Scotland's blue economy needs

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

When I made a Facebook post some days ago about the failure of BiFab to secure a contract that would have created work for their Methil and Burntisland yards, I raised the need to develop a better blue economy strategy. A few people subsequently asked me to say more. Hence today’s blog.

The first thing to say is that there is a great debate about the best way to understand a blue economy. This can range from the view of major international institutions such as the World Bank who see it as the

sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health

to the more environmentally and socially focused Commonwealth who see it as encouraging

better stewardship of our ocean or ‘blue’ resources….in particular the close linkages between the ocean, climate change, and the wellbeing of the people... At its heart, it reaffirms the values of equity and public participation in marine and coastal decision-making.  It supports all of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), (seeking) ambitious, co-ordinated actions to sustainably manage, protect and preserve our ocean now, for the sake of present and future generations.” 

We don't yet have a Scottish consensus on how best to define our blue economy, nor do we as yet have a comprehensive strategy that is widely understood and supported.

Why then do I raise this in the context of Methil and Burntisland (or indeed any other coastal town in Scotland)? It is this. Issues such as those of BiFab and loss of contracts are too often narrowly focused. They tend not to be understood within a much more ambitious strategy for our coastal resources. As a result they are treated as isolated contracts and business issues open to the vagaries of badly designed procurement rules and the buffeting of unequal international market forces. Wringing our hands is understandable but of no help.

In two weeks time I will be attending (virtually of course) the annual conference of the  Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS). This is a consortium of organisations engaged in marine science and represents the majority of Scotland's marine research capacity. Did you know MASTS and their annual conference is led from Fife? I will be attending two days of workshops looking at latest approaches to decommissioning of rigs, wreck removal, issues of plastics in the ocean and so forth. If Fife can lead on research and hosting conferences, we should be leading too in creating the new jobs from new technologies and new ideas.

Furthermore, the lack of a strong enough blue economy focus is losing us opportunities to act in the wider best interests both of Scotland’s natural resources, and the needs for sustainable jobs of our people.

In another area of the blue economy, just yesterday I was bemoaning the lack of imagination in failing to bring together our coastline, Adam Smith and tourism. It was while taking his regular walks along the Fife coast that Adam Smith was inspired by the sight of the great trading ships of the day that he regularly viewed and contributed to his interest in what was to become “The Wealth of Nations”. Furthermore, and too often forgotten, Adam Smith’s early philosophical works raised moral indignation against slavery, although it was to be his later economic analysis against slavery that was to be more influential in the anti-slavery cause, and in helping fuel the industrial revolution. An Adam Smith equivalent today I suspect would be happy to “take the knee” and support the Black Lives Matter movement. Should not such a glorious heritage be used to both enlighten people and support a much richer tourism offer?

There are also considerable opportunities to develop the education and skills sector to serve Fife’s (and indeed the East coast’s) blue economy. Why should there not be education centres of excellence related to the blue economy centred in Methil or Burntisland?

So when I look at Methil and Burntisland today, I see not only immediate challenges, but also huge opportunities for developing a blue strategy that will bring sustainable employment, enrich our lives and preserve our wonderful natural heritage.

I see too encouraging signs.There is some world leading research in this area based at St Andrews University.We have some staff in Fife Council working away on developing new approaches to addressing blue economy needs.We have some businesses, including indigenous SMEs, bringing new ideas and technologies, and we have many of our communities filled with a concern for preserving the best of our natural environment.They all need more encouragement.They all need brought together in a more ambitious approach to creating a real and effective blue economy. That is a challenge I would relish the opportunity to contribute towards.

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