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Standing up for Scottish business

This article is an edited version of the above video, first broadcast on Monday, 19th October.

Having spent most of my life running my own businesses, in Japan, the United States and now in Scotland, it makes me really angry to see how the Scottish Government treats businesses here in Scotland. 

I remember starting my first business in Tokyo, making what became Japan’s number one English magazine. Like a lot of business owners, we used all our savings to get started. It wasn’t enough, but we worked really hard and took huge risks, taking on credit and debt. Slowly, over many years we built a profitable business employing 40 people. It was hard work, extremely stressful and full of risk—which is why I really feel for a lot of businesses in Scotland today.

Our current Scottish Government just doesn’t seem to understand how businesses work, or the consequences of their often ad hoc policies. But then again, how could they? Most of the ministers and Scottish cabinet members have either never worked – or barely ever worked – in a business. None of the people in Scottish Government making decisions for Scottish businesses have ever grown a successful business of their own or knows what it takes to create jobs.

Nicola Sturgeon was a solicitor. Kate Forbes, our Finance Minister—in charge of a £32 billion annual budget—is a 30 year old, whose total finance and work experience is working for two years in a bank. Who in their right minds ever thought someone with two years’ junior experience, should be in charge of running a national budget? If I had a small company with three or four employees, and I was looking for someone to take care of our accounts, she wouldn’t even be asked for an interview. She doesn’t have the skills or the experience.

Our Economy Secretary, Fiona Hyslop is a long-term politician for over 20 years, and my counterpart in the SNP, Minister for Business, Jamie Hepburn, has never worked in a business, never mind grown one himself, and he has never created jobs. He, like so many of his colleagues in the SNP, is a career politician: They study history or politics at university, never work in the real world, but are happy to keep on collecting their generous salaries and expenses. 

During my over 30 years of working in multinationals and running my own companies, I have learned a lot about what it takes to employ people and keep a business running. I know how hard it can be. Cashflow is king. I spent every day for years making decisions based on when money was coming in and when it had to be paid out. Our SNP politicians have never had to do this. Kate Forbes has never had to do this in earnest. Scotland’s shortfall of £2billion a year is financed by the UK Government. 

Has Kate Forbes, or Fiona Hyslop, Jamie Hepburn or even Nicola Sturgeon ever had sleepless nights wondering how to keep a business going, how to retain staff, how to meet the payroll, how to pay the loans and creditors, how to keep costs down and profits up? 

This is why, when Nicola Sturgeon ordered most of Scotland’s bars and restaurants to close with less than two days notice, I watched and listened with astonishment and anger. Of course we are in a pandemic and common sense measures need to be taken but, what we don’t need, is arbitrary, ad hoc policies targeted solely at a particular sector, with little and very contradictory evidence on whether closing them will even curtail the virus. 

The hospitality industry employs over 200,000 people and contributes 4 billion pounds a year to the Scottish economy. What Nicola and her astoundingly inexperienced colleagues fail to understand is that you can’t just order a business to close, and then expect them to open up again at some undetermined time in the future. Sadly, many of these businesses will never open again and the consequences of that will be painful – not just for them, but for all of us. 

Scottish industry and businesses are the engine of the economy. They should not be tinkered with by amateurs.

I know very well how it feels to think you might be about to lose your business; that overwhelming gut-wrenching feeling, the extreme stress and anxiety and all the fears of the consequences that go with it, like losing your home and only income.

This week a client of mine, an award-winning restaurant owner in Glasgow, posted a video on Facebook, showing many of the boarded up and permanently closed bars and restaurants in Glasgow. It is quite hard to watch. In the video he says, “The Government has imposed a lockdown on us and I don’t understand how it makes sense. We have absolutely no idea how to survive.”

Nicola Sturgeon has promised to pay out £40 million to the hospitality businesses affected, but how and when? The Scottish Government is already sitting on £1 billion the UK Government sent for Scottish businesses, which they haven’t received. Where is the money and when will it be distributed to the many businesses who need it so desperately? These businesses need to be compensated fairly by the Scottish Government and they need to receive the money in days – not weeks or months. 

Most people start a business to take control of their own destiny, but now we have a government that is pulling the rug from under their feet, just when they have worked hard and spent a lot of money to comply with every safety regulation and every piece of advice the Government has given them.

I have been back in Scotland for nearly five years now, and I am appalled at the number of incompetent, inexperienced, unqualified and “hard of thinking” Nationalist MSPs we have in the Scottish Government these days.

There is no one at the centre of power in Scotland who is looking out for the interests of business. Earlier in the summer, Sir Tom Hunter advised having a lead business advisor having as much access to decision-making as the medical and scientific advisors. That role could perhaps have been filled by Steve Dunlop, the leader of Scottish Enterprise, but he has just resigned. Leading business figures reveal a consistent picture of frustration, a lack of trust and poor communication with the Government, that has deteriorated rapidly during this pandemic.

The Scotland I left was a very different place from the Scotland of today. I am increasingly alarmed at rising Nationalism in Scotland, and the possibility of the SNP increasing their seats at the election next May. They will use this to claim a mandate for another referendum for separation from the UK, which would be a disaster on every level – economically and socially. 

I joined Alliance for Unity because I admire my fellow candidates. Our qualified, experienced, learned, competent and clever candidates stand in stark contrast to the corrupt SNP and Green MSPs we have now in the Scottish Government.

With your help we can fight back. Vote for me on the list vote as your candidate for Central Scotland, or give your list vote to Alliance For Unity in your area. Let’s get Scotland back to business!

Mary Devlin is the Alliance For Unity Business Spokesperson and candidate for Central Scotland. Follow her on Twitter @MaryDevlin21

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Written by Mary Devlin

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