Innovation Strategies


Innovation priorities for Scotland

Ivan McKee

Ivan McKee MSP was Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise in the Scottish Government. His career has involved a number of senior roles in manufacturing and business, managing companies in the UK as well as Poland, Finland, Croatia and Bosnia. Ivan has been MSP for Glasgow Provan since May 2016. He was brought up in Glasgow and studied at the University of Strathclyde. He was previously the Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation.


  • The Innovation Strategy will determine priorities for innovation over the next 10 years
  • The strategy builds on a number of existing policies and plans
  • Innovation is a key driver for Scottish economic success
  • Innovation takes place both within industry clusters and between them
  • The public sector has a vital role to play in delivering innovation.

Scotland’s industrial base, both now and in the future, is built on excellence in research and innovation. This small country has the highest number of top universities per head of population anywhere in the world, but there is a recognition of the importance of translating that research and science into commercial success for business. The country starts in a good place, while it is acknowledged there is much to cement and build on in order to create a global centre of excellence in science and innovation.

The Innovation Strategy itself will sit alongside a number of other strategies that have been developed over the past 15 years, all supporting the overarching National Strategy for Economic Transformation published in 2022. This serves as an umbrella under which there are a series of pillars, from the Export Strategy published several years ago to the Inward Investment Plan which has a number of crossovers to the Innovation Strategy. The Medical Strategy and the Infrastructure Plans are also important elements. These form a series of interconnecting pieces of work that mutually support each other.

This Strategy will tackle head-on some of the hard choices that have to be made and will help set priorities for the coming years. It will provide a framework within which to make informed decisions about the future focus for research and innovation in Scotland.

Scotland is a country of five million people so we have to recognise that Scotland does not need to be good at everything. However, we need to know our strengths, therefore it is important to use evidence in order to understand where Scotland needs to be in terms of ‘vertical to horizontal’ – sectors and technologies – and the interplay between them.

A robust process

Of course, innovation and technology do not stand still, so we recognise the need for a robust process that facilitates the identification of sectors and technologies that can become part of Scotland's global opportunities. We intend to do that through a cluster identification process: this

involves initially identifying where we are best-placed to become a leading player – and we will use data to underpin this process. We will work with the strengths of our research base and industry, and encourage clusters to emerge over time, creating an appropriate structure for them to flourish.

The public sector supports the innovation process across the Scottish economy, through innovation centres such as the National Manufacturing Institute. 

We also need to leave space for innovation between clusters: ground-breaking innovation and new technologies can sometimes result from putting seemingly unrelated technologies together in the melting pot and seeing what happens. There are plenty of examples where, by providing that space and focus, we have been able to achieve good results – this is one of the things that Scotland is good at.

Measurement is important, so we will develop a series of essential metrics to bring a depth of clarity and focus about the specific areas where Scotland performs well, because without that we are not going to deliver this agenda.

The public sector

The public sector is important in two aspects. The first is the way the public sector supports the innovation process across the economy, for example by maintaining the infrastructure to support research and development: whether through innovation centres such as the National Manufacturing Institute or the other pieces of infrastructure we have across the economy. This support includes the funding mechanisms that exist to encourage innovation.

Equally important is how we ensure the public sector itself is innovative and how it maintains itself at the leading edge of technology. To do this, it needs to engage with the private sector. It needs to be agile, responsive and to move with the times. The public sector is a central part of the economy.

The strategy will also require an assessment of what infrastructure and architecture is needed to deliver the vision. The first step will be to identify those successful elements we already have in place and identify how these support our strategic focus and priorities, as well as understanding – and addressing – any gaps that exist.

Investment considerations fall into two parts. Public sector investment is primarily concerned with the early stages of research and tapers off as we move to the commercialisation part of the process in which the private sector takes the lion's share. However, it is important that the public sector remains engaged through the work of Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish National Investment Bank and other public sector investment processes, helping to secure sufficient private sector investment in innovative products and technologies.

So again, ensuring the public sector investment support is aligned with the strategy is one focus, as well as understanding how we can best take forward and work with private sector investment to expand the pipeline. This builds very much on the work of the Investment Plan which identified types of investor and how to reach them, what their interests are and how to engage with them. We need to explain how Scotland Plc works and put together investment vehicles that are attractive to investors.

Then there is the challenge of diffusion and adoption. While it is clear that the economy is performing well, we recognise that there is much to be done in convincing certain key sectors and technologies, as well as SMEs, to employ these transformative innovations and technologies.

Finally, there is the question of metrics and how impact can be measured. We have a number of different measures for different activities across the economy and the challenge is to identify which

ones apply to the different aspects of an innovative economy and how we can build an overall picture that will enable us to implement the strategy most effectively.