Abstract: Electronics in Scotland: Savior or Villain?

Duncan Ross


There are two dominant stories told about the electronics industry in Scotland. In the first, it can be seen as the jewel in the crown of Scottish manufacturing by the 1980s: dominated by American and Japanese companies, it provided substantial employment benefits in a post-industrial economy struggling to cope with the secular decline of the traditional staple industries. It was also held out as an example of a successful and active policy of Foreign Direct Investment attraction. The second story, however, is dominated by the discourse of ''branch plants.'' This story sees Scotland as merely a staging post in the shifting and highly mobile global production patterns of the last eighty years. Electronics manufacturers came to Scotland in search of relatively cheap, highly skilled labor. From the late 1980s onward, many were quick to uproot and move in search of the kinds of short-term replicable benefits that had brought them to Scotland in the first place. This paper provides an examination of the electronics industry in Scotland as a specific case of FDI in a developed economy. It explores these two stories and suggests that the lack of embeddedness is key to understanding the paradox. Local economic development organizations tried to develop cluster strategies to promote continued investment in the sector, but this was, on the whole, too late and met with very limited success.