We Scots are great inventors, generators of ideas, of ways of doing things – from James Watt and his steam engine powering the industrial revolution; to the philosophical thinking of The Enlightenment which underpinned it; from the telephone to TV; penicillin to a range of discoveries in my own field, physics; to the first ever rugby international, which in modern parlance we ‘co-created’ with England in 1871; and a huge collection of other innovations – from beta-blockers to banking; all the way through to Dolly the Sheep and a test for meningitis. 

However, innovation – especially in modern commercial terms – is not such a great Scottish story. As our world-leading universities venture onto the road to commercialisation, neither the public nor private sectors in Scotland are performing well in the crucial area of innovation.

Although some small steps of progress have recently been made, we lag behind our major competitors in productivity – currently ranked 17/32 across the OECD – showing a lack of fleet-footedness, of innovation to drive success. If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, it’s time we gave birth to a big family!

SCDI - Ross Martin Pic Peter Devlin

For an island nation, Scotland appears to lack ambition to compete internationally, to trade our way out of recession – with only 100 companies accounting for 60 per cent of our total export effort! Scotland needs a step-change in our ability to trade overseas. 

And yet, we have some stellar performers. In whisky, salmon and textiles we supply the world with products which continue to evolve, to innovate, staying ahead of the competition, remaining relevant to new generations, ahead of the consumer demand curve.

So why can’t the rest of us grab a piece of that pie and develop the lucrative supply chains that go with such export growth.

SCDI, an active inventor and innovator throughout our 84 year existence with a range of economic interventions to our name, led early trade missions to open-up new global markets in places including China and the former Soviet Union. UKTI and SDI have the ability to innovate with this tried and tested way of working, and open-up a whole new range of opportunities – especially in the emerging markets of Asia, the Middle East and Africa – for the next generation of exporters – making trade missions more agile and responsive to the changing nature of business birth, growth and development here at home. SCDI is working with them to do just that through partnership – now that’s not a bad idea! 


Ross Martin
Chief Executive, SCDI