John Swinney set out the broad principles today of his plan to boost Scotland's economy as he delivered his first major speech on the key policy.

Speaking to an audience of business and trade union leaders, as well as academics and journalists, at the Barclays Campus in Glasgow, the First Minister said boosting economic growth and eradicating child poverty go “hand in hand”.

Here are six key points he made during his address and in questions afterwards.

Moderate centre left

Mr Swinney again insisted that his government will stand in the 'moderate centre left' of Scottish politics. Essentially this means that he does not want growth for its own sake or to make some people who are well off even more wealthy, but to raise more funds to deliver high quality public services, such as health and education. Crucially, he also sees his mission as helping businesses generate revenue in order to alleviate what he described as the "curse of child poverty".

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"I was asked by one journalist what would be the key policy objective I would want to achieve as First Minister," he said in his speech in Glasgow today.

"I said I wanted to do all that I could to eradicate child poverty. I believe it to be a curse in a 21st Century, advanced Western society that children are brought up in an environment of poverty."

Attracting inward investment

Mr Swinney highlighted that Scotland has a "formidable" record in attracting investment saying that outside London and the south east of England it was the most successful part of the UK in in "attracting foreign direct investment".

He said his government was "pursuing huge opportunities" in growth industry naming both the renewable energy and the tech sector as areas. "Offshore wind is at the heart of both energy and economic policy in Scotland," he stated.

"It has been highlighted as the single most important opportunity for attracting capital to Scotland and raising Scotland’s wider investment profile." 

Supporting home grown businesses in the tech sector

As well as appealing to overseas firms to locate to Scotland, Mr Swinney underlined that he wanted his government to support new local businesses and help them selling their goods and services to international markets.

"We will continue our focus on supporting home grown entrepreneurs and innovators," he said.

"We are backing the rise of a new generation of Scottish firms, that will generate new wealth by exporting their products and services across the world.

"This approach will drive an economic future for Scotland that is defined by a powerful blend of international capital and Scottish invention.

The Herald: Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes.    Photo PA.

"It is little talked about but Scotland is well on its way to delivering one of the finest state-funded eco-systems in Europe dedicated to the creation of high growth start-up businesses."He said the government's "Techscaler programme" had helped develop new tech companies and since starting in 2022 some 500 start up businesses had been launched which had so far raised over £50 million in investment.

He said their number included companies providing services as diverse as an online marketplace designed to simplify the seafood trading process, a system to protect online platforms from counterfeit products and fake reviews, and software to help companies manage sales tax outside their home geography.

"Scotland is still someway behind other comparable countries like Ireland and Finland in the number of tech companies we have," he said.

"We will not match that performance overnight but I am determined to do whatever I can to help build the tech sector."

Focus on traditional Scottish businesses

As well as provide a spur to encourage new enterprises, the First Minister also highlighted the place for more traditional businesses, naming the screen sector, food and drink, financial services and tourism.

"As a country we are at the forefront of small satellite manufacturing, our screen sector is going from strength to strength and we have huge strengths in more traditional areas like food and drink, financial services, as we can see from this formidable investment by Barclays in Glasgow, and in the tourism sector.

"So Scotland is open for business and open for investment. And my Government will do everything we can to ensure that is the case in the future."

Brexit, independence and Eruropean free movement

Mr Swinney said he found "the prevailing economic climate in the United Kingdom profoundly worrying" as he discussed the UK's decision to leave the EU, its impact on business. He pointed to  the obstacle it created for Scotland in terms of attracting workers, needed to staff some industries and public services, including the care sector, as well as helping to raise revenue through their taxes.

"The decision to leave the European Union – which Scotland did not support – has inflicted significant economic damage on Scotland and indeed on the United Kingdom as a whole," he said.

The Herald: First Minister John Swinney said his government would continue to make the case for Scotland to rejoin the EU as an independent country.   Photo Colin Mearns/The Herald.

"The cost of doing business has increased for many sectors of the economy. The end of freedom of movement, and ever wilder rhetoric about migration, cannot do anything but harm our economic prospects. And of course the question of population growth is so central to an ambitious agenda of growth and opportunity in Scotland."

He said: "We badly therefore need the return of European freedom of movement."

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The First Minister told his audience his government would like a five-year post-study work visa "to help the best and brightest settle here", yet there seemed little prospect of this happening while Scotland’s migration policy is decided at Westminster.  He said making the case for Scotland to join the EU as an independent country would be central to his agenda.

"For Scotland’s economy, the prevailing attitude by the UK Government is damaging," he said.

"My answer to that challenge of course, is for Scotland to be able to chart her own course economically and to make the best decisions on our own terms. For me that would involve re-joining the European Union as an independent country and making our own economic decisions. Making that argument will be at the heart of my Government’s agenda."

Policy details to be unveiled later

Mr Swinney was reluctant to spell out details of his thinking, and instead wanted to convey the "general approach" he and Ms Forbes would be taking and  how they intended to work with others across Scotland to strengthen the economy.

"In the weeks and months to come I will have more to say on specific policies but today, I am keen to set out the general approach that I will take – alongside the Deputy First Minister and Economy Secretary, Kate Forbes – to stimulating economic activity in Scotland," he said.

During questions after his speech The Herald asked the First Minister to give some indication of what, if any, business regulations may be reviewed after complaints there was too much red tape, citing concerns expressed by tourist organisations over the short term let licensing law and by the property sector over plans to bring in rent controls.

He said he could not give details of any plans should any such proposals be brought forward and before parliament was informed. However, he added that the government was engaging with businesses and that the DFM spent much of last week in discussions on these issues.

"Kate will feed much of that material into Cabinet discussions, " he said.

He was also asked about income tax policy with some critics from business and opposition parties saying current levels were too high. Responding to questions, he said that the higher tax rates on above-median earners in Scotland are an important component of raising revenue in difficult fiscal times, but added that “we can’t keep raising taxes”.