IF anyone finds a Scottish industrial policy will they please report it to the nearest police station. Or better still, disseminate it throughout the land so there can be meaningful discussion of where well-paid jobs will come from in the future.

Academics will always fill a void. Most recently, we had Professor Ross Brown of St Andrews whose paper for Reform Scotland wants us to become “the next start-up nation”. In pursuit of this objective, Scottish Enterprise, HIE and the Council of Economic Advisers (does it still exist?) would be scrapped.

Instead, we are to have a National Entrepreneurship Council which will copy Israel’s “strategic and sophisticated” government interventions to develop a “high-tech sector”. And of course it should be “easier for innovators to access growth capital”. (Wasn’t the Scottish National Investment Bank supposed to do that?)

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We are all in favour of becoming the “next start-up nation” though I’m not sure how replacing one set of gurus with another will abet this process. The problem with reports like this is they always tend to implicitly reject what already exists in order to move on to a brave new future.

Successful companies and sectors which have held the Scottish economy together through good times and bad hardly feature in plans for the high-tech world. Employing large numbers who get hands dirty and make useful things tends to be treated as so last century.

The distinction is invidious as well as misguided. Heavy manufacturing depends overwhelmingly on technology. A smart economy relies on connecting the two. Become the new Israel by all means but do not throw away what we already have in the excitement.

The same trend is reflected in the Ernst and Young report on inward investment which gained favourable headlines because Scotland has bucked a trend with a six per cent increase in projects won last year. This was as part of the UK which the same report found to be the most attractive country in Europe for inward investment, Brexit notwithstanding.

Dig a little deeper and the statistics are less encouraging. Manufacturing investment fell from 32 projects in 2019 to 17 with Scotland’s share of UK manufacturing investment down from 24 to 15 per cent. While every new arrival is welcome in any sector, jobs generated by Foreign Direct Investment were down by almost one-third to around 4000.

The glory days of FDI are over. In my stint as Scottish industry minister prior to devolution, it was deemed hardly worth a press conference for fewer than 500 jobs. We were, as I hope I was honest enough to admit, short-term beneficiaries of Tory policy to promote the UK as a relatively low-cost, labour-flexible economy compared to other EU countries.

Allied to a very effective Scottish Enterprise operation, this brought inward investors flocking, mainly in what were then high-tech industries but which created large numbers of jobs. Then along came EU expansion and overnight there were cheaper, more flexible places and the inward investment bubble burst.

Even then, there was resentment among indigenous companies about the perception of more attention being paid to inward investment than their own needs. That danger of overlooking the fundamental importance of what already exists on our doorsteps persists.

We can still be a nation of engineers, shipbuilders, welders and all associated skills while at the same time looking towards our high-tech future. But it will not happen without a strategy which ensures the necessary infrastructure and public investment are in place.

The biggest industrial opportunity facing Scotland lies in what is happening around our coast. According to a report from Robert Gordon University, £170 billion will be invested in the UK offshore energy sector between 2021 and 2030 “including on oil and gas, offshore wind, CCUS and hydrogen”.

This will create “many opportunities for the energy supply chain. It will also protect and create new, highly skilled jobs in these sectors”. In offshore wind alone, investment to 2030 is put at £70 billion creating “60,000 new jobs across the UK”.

The dominant question for any Scottish industry minister should be: “How much of that is coming here?” Followed by “where is the strategic plan to maximise the benefits?”. If such a document exists, it must remain buried in the vaults along with the industrial policy.

In any more self-critical political environment, the question of how Scotland has failed to turn renewable resources into large-scale employment would be a matter of shame. To continue making the same mistakes while the work goes elsewhere, within the UK and beyond, would be unforgivable.

It remains a mystery how Scotland’s inward investment efforts failed to yield a single turbine manufacturer to equip hundreds of onshore windfarms. Over the next decade, the stakes will become much, much higher. There are piecemeal preparations but where is the strategy for the maximisation of benefits? MSPs should be demanding to see it.

Why are issues protested outside Holyrood instead of discussed inside?

At the same time, we would be fools to turn our backs on oil and gas which still, according to RGU, will provide70,000 jobs in 2030. I hope it is many more. While green transition will accelerate, the world will still be using oil for decades to come – and there is no shame in subscribing to that reality.

The new cry may be: “why can’t we be more like Israel?” Maybe that should be accompanied by: “Why can’t we create more out of what we’ve got and know we’re good at?”

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