G8 Report : SCOTLAND PLC: High Tech Scotland

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From the 1960s onwards, as heavy industries such as coal, steel and ship building went into decline, the establishment of high-tech industries has been actively encouraged in Scotland. These high-tech developments have been very heavily subsidised by the government.


The first wave of high-tech development focused on electronics and computers. This took off to such an extent that by the 1980s central Scotland was dubbed 'Silicon Glen'. Major global electronics companies such as IBM, Motorola and NEC were tempted into setting up manufacturing facilities. At its high point in the 1990s, 'Silicon Glen' produced 35% of Europe’s computers and 12% of the world's semi-conductors and directly employed 55,000 people. However, the electronics industry has not been the universal panacea for the Scottish economy that it was meant to be. Jobs in the Scottish electronics industry look increasingly precarious as one by one major companies take the money and run, scaling back their Scottish operations and relocating to countries with lower labour costs.1


Apart from electronics, another high-tech industry to have received backing in Scotland has been biotechnology. From the 1990s onwards a number of biotech companies have emerged in Scotland, joined by a handful of biotech-based subsidiaries of global companies, principally working on pharmaceutical applications of biotechnology, and often clustered around the major Scottish universities and other research institutes.2

One of the most controversial areas of research has taken place at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh. The Roslin Institute is a leading research centre for farm animal genetic engineering and genomics.3 In conjunction with its commercial wing, PPL Therapeutics, the Roslin Institute has worked on genetically engineering animals to produce human pharmaceutical products, as well as doing ground-breaking work in cloning animals (including Dolly the Sheep) and xeno-transplantation.4 As the investment bubble that was built up around biotech companies in the mid 1990s deflated, PPL Therapeutics went from being a flagship company, representing the success of biotechnology in Scotland, to near bankruptcy. The company has failed to live up to its own hype, and its commercial products have not made the quick profits that were promised to investors. Major collaborators such as Bayer have pulled out,5 and in summer 2004 PPL Therapeutics was bought by QED Intellectual Property.6 QED has set about selling off PPL's intellectual property, and at the time of writing it is not clear what if anything is left of the company.

GM crops

Scotland as with the rest of the UK is unlikely to face commercially grown GM crops in the foreseeable future. No field trials have been undertaken in Scotland since the end of the government-sponsored GM farmscale trials and the major GM crops companies' withdrawal from trials in 2003/2004. The two Scottish research institutes which had previously grown their own GM field trials, the Scottish Agricultural College and the Scottish Crop Research Institute, have not done so since 2003.7


Hot on the heels of biotechnology, the beginnings of a nanotechnology industry in Scotland are again often clustered around academic research departments.8

Currently the most prominent nanotech enterprise in Scotland is not actually doing nanotechnology, but is an industry front group: the Stirling based Institute of Nanotechnology.9 The institute has made it its business to promote the interests of the nanotech industry in the UK and beyond. It works closely with governments, universities, researchers and companies involved in nanotechnology, and undertakes work to assess, promote and expand the nanotech industry in the UK and Europe.10 The Institute prides itself on its close links with the nanotech industry and has worked with companies such as BP, ICI, Unilever, Syngenta, GSK, BNFL, Toshiba, Sharp and General Electric.

Current corporate members of the Institute include Unilever, Degussa, Lot Oriel, Sulzer, Veeco, QinetiQ, Toshiba, Merck and ICI.11

Stagecoach and Nanotechnology

Although not actually involved in nanotechnology production, Perth-based transport company Stagecoach is at the forefront of commercial nanotechnology in the UK. At the time of writing Stagecoach is in the process of introducing a nanoparticle-based fuel additive (Envirox made by Oxonica) to its entire UK bus fleet.12


  1. John Cassy, 'Tiny move makes big impact in the glen,' The Guardian, 15.08.01

    www.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,,537127,00.html Last viewed 23.03.05
  2. Lorna Jack, 'Beyond Dolly - Scotland's Life Sciences Industry Moves into the 21st Century:

    Scotland's biotechnology sector grew 20% annually over the last five years' BioPharm International 01.04.04 www.biopharmmag.com/biopharm/article/articleDetail.jsp?id=90963&pageID=1, Last viewed 23.03.05
  3. See www.roslin.ac.uk/
  4. 'Pig research halt "a commercial decision,"' BBC News Online 14.08.01

    Available online at Genet Archive, www.gene.ch/genet/2001/Sep/msg00076.html, Last viewed 23.03.05
  5. 'Dolly the sheep firm faces chop' Reuters Business News, 15.09.04

    Available online at Genet Archive, www.gene.ch/genet/2003/Sep/msg00058.html, Last viewed 23.03.05
  6. www.biotechanalytics.com/News/p/ppl.htm
  7. www.geneticsaction.org.uk/testsites/ Last viewed 23.03.05
  8. Examples include Aktina Ltd (nanofilms) Dundee and Kelvin Nanotechnology (nanoelectronics) Glasgow

    information from www.nanovip.com/directory/International/United_Kingdom/index.php, Last viewed 23.03.05
  9. Institute of Nanotechnology, www.nano.org.uk/ Last viewed 23.03.05
  10. Institute of Nanotechnology, www.nano.org.uk/ion.htm Last viewed 23.03.05
  11. Institute of Nanotechnology, www.nano.org.uk/ion.htm Last viewed 23.03.05
  12. Stagecoach group company website, 'Statgecoach adopts 21st century fuel additive,' 06.12.04, www.stagecoachbus.com/news_293.html Last viewed 23.03.05