THERE is no shortage of people who will tell you that Nicola Sturgeon has been bad for business.

Some will, of course, be politically motivated. This group will split into professional politicians – with Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross having a good claim to be the noisiest of these voices – and individuals within and outwith the business world with deeply held personal political views.

Others will have arrived at this conclusion without any inbuilt prejudices for various reasons. They might operate in a particular sector that has encountered difficulties, for example, or even just have formed the opinion on the basis of their chosen reading or viewing material.

Whatever the reason, it is surely on any rational basis bizarre that the notion that Ms Sturgeon and her administration have been bad for business seems at times almost to have become conventional wisdom, depending on the circles in which you happen to be mixing.

Yes, there has been the noisy storm over the long delays to the delivery of the ferries for Caledonian MacBrayne being built by Ferguson Marine and a huge cost overrun. This has indeed been a lamentable episode, and one which is not done yet.

However, Mr Ross and other opposition politicians have ensured this matter has been amplified to the maximum possible extent and, in the goldfish bowl that is Scotland, the matter has surely been subject to much greater magnification than it would have been elsewhere.

It is also worth noting the cost overruns on the ferries, while in the hundreds of millions of pounds, pale into insignificance relative to the many billions of pounds wasted by the Conservative Government in its procurement decisions on personal protective equipment amid the Covid-19 pandemic. It is perhaps odd that we seem to hear a lot less about this colossal PPE waste than about the ferries. And at least the ferry contract has provided valuable employment in Inverclyde.

The Herald: In the goldfish bowl of Scottish politics, Douglas Ross and others have magnified the ferries scandal when it pales compared to the money the UK Government wasted on PPEIn the goldfish bowl of Scottish politics, Douglas Ross and others have magnified the ferries scandal when it pales compared to the money the UK Government wasted on PPE (Image: PA)

There is significant concern at the moment in Scotland over the introduction of a deposit return scheme for plastic and glass bottles and cans. The key will be in the implementation, with the likes of Denmark operating a smooth deposit return scheme.

And, while at this stage only a matter for consultation, it is easy to see why some of the more radical proposals by the Scottish Government to restrict the advertising and promotion of alcohol are causing alarm. It seems likely common sense will eventually prevail on this front but for now the matter hangs in the balance and is rightly attracting attention.

Some, although certainly not all, in the hospitality sector remain aggrieved over tighter restrictions in Scotland than in England in the depths of the pandemic. However, the differences were often blown up by some for political gain, with the narrative at times developing a life of its own.

So, clearly, things have not been perfect when it has come to Ms Sturgeon and business. However, they never are when it comes to politicians and business. And it is crucial to see the bigger picture, while keeping things in perspective and looking at the Scottish Government’s performance on business and the economy relative to that of the Conservative administration at Westminster.

And, on this basis, those who would without question trot out the mantra that the outgoing First Minister has been bad for business really might want to think again.

One thing you hear mentioned far less often than the “bad for business” or similar opinions from amateur observers is the fact that Scotland has enjoyed buoyant levels of foreign direct investment (FDI). And we hear nothing from the doomsayers, politically motivated or otherwise, about Scotland having recently secured a record attractiveness reading from potential future investors.

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Levels of FDI and such attractiveness readings are crucial indicators. They give a very good idea of how major companies across a raft of sectors in countries all over the world view Scotland as a place to invest, and what they think of its skills base. You hear a lot of criticisms about education in Scotland but it seems the nation is in fact doing rather well in producing a workforce with skills and capabilities that are in demand from companies around the globe.

Amid all the carping in the Scottish goldfish bowl, this objective view from overseas companies brings to mind, albeit in an opposite context from usual, the following words from poet Robert Burns: “O wad some Power the giftie gie us. To see oursels as ithers see us!”.

The FDI levels and attractiveness rating constitute such a gift. So perhaps Mr Ross and others should reflect on how the nation is viewed by overseas investors staking their money here.

As an aside, and contrary to what you hear from some politicians, the inward investment figures in recent years have shown that these overseas companies have not so far been put off by the constitutional debate in Scotland.

EY’s latest annual survey published last May showed Scotland outpaced UK-wide progress on inward investment significantly in 2021.

The accountancy firm declared Scotland had made “great strides” as a destination for FDI in 2021, as its survey revealed the nation’s attractiveness rating from potential future investors had hit a record.

And EY Scotland managing partner Ally Scott declared: “Our findings suggest the outlook for Scotland’s FDI is exceptionally bright.”

This is surely something that should be celebrated by Mr Ross, who delivered a surprisingly ungracious reaction to news of Ms Sturgeon’s departure this week.

The survey showed, by number of projects, Scotland remained the second-top destination in the UK for FDI, behind only London. Scotland achieved a 14% rise in the number of inward investment projects secured in 2021, to 122. This put a 1.8% increase for the UK as a whole in the shade.

The increase in FDI projects won by Scotland in 2021 was the fourth consecutive annual rise – pretty good going in very tough times.

Scotland’s share of all UK FDI projects rose in 2021 to its highest in the past decade. The nation secured 12.3% of UK FDI projects in 2021, up from 11% in 2020.

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The survey revealed 15.8% of potential future investors had rated Scotland as the most attractive location in the UK for FDI. This is a record attractiveness reading for the nation, with only London scoring better on this front. Pre-pandemic in 2019, the proportion of potential future investors rating Scotland as the top UK FDI location was 7%, so the nation’s attractiveness reading has more than doubled over a short space of time.

London was rated the most attractive destination in the UK for FDI activity by 27% of potential future investors.

Projected job numbers from FDI projects secured by Scotland in 2021 totalled in excess of 10,000. This is more than double the corresponding figure of 4,500 for 2020.

EY declared Scotland’s “strength in high-value, high-growth industries like digital and utilities/cleantech, and an increase in manufacturing production FDI, bodes well for the future”. Scotland had five listings in the UK top 20 FDI cities outside London in 2021, with Edinburgh in joint-first place with Manchester, and Glasgow in fourth position.

It was difficult to see what was not to like in these comprehensively strong survey findings for the nation.

Of course, much of the success is down to Scottish Development International (SDI), Scotland’s trade and inward investment agency, and on occasion the input of local authorities.

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However, SDI’s success surely reflects well on the Sturgeon administration.

And opposition politicians are surely swift to pounce on anything they perceive as deficient in the Scottish National Investment Bank.

Ms Sturgeon and her administration have also been good for business with their tireless campaigning against Brexit in the run-up to the 2016 referendum and, since then, in their sterling efforts to highlight and try to mitigate the immense damage from this Tory folly.

The Conservatives’ hard Brexit has been very bad for business indeed, as any number of experts (as opposed to amateur commentators) would tell you, exacerbating a skills and labour shortage crisis in Scotland and throughout the UK as well as hammering exporters.

The Brexit damage is something upon which Mr Ross should be focusing, but he has instead favoured whataboutery.

The Sturgeon administration has also highlighted the dangers posed to the farming and food production sectors in Scotland and throughout the UK from the trade deals pursued so desperately by the Conservative Government with Australia and New Zealand. These now-sealed deals, even on the UK Government’s own calculations, offer minuscule overall net benefits relative to what has been lost through Brexit.

It can be seen, from Brexit of course but also from other major policy errors such as choking austerity, that the Conservatives have been very bad for business indeed. They even triggered a financial market crisis with last September's mini-Budget.

Ms Sturgeon and her administration have clearly not got everything right when it comes to business and the economy, but they most certainly have been on the money with their anti-Brexit stance. And they have presided over a business environment which overseas investors view as very attractive.

So, yes, those who would parrot out the “Nicola Sturgeon has been bad for business” message should take a reality check.

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