In the conversations around Scottish independence, Scotland often gets compared to Norway. This is mostly because of similar populations, comparable levels of gingerness, and of course the oil.
If Scotland did gain independence, we would never end up wildly oil-rich like the Norwegians, since we are clearly past “peak oil”. The general consensus seems to be that the reduction in “subsidy” from the UK government would be more or less offset by us taking 90% of the oil tax revenues, leaving us financially in a status quo. Gross over-simplification, but bare/bear* with me.
I prefer to look at another Scandinavian country for comparison – one which is similarly comparable population-wise, but doesn’t have the black-swan event of finding a trillion dollars worth of oil in the back garden: Denmark.
One question keeps creeping to to my mind when I casually make this comparison: why has Denmark (population ~5.6 Million) got so many globally recognised companies, compared to Scotland (population 5.3 Million)?
Try this exercise: name the top global Danish companies you can think of off the top of your head. Maybe you can’t name many, but you’d probably be surprised to discover how many companies you have heard of day-to-day are actually Danish. Then try the same with global Scottish companies. This is not meant to be an exhaustive review – rather an exercise in finding “global companies you have heard of.”
Here is my attempt below.
Novozymes – global biotech company – employs 6000 people in 30 countries.
Novo Nordisk – known for diabetes treatments – employs 38,000 people around the world.
Genmab – admittedly not one most people would have heard of (I have because of my pharma/biotech background) – but it’s exactly the sort of mid-sized biotech company with promising drugs and partnerships that Scotland (actually the whole of the UK) is lacking.
Maersk – chuffing huge company doing lots of oil and shipping related activities. Apparently employs 89,000 people worldwide.
Carlsberg – yes we all know the beer of questionable quality that the Danes pretend they hate to see leave, but it’s really a very big drinks company employing around 45,000 people worldwide.
Vestas – it’s the largest wind turbine company in the world, whose market share is apparently decreasing due to increased global competition (I’ll guess from China) but it’s still top dog, and the company that I (at least) hear most often in discussion about wind energy.
Clothing – maybe no mega giants, but I’m constantly surprised by the number of brands I know that turn out to be Danish. e.g. Hummel and Jack and Jones (part of a bigger group called Bestseller).
Internet companies – ok, they all seem to hot-foot it off to Silicon Valley as soon as they do well so they don’t really count, but quite a few decent tech companies started in Denmark – e.g. customer care darling, Zendesk. Podio was also born in Copenhagen, but sold out a couple of years ago.
Lego – coolest toy company in the world? ‘Nuff said!
Have we got any global healthcare companies based in Scotland? The only one I could think or was ProStrakan, and they seem to have been acquired by a Japanese company since I last looked at them. I can’t think of any others.
Drinks companies – we used to have White & MacKay – it’s not really on Carlsberg’s scale, and it’s owned by United Breweries Group of India now anyway. I suppose we have Barr (they make Irn Bru don’t you know) but I don’t really think they are particularly global and they tried to
sell themselves, sorry I mean merge, with Britvic recently anyway. We have lots of globally known whisky brands, but most of them are owned by non-Scottish parent companies.
Shipping – nope. I think we just desperately cling to making warships for the UK navy. No global players there.
Banking – well 10 years ago we could have pointed to Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Scotland with pride. Now they are an embarrassment. There are a few other big finance companies based in Scotland, such as Scottish Widows, but not exactly world-known companies. Ach crap, I just looked up Widows and even they are a subsidiary of Lloyds. Oh well.
Wind power – nope, none that I know of. We just beg for Vestas to come build something in Dundee.
Clothing – well I suppose we have tartan, and Harris tweed. Still, no global companies I can think of. A few globally known brands like Pringle and, uhhh, did I mention kilts are Scottish?
Transportation – I GOT ONE!! Yeah baby – Stagecoach is based in Perth. YES! IN YOUR FACE DENMARK! HEY DENMARK – YOU GOT A BUS COMPANY? NO? LOSERS!!
Oil stuff – ok we have Wood Group based in Aberdeen. They’re big (I think), but they don’t really have that “heard of globally” thing about them. Given how much oil we have in the backyard, it’s kinda surprising to me we didn’t end up with a really big oil company based in Scotland, the way Norway has Statoil.
Internet companies – actually, next time some d*ckhead tells you all Internet companies have to be based in London or they will die, ask them what the UK’s highest-valuation Internet company is. They’ll probably say Huddle, Mind Candy or Satago, but you can tell them about Skyscanner – based in Edinburgh. What – the not-that interesting fairly old flight comparison website that has presumably been killed by Expedia and Kayak? Yes – that one. It’s doing rather well in fact and recently took funding from Sequoia Capital, the most successful Internet company VC firm in the world, valuing it at $800 M – in fact it’s their only UK investment to date I think. I hope they don’t relocate to the States.
Lastly honourable mention for Rockstar Games – publisher of games such as Grand Theft Auto and based in Edinburgh (where they fled to after deciding they were too cool for Dundee, where they started). Nevertheless, they’re not really Scottish any more, having been bought by Take Two Interactive – a US company. Well, at least they still make games in Scotland.
So there we have it. Denmark has a ton of massive global companies and seems to really punch above its weight given the country’s size, whereas Scotland has a couple of finance companies that nearly destroyed the country’s economy, and a nice bus company.
So the question is – why? No time to speculate here, but it’s a subject I would love to study more if I had the time. Doubtless others have already tried, so if you know any references I should have a look at – please mention so in the comments. In the meantime, I blame London.
* I never know which one it is and I can’t be bothered looking it up any more.