DAVID Watt will shortly vacate his role at the head of the Institute of Directors (IoD) in Scotland after 16 rewarding years.

It is a spell which has seen the one-time PE teacher routinely rub shoulders with the most prominent politicians in Scotland, while advancing the cause of the business sector.

He cites his admiration for figures who have graced the Scottish political scene, from Jim Wallace and Wendy Alexander in the earlier years of devolution to current leaders Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson.

But, as his time with the IoD draws to an end, he is less than enamoured with what the dominant political classes elsewhere have to offer as the UK hurtles towards the EU exit door – seemingly with no clear plan for the way ahead.

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Mr Watt, who is quick to emphasise that the IoD is avowedly non-political, has no time for the boorish, tub-thumping, fact-free populism which has spread across the Atlantic to the UK.

The refusal of Tory leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson to take part in one of the recent TV debates with his fellow contenders was a case in point.

“I happened to watch, briefly, a bit of his performance on Saturday (June 22), and he just literally didn’t answer any questions,” Mr Watt said. “And that’s the Brexit thing again. It is making assertions with no factual background.

“Even [with the] ‘taking back control’ [slogan], what exactly have Europe done to us, actually, that we weren’t a party to doing? What bit of law has passed through the House of Commons or has been ratified in Britain that we didn’t support in Europe. There isn’t.

“[With] any bit of law in Europe there is always a chance to veto it.

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“There can be little doubt that the economic benefits of Europe have been enormous. I can’t see what the great goal or opportunity is beyond that. I just can’t see it.”

Indeed, even though three years have passed since the Brexit vote, Mr Watt declares that he has still to hear a convincing argument for leaving the UK on economic grounds.

“I don’t know, for example, any economists, and I know lots of them, who are in favour or Brexit,” he said. “I listened to Patrick Minford talking on it and I was totally unconvinced. I have never heard a convincing economic argument. And even if you believe in it emotionally, you should be honest with people and say, economically it is going to be painful for three, five, 10 years, but we will have this nirvana in the future.

“If I’m honest with you, it is the right wing of the Tory party trying to take us back to having an empire or some sort of grandiose place in the world that we just don’t have anymore. Certainly economically we don’t have it.”

Mr Watt points out the threat to the UK from advancing economies such as India, Indonesia and Pakistan which, in his view, underlines the importance of being able to trade smoothly with Europe, without having to face trade tariffs. “In world terms we are small [with] 65 million people,” he said.

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“We’re water-locked, we are not able to get easily to other places, so there’s always that extra, additional cost. We’re a long way even from the south of Europe, for example. So why would you buy something from Scotland when you can buy it from France or Germany, especially if it is more expensive?

“This idea that we’ll just got to WTO tariffs – why would you want to put tariffs on all your products when you don’t need actually need to at the moment?”

Mr Watt, who ran his own sports management consultancy before joining the IoD, does not believe the EU is perfect, and says the cost and complexity involved in running the Brussels administration is far from ideal. But he believes the only way to change that “very powerful bloc” is by being on the inside.

“The world is dividing into blocs whether we like it or not,” he said.

And Mr Watt, an honorary colonel in the Royal Marine Reserves, said the vital role of the EU as a peacekeeper in Europe must not be overlooked.

“We just think that the world is going to be peaceful forever and we won’t be invaded… which is completely wrong in this current climate,” he said. “And if we separate from Europe or distance [ourselves from Europe] we would be a brilliant target for Putin.”

Mr Watt admits the prospect of Boris Johnson of becoming Prime Minister could boost support for Scottish independence, even among business people in Scotland whom he describes as “conservative with a small C”. That would especially be true, he said, of entrepreneurs in Scotland who are increasingly becoming “purpose-driven” and aware of their societal impact.

The role of the IoD, in his view, is to inform and help educate members to make up their own minds on big political decisions. But he admits more information on the risks of Brexit should have been presented by business ahead of the EU referendum. “This was where the business community was wrong,” he said. “It’s not about taking sides – it’s about [giving people] facts and the information to vote on.”

As for his own position, Mr Watt will gradually wind down his commitments to the IoD over the summer. He has recently been appointed chairman of Fife College, and has other non-executive roles, too. Retirement is not on the agenda. “I will look for other opportunities,” he said. “I’m actually very wary of using the word retirement, because I’m not really retiring. I would go mad.”