Andrew McRae: Third decade of devolution will see pace of change accelerate in Scotland
The third decade of devolution will see Scotland - and its business community - wrestle with an unprecedented period of change, Andrew McRae, of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Scotland has underlined in his festive message.
Over the last two decades, Scotland’s smaller firms have revealed their mettle. They’ve adapted to a myriad of technological innovations, industrial upheavals and seismic political events.
Our independent businesses continued to sustain jobs and local economies when a financial crisis pulled the rug from the real economy. As chunks of the public sector and big companies like the banks withdrew from the periphery, smaller firms – at large – remained.
And, despite it all, we’ve seen the number of registered and unregistered Scottish firms steadily rise. In fact, there are now 100,000 more businesses north of the border than when the Scottish Parliament reconvened.
But for those business leaders looking for the next ten years to be more stable than the last twenty, the tealeaves aren’t promising.
The existential threat of global climate change means that responsible governments will have to take action to drastically cut carbon emissions – meaning huge changes in how we work, live and do business.
The new UK government has a refreshed mandate to ensure the UK leaves the EU. While action can be taken to minimise the impact of this move, by for example giving firms the right support and enough time to adapt, this will inevitably lead to disruption. And there’s no doubt that the SNP’s overwhelming victory at the general election will reignite the debate about our own constitutional future.
Scotland’s small businesses need to do what they can to prepare for this change. That will mean banding together with other businesses to ensure their voice is heard, by joining groups just like FSB. It will mean planning ahead and taking action to mitigate any disorder. Smaller firms will need to draw on their capacity to be both nimble and resilient.
However, this is no invitation for our political decision-makers to put unnecessary pressure on smaller firms. For example, at Holyrood we see an unhelpful move to change how the business rates system works – with serious consideration being given to proposals to remove relief from smaller firms and give sweeping new powers to the councils. MSPs need to understand that this is a threat that businesses don’t need.
Smaller businesses provide over a million jobs – half of Scotland’s private sector workforce. Decision-makers need to understand that no matter their ambitions for the country, they’ll need the help of our business community to turn them into a reality.