Back to previous page

Scotland’s reputation as a nation of innovators spans early recorded history through to today.   

From Sherlock Holmes and Peter Pan to popularising the decimal point and determining the composition of Saturn’s rings we are extremely proud of our "Made in Scotland" heritage. 

Much of what we have invented is well known and used across the globe, in fact modern living would be unrecognisable without these things, such as the television, the telephone and the ATM.

A recent Institute of Chemical Engineers study declared that the three most influential chemical compositions in the history of the world are petroleum, drinking water and antibiotics. 

Well, we are world leaders in oil and gas extraction, Paisley, just a few miles down the road was home to the first municipal water purifying plant in the world, and the game changing discovery of penicillin was by our very own Sir Alexander Fleming. 

And, never content to rest on our laurels, we are still innovating in these areas. Companies across Scotland today are developing subsea mapping using seismic technologies to identify as yet untapped oil and gas, developing technology which could create safe drinking water for millions and are at the cutting edge of combating emerging infectious diseases.  

And of course you will know all about our whisky. Many of you might agree that whisky should also feature highly on that list of world changing chemical compounds – on taste at the very least. 

An international mindset 

From collaborating with the French in the 1400s by exporting salmon and herring in return for brandy and salt, to exporting high tech electronics in the 1990s we have always been considered a world class trading nation. 

Our long standing reputation for trust, honesty, and transparency that is behind many nations’ desire to work with us. 

You may have heard the term 'a canny Scot'. 

Canny – meaning careful, astute, shrewd, skilled, wary, steady and reliable. 

This, together with the inventiveness and innovation I have demonstrated, means that perhaps our most significant exports in the future are our minds. 

There are 6.5 million people claiming Scots descent in North America - that's larger than Scotland's entire population. 

You hear a Scottish accent on every oil field on earth. 

In years gone by, we used to bemoan this perceived exodus of talent. But what we have found is that more and more are either returning to their ‘hameland’ or from afar are celebrating and helping their country.  

It is exactly this kind of international mindset that we want to embed even more in our culture and in our attitudes. 

As CEO of Scotland’s main economic development agency, my number one priority is to do whatever I can to embed this global thinking right across everything that we touch. 

A sustainable economy 

I am convinced that global competitiveness in the 21st century is about sustainability and the bottom line. 

And when I look at some of our newest innovators, I am confident that that legacy of great invention - that willingness to go out into the world and make our mark and to do so in a way that makes a positive and lasting difference – is alive and well in Scotland today. 

Take, for example, Celtic Renewables, a spin out company from Napier University in Edinburgh. They received a lot of positive press lately for the £1.2 million of investment they secured. The media were tickled by the concept of whisky powered cars. The company is behind an innovation which will turn the by-products of whisky into biobutanol which can power vehicles without the need for engine modification. The investment is to test the concept on an industrial scale with a view to growing a brand new £100 million industry. 

Working with Scotland

The quality of our people and the international ambitions of our entrepreneurs means companies from across the world continue to invest in Scotland and work with Scottish companies:


Another example is Glasgow-based tech company Cojengo. The company is teaming up with software giant Microsoft to provide innovative diagnostic tools and disease surveillance data for farmers in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania. 

Cojengo have developed the VetAfrica app, which enables vets, animal health workers and rural farmers to quickly and accurately diagnose livestock illness and identify which drugs are most effective to treat disease via smart phones. They are working with a 100 million farmers spread across thousands of square miles in East Africa, it is easy to see how a massive growth of mobile and cloud tech solutions can make a positive difference both here in Scotland and in African markets.

Cojengo and Celtic Renewables are ideal examples of how you can be pioneering, innovative and international without having to sacrifice sustainability. 

It is crucial that industry, business and governments learn from these companies and work collaboratively to address the challenge of creating truly sustainable economies that benefit everyone in society. 

The spirit of the Common Weel 

The spirit of the Commonwealth – or common good – really has all these ideals at its heart. For some it may seem an outdated concept, perhaps based on patronage and historic links that are no longer relevant in today’s increasingly small world. 

However, I think the fact that you are all here today illustrates very clearly that the opposite is true. 

You will no doubt hear the phrase the Common Weel this week in Glasgow. It is Scots for common good. 

I have another bit of Scots that I want to leave you with. 

Always be furthie and weel-hertit. 

Furthie means forward-looking, bold and energetic and weel-hertit means optimistic. 

When I consider the possibilities and opportunities we could take forward this is how I, for one, certainly feel.

Ready to trade with Scotland?

Get in touch