How Alex Salmond could save Scottish business by axing rules and red tape

Article by John Blundell in The Scotsman

I AM enjoying the refreshing quality of the SNP government. I think its talents may be only one man deep but so far so good. It is true Alex Salmond shares the fallacy common to all Scottish politicos - the belief everything is bettered by subsidies.

Even those with pure SNP affections will have to agree that, with the tenuous majority plus the fact so many substantive powers remain in London, the new regime has barely any legislative or fiscal possibilities.

Where Salmond and his ministerial colleagues have almost limitless discretion - a euphemism for power - is in administrative matters. As Edinburgh ministers, they have all the levers of the civil service to pull and push.

There is a vast, perhaps nearly limitless, opportunity to de-regulate Scottish business.

I am always uncomfortable that so many Scottish companies appoint "compliance officers" to ensure close obedience to every regulation - however petty or daft. I urge them to appoint countervailing "defiance officers" to find ways to get around pettifogging nonsense.

The SNP could reap a huge harvest of popularity - and contribute to the flourishing of Scottish business - if they scrapped one regulation every day. Does that sound excessive? Let me remind you that, in the 12 months up to May 2006, ten new sets of regulations were imposed each day of the year.

Ross Clark's recent study of British regulation, How to Label a Goat: the Silly Rules and Regulations that are Strangling Britain offers an inventory of the over-zealous and often fatuous new directives, statutory instruments and other "obligations" imposed upon business. Clark argues the physical weight of new controls amounts to a new edition of Tolstoy's War and Peace every five days.

Whenever I meet a politician, in power or in opposition, they all agree we must lift the suffocating nature of "red tape" yet the Civil Service loves to contain, corral and command. It is in the business of red tape - not just in volume but in complexity.

My point is Salmond could liberate Scottish commerce by lifting or dissolving so many of these regulatory inhibitions. Each regulation creates its own employments and dependencies. They need departmental staff to administer the new rules. The industry regulated in turn then needs to consult or appoint lawyers and other complia