LEADING global fund manager James Anderson recently highlighted his belief that a very large state investment fund in Scotland, matched with private sector money, could enable the nation to achieve major successes.

His suggestion had one critical caveat – there would have to be an “absolute acceptance” that much would fail in such investment.

So what are the chances of such acceptance?

Mr Anderson sees potential for Scotland to succeed in tackling its lack of scale in industries of the future by borrowing £10 billion and gearing this up to a £20bn investment pot with backing from private sector financiers.

The fund manager, who retired from Edinburgh partnership Baillie Gifford and stepped down as joint manager of Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust on April 30, laid out this ambitious idea in an exclusive interview with The Herald. He declared he did not currently “see where our place in most of the industries of the future actually is, from renewable energy to whatever happened to Silicon Glen to even what happened in pharmaceuticals”.

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His idea for a £20bn investment fund to help Scotland establish itself in the key sectors of tomorrow is a fine one.

However, he rightly contrasted the required acceptance that much of this large-scale investment would fail with the “current state of politics and society”, at a time when there has been intense political and wider debate over the Scottish Government’s financial backing of the Ferguson Marine shipyard at Port Glasgow. The Ferguson yard, which was awarded a major contract to build two ferries for state-owned operator Caledonian MacBrayne in 2015, is now in Scottish Government ownership, after the business fell into administration in 2019.

Mr Anderson, who was in April last year elected as non-executive chairman of Swedish investment company Kinnevik AB, said: “I know it is a difficult thing to do in the current state of devolution...It is the only way to get it done – if Scotland was in a position to [borrow]…serious amounts of money and make the investment into the types of industries I have mentioned before [as industries of the future]. I think you would have to do so with the absolute acceptance much would fail... I think that is a very different thing, with the current state of politics and society.”

There are obviously various major practical issues around such amounts of money being raised for a huge Scottish investment fund.

However, the Ferguson Marine saga, while it is crucial to note Mr Anderson is talking about an investment fund not for shipbuilding but for the industries he views as those of the future, highlights what is perhaps the biggest hurdle to the fund manager’s idea working out if the investment pot could be raised.

It is surely difficult to argue that it was not a good idea to do everything possible to try to ensure the continuation of commercial shipbuilding at the Ferguson Marine site when the yard fell into administration back in 2014.

Jim McColl, whose Clyde Blowers Capital vehicle took over the yard at that stage, is an engineering sector veteran who had already saved hundreds of jobs with an impressive takeover and revival of the former Weir Pumps business at Cathcart in Glasgow in the first decade of the new millennium. It looked to be relatively plain sailing when the major Cal-Mac ferry contract was awarded. Ultimately, things have not worked out as hoped.

Huge energies have been expended already trying to apportion blame, and some shrill opposition politicians have at times seemed almost delighted, or at the very least excited, about the troubles.

While transparency is crucial and you can argue that it is important for various parties including the Scottish Government to learn lessons from what has gone wrong, a politically driven obsession with the debacle has often felt demoralising and destructive.

The ferries have been greatly delayed. That has had a major impact on communities and is lamentable.

And it has been projected the ferries could now cost £250 million-plus, much more than double the £97m original contract amount.

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However, such a cost over-run, while substantial, pales into utter insignificance relative to the scale of the macroeconomic damage wrought by the Johnson administration with unfathomable policy-making from any rational perspective.

Paul Sheerin, chief executive of industry body Scottish Engineering, has hit the mark about the over-riding importance of looking forward in the context of Ferguson Marine and striving to secure a long-term future for commercial shipbuilding on the lower Clyde.

He noted last month that the 30-year pipeline laid out in the UK Government’s recently released national shipbuilding strategy included “projections for the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland governments, running to by my estimates over 150 vessels in total”. Mr Sheerin observed that “perhaps more pointedly, almost 40 of those are ferries and marine protection/research vessels for the Scottish Government”.

And he declared: “The ambition surely must be that as many of these planned [vessels] are built as close to home as possible and given that Ferguson Marine is the only commercial shipbuilder of scale in Scotland, I’d return to my argument that the most important view is the one looking forward.”

He added: “Maybe the over-riding priority now is to allow the management team the space to do their job and complete these critical ferries, whilst supporting them in finding the path to a long-term future for commercial shipbuilding on the lower Clyde.”

It is surely difficult to disagree with such a view. However, many of Scotland’s opposition politicians, notably Conservatives but also some from the Labour and Liberal Democrat ranks, appear not to agree. They would it seems rather look backwards, rake over the troubles, and point fingers.

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The GMB trade union, which represents many of the workers at Ferguson Marine, earlier this month warned political point-scoring by Labour was putting jobs at the embattled yard at risk. It wrote to Scottish Labour demanding the party stop using the issues facing the shipbuilder as a “political football”.

The GMB claimed Scottish Labour’s politicking was “careless” and argued it could permanently damage the yard’s reputation.

One crucial factor in a large-scale Scottish investment fund succeeding or not would be whether the opposition parties at Holyrood, whoever they might be at the given time, would be grown-up enough to try to avoid political point-scoring when some things inevitably went wrong and money was lost.

Of course things go wrong when it comes to investment. And it is easy to make astute observations with the benefit of hindsight. Furthermore, it is a myth to claim that, while governments make mistakes with investments and similar decisions, people in the business world do not make big financial errors. Such a myth is repeated, ad nauseam, by those who do not like state intervention in the economy, or perhaps just oppose a particular political party in power at the time.

Think of the huge corporate collapses over the years and decades, not least amid the global financial crisis but also the likes of Marconi (formerly the UK’s General Electric Company), and you can see how that argument does not hold water.

One question we could ask when weighing whether Scotland’s politicians are grown-up enough for a major investment fund is this: what would be the inner emotions of senior opposition politicians if efforts to get the Ferguson Marine ferries for Cal-Mac completed took a huge, swift turn for the better?

That is not to say this will happen or it will not. However, it is worth contemplating whether those who have appeared at pains to maximise political point-scoring would be pleased to see such a great improvement, for the good of Cal-Mac passengers and communities and for the reputation and future potential of the Ferguson yard and the Inverclyde and broader Scottish economies.

If such progress made them annoyed rather than delighted, you would have to conclude Scotland’s political goldfish bowl scene poses a great challenge to the nation’s future economic prosperity.