Scotland on the move: Harnessing policy and economic opportunities

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Join leading Scottish integrated public affairs, PR and design agency, Orbit, in partnership with the Scottish Council for Development & Industry (SCDI) and PubAffairs, at a breakfast seminar in London on Monday 9th July.

The session will address questions such as:

• What is the current climate for investment in Scotland?
• What impact will policy divergence between Scotland and the rest of the UK have on Scotland’s economic performance now and in the future?
• What role will the Scottish Government have in post-Brexit UK trade policy, and what are the implications for export-dependent industries such as food & drink, manufacturing, and financial services?
• What needs to be done to improve prospects for economic growth in Scotland?
• What impact will the recently-published Growth Commission report have on the Scottish economy, the wider Scottish policy debate, and businesses operating in Scotland?


  • Graeme Downie (Director, Orbit) has 15 years of public affairs experience, primarily in Scotland, but also with clients operating in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Brussels. Graeme has experience advising clients in sectors such as food & drink, culture, housing and higher and further education.
  • Lord Andrew Dunlop (Board Member, SCDI) is a former Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at both the Scotland office and Northern Ireland Office.
  • Sally Trethewie (Account Director, Orbit) is a strategic communications specialist with private sector, government, academic, and non-government organisation (NGO) experience. She relocated to Edinburgh last year after nearly 10 years in Singapore, where she worked in public affairs an international communications agency and for the Australian government.

Event details:
Date: Monday 9 July 2018
Time: 8am (7.30am for breakfast rolls, coffee and networking) and finishing no later than 9.30am
Venue: Ellwood & Attfield (34 Smith Square, SW1P 3HL)

For more information and to RSVP visit:
Continue reading “Scotland on the move: Harnessing policy and economic opportunities”


Cabinet reshuffle delivers casualties as well as new blood as axe is wielded


It was what one commentator quipped, the ‘Day of the Long Sgian Dubhs*’, parodying PM Harold Macmillan’s infamous “Night of the Long Knives” reshuffle of 1962, as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon took the axe to her Scottish Government Cabinet.

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Alex Orr is Managing Director of Orbit

In what was the bloodiest and most sweeping reshuffle of devolution as she changed half her Cabinet, including close friend and beleaguered health secretary, Shona Robison, who has been the focus of much criticism over her handling of the NHS.

There was no accident of course in the timing, with paper headlines dominated by the reshuffle rather than the controversial Education Bill, which had been set on ice and minds set to the allure of summer holidays.

It was a case of out with the old and in with the new, and the dramatic clear out saw the departure of three Cabinet Secretaries and three ministers and the promotion of five new faces to an expanded top tier of government. This now sees 12 Cabinet Secretaries, an increase of two, reflecting the bigger workload arising from Brexit as well as ensuring the crucial running of the £300 million social security system.

In addition to Shona Robison, Keith Brown leaves his role as Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, to focus on his recently elected SNP Deputy Leader post, associated with policy development and building the case for independence. Angela Constance has also left as Cabinet for Communities, Social Securities and Equalities.

There are five new faces joining the Cabinet: Shirley Anne-Sommerville, formerly Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science becomes Social Security and Older People Secretary; Aileen Campbell, formerly Minister for Public Health and Sport becomes Communities and Local Government Secretary; former Labour Special Adviser, Jeane Freeman, who was Minister for Social Security, becomes Health and Sport Secretary following widely applauded work on Scotland’s new Social Security system. Humza Yousaf, formerly Minister for Transport and the Islands becomes Justice Secretary, replacing Michael Matheson, who had come under some criticism of his handling of Police Scotland controversies. Mr Matheson becomes Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity Secretary.

Derek Mackay, who formerly held the Finance and the Constitution portfolio has seen the Constitution aspect pass to Brexit Minister, Michael Russell in a new role as Government Business and Constitutional Relations Secretary. Mr Mackay has seen his role take on the Economy and Fair work responsibilities held by Keith Brown in a role as Finance, Economy and Fair Work Secretary.

John Swinney remains as Education and Skills Secretary, as well as being Deputy First Minister; Fergus Ewing remains as Rural Economy Secretary, Fiona Hyslop as Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Secretary, and Roseanna Cunningham as Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Secretary.

Full Cabinet:

  • First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon
  • Education and Skills Secretary (and Deputy First Minister) – John Swinney
  • Justice Secretary – Humza Yousaf
  • Health and Sport Secretary – Jeane Freeman
  • Social Security and Older People Secretary – Shirley-Anne Somerville
  • Communities and Local Government Secretary- Aileen Campbell
  • Finance, Economy and Fair Work Secretary – Derek Mackay
  • Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity Secretary- Michael Matheson
  • Rural Economy Secretary – Fergus Ewing
  • Government Business and Constitutional Relations Secretary – Michael Russell
  • Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Secretary – Fiona Hyslop
  • Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform – Roseanna Cunningham

Ministerial appointments

Some changes to Ministerial appointments were announced, with the rest expected later today, today but we already know that Alasdair Allan, Annabelle Ewing and Maureen Watt have left their positions as Ministers for International Development and Europe; Community Safety and Legal Affairs, and Mental health respectively.

  • Kevin Stewart will remain in post as Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning and Joe FitzPatrick will become Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing.
  •  Maree Todd who was appointed Minister for Children and Young People in October last year will remain in her post.
  • Paul Wheelhouse will take on a new role of Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands – reporting to the new Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity.
  • Jamie Hepburn will take on the new role of Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, reporting jointly to the Education Secretary and the new Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work


Ms Sturgeon can hardly be described as being ruthless, but her Cabinet reshuffle was built on an understanding that there required to be dramatic action if the Scottish Government was to maintain some credibility in tackling the challenges the nation faces, particularly around health and education. In these areas in particular it has been seen to be struggling and improvement is needed.

While the Bute House door opened for some and closed for others, it is important to note that the problems still remain and the proof of the pudding will be to see how the new Cabinet and ministers deal with these. The First Minister has demonstrated that she is no slouch in wielding the axe if required.

What the First Minister has delivered is a team she believes are up to the challenge and which she hopes to keep in place until the 2021 election, when the SNP will be seeking re-election for a fourth term, as well as delivering a mandate for a second independence referendum. A tall order indeed!

*A ‘sgian dubh’ is a small, single-edged knife (Scottish Gaelic: sgian) worn as part of traditional Scottish Highland dress along with the kilt.

So bad it’s good

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Kiera Winfield
Kiera Winfield, Designer

Didn’t we take an oath to stand for beauty and order? Now ugly is the new cool, and beauty takes a backseat. Gradients, drop shadows, overlapping illegible type and random compositions are all commonplace. How did we arrive here and how do we design our way around this post-ironic landscape?

Maybe the biggest example of ugly design is Wolff Olins’ 2012 London Olympic branding which was infamously controversial. The design studio used the term ‘prescribed anarchy’ to describe their thinking behind the identity. Nwokorie, the lead creative, has said: “The critical reviews tend to point out the rules we’ve broken, and in that sense, they tend to be correct; the only disagreement is whether those rules need to be broken.”

Those rules were drawn up by early design pioneers in the 19th century and were rooted in objective communicating – ‘form follows function’ has been the designer war cry. It’s fair to say though Wolff Olins were not the first, so when did ugly design really make its debut? A strong case can be made for the 70’s punk scene that saw a new expression of anarchistic youth tear up Helvetica golden ratio grids. Defying the establishment and challenging the norm, it was a direct reaction to the rigid restrictions of modernism.

So then maybe this ‘so bad it’s good’ zeitgeist is another reaction to our current social and political culture? The advent of the internet has brought about a post-truth political climate which has only been exacerbated by the media coverage of the recent US presidential election and Brexit. Perhaps this emotional disconnect has led us to a second wave of punk, only this time with nostalgia for the 80’s and 90’s aesthetic we love to hate.

This ugly trend is likely to be only a knee-jerk reaction and the rules are not being rewritten. However, like Saul Bass said best “I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares, as opposed to ugly things. That’s my intent.”

Green-fingered Hanover Scotland resident receives funding award to help his garden grow

A 75-year-old man who transformed a small disused patio area at his North Lanarkshire sheltered housing complex into a garden has been awarded funding from Gardening for Disabled Trust.

Green-fingered Phil Salina, who has lived at Hanover Scotland’s Baillie Court in Motherwell for over 10 years, has received £300 to help him continue to grow his prized fruit and vegetable patch.

Mr Salina only started the garden six years ago after he and another resident decided to make use of an empty patio space outside their housing complex. Since then the space has been transformed into a garden producing a variety of fruit and vegetables. Mr Salina regularly sets up a table of his healthy produce in Baillie Court’s communal living area for his neighbours to enjoy and only asks for a small donation to help towards the cost of containers, compost and seeds.

While this has helped him to cultivate a selection of delicious and healthy products, it recently became clear that extra funding would be needed to help him continue to grow the garden. The funding he has received from Gardening for Disabled Trust has made this possible and will allow him to purchase vital gardening equipment and a greater variety of seeds and bulbs.

The funding from Gardening for Disabled Trust was awarded in recognition of the benefits reaped from Mr Salina’s horticulture project by both him and other residents at his Hanover Scotland sheltered housing development. The exercise and mental stimulation from his gardening work helps to alleviate his symptoms of arthritis, while the distribution of his freshly grown fruit and vegetables to Baillie Court residents mean that the positive impacts of his gardening project are felt by others around him.

Mr Salina said: “Gardening has been a great way for me to pass my time while helping to keep me active. I am very grateful to Gardening for Disabled Trust for their funding as it will allow me to buy much needed supplies to continue growing my garden.”

Sharon McLean, Hanover Scotland’s Baillie Court development manager, said: “Over the last six years Mr Salina has transformed the space into a flourishing garden, growing fruit and vegetables for everyone at Baillie Court to enjoy. This well-deserved funding from Gardening for Disabled Trust is testament to the benefits his project brings to both his own health and to other residents at the development.”

Justine Stringer from Gardening for Disabled Trust, said: “As a tiny, volunteer-only organisation that gives away everything raised, Gardening for Disabled Trust is delighted to help Mr Salina keep actively gardening. Our ongoing work aims to raise more money to help more people like Mr Salina.”

The dangers of a scunnered electorate


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Alex Bruce, Director

There’s a great Scottish adjective that is a handy description of how Scots currently feel about the general state of British politics. They are, to use the vernacular, “scunnered” – that is, completely fed up.


Published this week, the results of the Hansard Society’s 15th annual Audit of Political Engagement, confirm this: Just 14% of Scots are broadly satisfied with the British political system compared to a UK-wide average of 29%.

Meanwhile, recent polling shows little evidence that the Scottish population’s dissatisfaction with British politics has translated into a new found enthusiasm for independence.

Furthermore, the Hansard Society’s audit found that a rise in enthusiasm for politics in Scotland immediately following the 2014 independence referendum has now completely dissipated.

From a post-referendum high of 72%, the percentage of Scots certain to vote has dropped to 59%, three points below the average for the UK as a whole.

On this basis, a fair assessment of the Scottish people’s general attitude to politics at Holyrood is that they certainly view it as “less bad” than Westminster – but that shouldn’t be mistaken for real enthusiasm or love.

It’s often easy to fall into the trap of assuming that the general population is consumed by the same obsession with this country’s constitutional future as our politicians or the media. In reality, the public is far more concerned about the issues that affect them day-to-day.

Similarly, the motivation for a large number of Scots who voted Remain in 2016 was arguably less an overwhelming passion for the European Union than, having faced the prospect of economic and constitutional turmoil had Scotland voted to become independent in 2014, a desire to avoid the prospect of similar upheaval if the UK were to leave the EU.

By focusing on constitutional matters, politicians at Holyrood and Westminster risk falling increasingly out of touch with their electorate. The UK and Scottish Governments are equally guilty of this, preoccupied in recent weeks by an ongoing spat over Westminster’s so-called post-Brexit ‘power grab’.

Nicola Sturgeon raised the temperature of this debate still further last weekend by accusing the Conservatives of being hell-bent on ‘demolishing’ devolution. Later in the week, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford threatened to see the UK Government in court, declaring any remaining prospect of a deal on the power grab issue dead in the water. The First Minister has also faced ongoing pressure from her own party to keep the constitution front and centre with a second candidate for deputy leader this week backing rapid progress towards Indyref2.

Faced with these ongoing machinations, a large swathe of the Scottish population may simply disengage further from politics if they perceive constitutional matters to be politicians’ only all-consuming priority.

For a Scottish Government that has been in power for more than a decade, a failure to maintain focus on those issues that really matter to a majority of Scots could leave the electorate more scunnered than ever. For the SNP, come election time, a scunnered electorate could be the biggest threat of all.

This article first appeared on PubAffairs:

Why I’m running the Edinburgh Half for Maggie’s

Director, Alex Bruce

About 10 months ago, my wife was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. It was the beginning of the school summer holidays and Vikki had been called back to the breast clinic after her annual breast screening had shown up something abnormal.

I can remember the phone call when Vikki asked me to drive over to the breast clinic to collect her because the news was “not good”. To say it was a shock would be a major understatement.

Following that initial numb feeling, your mind starts racing. It’s natural to want to know as much as you can about breast cancer – and above all else, the prognosis. It’s fair to say that there is a wealth of information out there – much of it extremely useful. But it’s also crucially important to keep feet on the ground and to take anything you read on websites and online forums with a huge pinch of salt. Because everyone is different, everyone’s body behaves differently – and everyone’s cancer is different as well.

One common analogy of the experience of cancer for the person affected and their family is an emotional rollercoaster with lots of extreme ups and downs. That was certainly our experience.

For example, following the initial diagnosis, there were some frantic days of waiting for the results of various follow-up tests – and to have confirmation that the cancer had not spread. A waiting period when it’s all too easy to assume the very worst. Having thankfully received confirmation that the cancer hadn’t spread, we embarked on a programme of chemotherapy, to be followed by surgery and then radiotherapy. But at every step along the way, there were a huge number of variables at play that might have taken us on a different path.

Explaining the situation to our children was hard – not least because there was so much we were in the dark about ourselves. Your thoughts inevitably turn to different scenarios and what these could mean for them, how you might cope, how they might cope. Such thoughts could make you really emotional at unexpected moments.

I have always known that my wife is a determined and strong-willed person, verging dare I say on stubborn. But I could only marvel at the strength with which she underwent treatment. She was particularly determined to use the cold cap during chemotherapy in an effort not to lose her hair. The cold cap is a machine that pumps freezing water around the top of the head during treatment, the purpose being to freeze the hair follicles so that the cancer drugs will not attack these cells. It’s deeply uncomfortable and prolongs each chemotherapy treatment by several hours. But I’m happy to report that it did actually work for Vikki.

Each chemotherapy treatment is administered in a three week cycle with a cumulatively bigger impact on the body’s immune system after each successive treatment. It is a hard process to have to go through – for myself and other family members, to witness a loved one having to go through such brutal treatment was hard too. But after 12 weeks and four cycles of chemotherapy, we were advised that Vikki had responded well enough to proceed to surgery.

Following surgery, the rollercoaster shifted direction again as we awaited the results of a biopsy from the surgery that would tell us exactly what impact the chemotherapy had had. On the 21st November, Vikki and I attended a meeting with the consultant where we were advised that Vikki’s cancer had had a “full pathological response” to the treatment. In other words, the chemotherapy had killed all cancer cells. The sense of elation is difficult to describe.

Subsequent to this, Vikki has undergone radiotherapy treatment and continues to receive particular drugs for her specific form of cancer on a three week cycle, all in an effort to minimise the chances of the cancer coming back. Vikki is yet to return to work. With such a positive outcome, it is easy to underestimate what she has had to go through over the past year, both mentally and physically – and the support she will continue to need.

This is the road we will continue to travel in the weeks, months and years ahead. Every health professional we have encountered along the way has been worth their weight in gold, providing universally excellent care. As Vikki herself puts it: “I bloody love the NHS!” In addition, the support, guidance and patient listening ear offered by Maggie’s Edinburgh has been miraculous – and we know from encounters at the Maggie’s Centre the absolutely vital help and support they provide to those who are travelling a far more difficult road than ours.

All of which does make you fundamentally re-evaluate your priorities in life and realise quite how precious life is – and the family and friendships that make it.

One of Vikki’s great passions in life is running and it is a pastime that she has, remarkably, been able to continue throughout her treatment. As she began treatment, I was gently persuaded (should that be “strong-armed?”) to take up running myself. Next month, I will be running my first official race, the Edinburgh Half Marathon, and looking to raise lots of money for Maggie’s as I do so. Running with me will be Vikki and our friends Paul, Jo and Nick.

If you’ve read this far and would like to make a donation, you can do so by visiting: There are so many more people out there, dealing with all types of cancer, who continue to benefit from Maggie’s phenomenal support. I can guarantee that every penny donated will be put to outstandingly good use.

A week in Scotland

SNP Deputy Leadership

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Director, Graeme Downie @GraemeDownie

This week looked like the first one in Scottish politics for a while that wouldn’t be utterly dominated by Brexit and maybe, just maybe, we might get back to some good old fashioned political bun-fights and heads on a platter.

It wasn’t to be but it did start off promisingly. First, last weekend, the Deputy Leader of the SNP, the former MP Angus Robertson, resigned from his post. Although not entirely unexpected – many had thought he might have resigned from the position after losing his seat at the last General Election – it did seem to come out of nowhere.

This gives the SNP a moment of pause and a decision to make, with the runners and riders already putting out the feelers as to whether to run. Some see this as a chance to break with the past, replacing a policy-heavy and experienced MP from farming and fishing country in the North East of Scotland, with more a grass-roots, enthusiastic organiser from the central belt determined to fire up and organise the membership to push for a second independence referendum.

A character from the left of the party, such as Tommy Shepherd MP, would seem to tick many of the boxes in that regard but it will be interesting to see whether current leader of the SNP Group at Westminster, Ian Blackford MP, decides to stand, or even if a senior MSP, such as Transport Minister Humza Yousaf sees the position as a way to further their career.

Policing the police

On the policy front, there was additional drama this week as what seems to be the never-ending saga of wrongdoing by Police Scotland, and the body designed to provider oversight, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), with the resignation of Police Scotland’s Chief Constable, Phil Gormley. The Chief Constable has been on “Special Leave” since September over allegations of serious misconduct in a number of investigations.

The merger of different constabularies to create a single, unified, Police Scotland, has been an ongoing sore for the Scottish Government. From disagreements about payment of VAT by HMT, to bungled investigations, allegations of cover-ups and ministerial pressure, Police Scotland has never been far from the headlines.

The Justice Minister, Michael Matheson MSP, along with the new Chair of the SPA, former Labour Minister, Susan Deacon, will be hoping this is the beginning of the end of the saga but with policing never far from the headlines in any case, that might be a forlorn hope.

The Justice Minister had a further problem this week when the he met with the father of Shaun Woodburn, a 30-year-old man who was murdered on New Year’s Day 2017. Not only has there been strong criticism of the sentence handed down to his convicted killer but also complaints about the time it was taken for the body to be released to the family for burial.


I did warn that we had only almost got through this week without mentioning Brexit. Sadly, it was not to be as on Thursday, MSPs were up in arms that permission to read Brexit documentation from the UK Government, would only be by arranging an appointment, limited to 45 mins and kept to only two possible days, with very short notice to arrange. Although the Scotland Office later clarified that the reading room would be open beyond this week, it was yet a further episode which leaves a bad taste in the mouth between the governments after previous disputes over the devolution of additional powers to Holyrood after Brexit.

A version of this blog fist appeared on Pubaffiars