Credit to the canniness of the Scots.
"There is nothing as provincial as a Londoner." So Angus Grossart, Scotland's leading merchant banker, provocatively claimed in his contribution to a Management Today/Scottish Development Agency seminar entitled "Scotland: a branch economy and how it will fare after 1992", held at Airth Castle, Falkirk.
Grossart's thesis is simple. The congested and snarled-up South-east has become so preoccupied with its problems that it is missing opportunities to expand into Europe. Not so the canny financial community based around Edinburgh's Charlotte Square. "We've always had to look outside Scotland for our work, so the prospect of 1992 holds no fear for us."
The past four years have, of course, seen an explosive growth in two key areas: finance and electronics. Some 172,000 people, or 10% of the Scottish workforce, are now employed in financial services. While the City of London is shedding jobs left, right and centre, Edinburgh and Glasgow have simply gone from strength to strength. Funds under Scottish management now total some £130 billion, while the famed life assurance sector holds over 20% of the UK market.
In electronics "Scotland produces around 30% of Europe's personal computers", Grossart notes. By 1992 that figure will have risen to some 40%, according to David Brown, executive director of the Locate in Scotland bureau. The electronics industry, with 50,000 employees, long ago overtook the traditional industries of steel, coal and shipbuilding as the mainstay of industrial employment.
For Grossart and David Maclehose, the Scottish Confederation of British Industry director, this burst of activity is evidence of the remarkable revival that the Scottish economy has undergone in the past 10 years. "Ten to 15 years ago Scotland was in a back-to-the-wall situation, but it has moved forward in the last 10 years in a very positive way. There is a willingness to work here," Maclehose believes. For Grossart, the current climate - notwithstanding the current recession - is the "most favourable for some centuries".
So far Scotland has escaped the worst effects of the downturn. Maclehose reckons that the Scottish propensity to save money and eschew credit has played its part. With relatively low gearing and much lower mortgages than in the South, the Scots are better equipped to handle the current high interest rates.
(George Rosie is a Scottish business writer and broadcaster.)