.
Good news is also a bitter pill for politicians south of the border. The UK economy defied forecasts and grew by 0.3% in July, well above expectations. Investment from overseas into the UK last year was more than Germany and France combined. Just as JPMorgan and Barclays plan for expansion in Glasgow, Goldman Sachs has just opened a new European headquarters in London bigger than 26 football pitches with room for 6,000 staff.
All this must have been missed by the Brothers Grimm – Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell – who accuse the UK government of dragging Britain towards recession.
The doomsters say: ‘yes, but No Deal will trash the progress we’ve made’. If that’s the case, then no one appears to have told the Americans, or the Korean and Indian investors eagerly snapping up Scottish commercial property assets and hotels, or the airlines opening new European routes.
We still don’t know for sure how Brexit will turn out, but we do know that we don’t live in a banana republic (well, not yet) and we are a pretty resourceful country with a history of innovation and stability. Some might need to be reminded that we traded with the rest of the world before we joined the EU (or EEC) before 1973.
Let’s face it, whether remainers or leavers, we have never been fully paid up members of the EU club. We refused to join the euro and we continue to drive on the left; in spite of metrification we still measure distances in miles and babies in pounds and ounces. We are not multi-lingual and we still speak of ‘going to’ Europe rather being part of it. For most people, Europe is a holiday destination with lots of sunshine, wonderful food, some exceptional footballers and terrible pop music. It means nothing beyond two weeks of sunbathing, the European Champions League and the Eurovision Song Contest.
None of this will change, whatever the Brexit outcome. More importantly, Britain will remain one of the world’s great trading nations and a magnet for investment. Europe can’t afford to lose us as a customer and supplier. As the Beatles wrote: we can work it out.
The boo boys in the Commons need to consider how far three years of debate have got us before they force Boris Johnson into three more months of getting nowhere. He’s proven himself to be less than honest, a mischievous and unpredictable loose cannon. But he’s also one politician who wants to do what the public beyond the middle class twitterati and opinion pages demands: ‘just get on with it’.
We should try listening to the people who continue to make investments, create wealth and jobs rather than the forecasters and politicians who peddle endless surveys and warnings predicting that the world will stop spinning on 31 October. I’ll make one prediction: it won’t.