Automation in the Scottish economy Wednesday 2 February 2017, in the Scottish Parliament

The growing level of automation in Scotland’s economy and the implications for our workforce was the subject of Scotland's Futures Forum's first Futures Breakfast Seminar in 2017.

Hosted by Richard Leonard MSP on behalf of the Parliament's Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, the seminar heard from Ewan Mearns of Scottish Enterprise’s strategy and sectors team on recent research it has carried out on the developing role of robotics and artificial intelligence in Scotland.

Ewan Mearns from Scottish Enterprise

Fourth industrial revolution

Framing the context as the infancy of a fourth industrial revolution, driven by the development in big data, Ewan noted that opportunities and risks will exist for all firms and sectors and that, to remain competitive, companies need to invest and innovate, including across supply chains.

Based on the research, Ewan presented visions of Scotland’s economy in three sectors by 2025.

Construction by 2025

Agriculture and food production by 2025

Finance and business services by 2025

Fair work in the 21st Century

Anne Douglas, co-chair of the Scottish Government's Fair Work Convention and Futures Forum director, provided her reflections on the future of fair work in the 21st century.

Anne Douglas, Futures Forum director

Anne referred to the Convention’s vision that, by 2025, people in Scotland will have a world-leading working life where fair work drives success, wellbeing and prosperity for individuals, businesses, organisations and society. In particular, she pointed to the Fair Work Framework [full version (pdf, 1.6Mb) or summary version (pdf, 4Mb)] as an important way to achieve that vision.

The discussion after the presentations focused on the requirement to support workers to adapt to the new environment, the possible impact on work patterns and the implications for energy and resource use, particularly in the context of climate change targets.


Richard Leonard is an MSP for Central Region and a member of the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee. Before being elected in 2016, Richard was an organiser for the GMB trade union and a former STUC economist. He has written extensively on the Scottish economy and served on the boards of several economic regeneration companies.

Ewan Mearns is a Strategy Partner in the Strategy and Sectors Team within Scottish Enterprise, Scotland's main economic development agency. Ewan has wide experience in economic development, having worked in a range of strategy and policy roles within Scottish Enterprise, including low carbon, the circular economy, rural development, skills and inclusive growth.

Anne Douglas is a director of Scotland’s Futures Forum and co-chair of the Scottish Government’s Fair Work Convention. She was previously National Secretary of the trade union Prospect, as well as STUC President and a Director of Skills Development Scotland.

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