Economics of Independence Scotland's Economy

Scotland’s got talent. It needs political power.

Written by Michael Gray

8595244753_46abf8b1da_zRecent analysis of Higher Education demonstrated the extent of Scotland’s academic strength. There are five Scottish universities within the world’s top 200. This is more per head of population than any other nation in the world. On top of this, international students recently rated Scotland as the top destination for learning satisfaction. This is a further example of why Scotland has the skills to succeed as part of the world community. With independence, we can do even more.

Education is an important example. The sector continues to support high quality research and development in Scotland, as well as fostering international exchanges of knowledge and technology. This empowers Scotland’s economy.

Scotland’s Global Education Successes

Scotland’s Higher Education sector is one of our success stories. Education, among its many strengths, is a major employer and area of investment in Scotland. More importantly, it makes Scotland an attractive destination for study and cooperation. It highlights Scotland’s ability to succeed in the world.

Several university groups have recently expanded their campuses far beyond Scotland. Glasgow Caledonian University is the first UK institution to plan an expansion to New York City, following their education projects in Bangladesh  Heriot-Watt University has a campus in Dubai. Edinburgh’s Napier University has a biofuel research centre in Hong Kong.

3621968145_6101213d6aThis builds upon a long history of success and investment in Scottish education. St Andrews and Glasgow universities are the 3rd and 4th oldest universities in the English speaking world. Established in 1413 and 1451 they long pre-date the Act of Union. At one stage the city of Aberdeen had the same number of universities as the whole of England!

Tom Devine wrote in his book The Scottish Nation of the vast expansion in Scottish education over the centuries. Scotland was transformed into one of the most literate nations in Europe, from which the Scottish Enlightenment blossomed.

Enlightenment and Industry

Scottish industry thrived as a result of the engineering accomplishments and inventions from Higher Education. The low entry barriers allowed working class and lower middle class students the opportunity to access education that would have been denied in a more elitist society.

One of my favourite examples relates to James Watt. He worked at Glasgow University as a mathematical instrument maker. He was given a faulty steam engine by his colleague Professor John Anderson. From this model – while walking in Glasgow Green – he recognised both the fault with the engine and the solution. The separate condenser, which he added to the model, transformed the capacity of the steam engine. This great industrial leap forward powered the industrial revolution and the expansion of the railways across Europe and North America.

However, that was not the most important aspect of Watt’s story. The most important aspect was that, to begin with, he failed. Despite the great potential of his invention, he lacked the financial capital and support to seize the opportunity of the steam engine. It wasn’t until he attained that interest that the steam-engine became viable.

Scotland’s Future and Higher Education

What lessons can we learn from this today?1467133565_425e5cb659_z

Scottish Higher Education maintains its position as a leading light in the world of academia; and the decision to provide access to education on the ability to learn and not the ability to pay maintains a special ethical foundation to the system. Once again there are great opportunities for industry, investment and education to work hand in hand for economic opportunities.

Research and development of new renewable energy technology has the potential to power a second revolution in industry, just as James Watt did centuries before. Scotland – with a coastline longer than India and one quarter of Europe’s potential renewable energy supply – is well positioned to benefit from such opportunities.

Higher Education groups are focusing in on these opportunities, with the private sector and government providing support. Look, for instance, at the Saltire Award for innovation in renewable technology or the variety of projects and courses supported across Scotland.

It’s having a huge impact. Renewables already generates 40% of Scotland’s domestic energy use. But there is far more that could be done.

While James Watt’s separate condenser had incredible potential, it was delayed by a lack of support structures. This is why Scottish independence matters. With the full economic powers of independence Scotland can invest in education programs and provide tax incentives that support the best new industries. This applies not only to research in areas of renewable energy – but right across the economic spectrum in Scotland.


The success of Higher Education is itself evidence that Scotland has the capacity to govern its own affairs. We have the talent to organise a government with full control over its own decisions.

It’s clear from the success of Higher Education that Scotland has more than enough talent and ability to run its own affairs. With full political control over the resources and prioritises of a Scottish Government, more can be achieved. That begins with a ‘Yes’ vote next September.

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About the author

Michael Gray

Michael is Head of Research with Business for Scotland.

A graduate from the University of Glasgow, he has carried out a series of interviews with academics, politicians and the public in Denmark, Iceland and Ireland. Michael's on twitter @GrayInGlasgow.


  • Before the union Scotland was one of the most sophisticated countries in the World.

    The Reformation emancipated women giving them the right to own property without the consent of their husbands or fathers and gave them the right to divorce their husbands. These Scottish legal rights were not available to English women until 300 years later.

    Scotland had the worlds first national register of land transactions set up in 1617. The English and Welsh land registry was established in the 1920s

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