One of Scotland’s brightest technology entrepreneurs believes it will be easier to attract and retain talent if Scots vote ‘yes’ in the independence referendum on September 18
Cally Russell, 26, is an entrepreneur and CEO of Mallzee, a personal shopping app start-up based in Edinburgh. In its first year Mallzee has raised more than £500,000 and been named by Yahoo as one of the six apps that will change the way the world shops.
Russell graduated from Dundee University with a degree in Politics and International Relations, and is an advocate foryoung people in business. He was a finalist in the 2014 Young Scot of the Year awards and was been named in the 2014 Ones to Watch listings by the Scotsman. Here’s how he sees the technology industry evolving in an independent Scotland.
“It’s been a long week in the Scottish independence campaign after a poll last weekend put the Yes campaign in front for the first time, and the rest of the country awoke to the very real possibility of Scotland voting to leave the union.
“This saw the leaders of the Westminster parties stop bickering in the House of Commons and rush to Scotland to try to save their faltering campaign and, hopefully, the union.
“The culmination of these efforts – if the front pages of the newspapers are to be believed – is if the people of Scotland dare to vote to control their own destiny then the oil wells will run dry, supermarkets will push up prices, the banks will rush over the border and we will force the world into something akin to the Great Depression.
“Ten years ago claims like these on the front pages of newspapers would go unchecked and be accepted by the vast majority of the population. But, thanks to technology and social media, and the fact the majority of people now carry a phone capable of accessing everything ever written in their pockets, this is no longer the case. This has, in turn, led to what many people thought would be a clear victory for Better Together becoming one of the closest votes in political history.
“The number of people blogging, tweeting and questioning these claims is overwhelming. Never before has society had such a voice, such a desire to use it and the technology to reach so many no matter where they are.
“A prime example of this was on Sunday afternoon as thousands marched on the BBC offices in Glasgow to complain about what they perceive as a biased stance by the public broadcaster, and I jumped on a livestream from someone’s phone – I was one of 3,000 people watching at the same time.
“When a new form of media clashes with old society and people question the information provided by institutions, it creates a level of interest and engagement that is hard to not get swept up in, no matter your opinion. Facebook and Twitter are now awash with ordinary people debating the future of their country and questioning the path our nation will choose. When you consider that 97 percent of people have registered to vote that shows how a nation has awoken.
“From the perspective of a start-up technology business, being immersed in a country that is questioning its very core is a hugely exciting experience, especially when the use of technology is one of the main driving forces behind it.
“Over the past couple of weeks many people have asked me how would independence effect us as a business.
“In an honest answer, I doubt it would have any major affect on our day to day. A lot of our business is outside of Scotland and that wouldn’t change. To achieve our business goals we’ll likely need more investment in the coming years but, from the meetings I had in London last week, Scottish independence wouldn’t stop anyone investing. Our retail partners already operate in countries all around the world and any change wouldn’t mean they stopped delivering to Scotland.
“What it would help with is attracting talent to Scotland, or retaining the fantastic graduates that we create but whom aren’t allowed to stay due to draconian UK laws in relation to immigration that make it near impossible for start-ups to sponsor non-EU students to stay past their studies.
“In many cases in the world of technology borders are no longer a problem. They only inhibit your growth if you let them inhibit your vision and belief – often an issue for Scottish businesses.
“Whilst independence might not have a direct effect on Mallzee as a business, I strongly believe it would drive a drastic change in our people, their mindsets and help grow the wider start-up community.
“When running a start-up you have to believe that anything is possible but, sadly, people in Scotland for too long haven’t thought like this. For too long, too many believed that the best that we could have was a nation where it was accepted people were fed by food banks, that saw more than 20 percent of our children living in poverty and, instead of encouraging people to chase their dreams, it was acceptable to pour scorn on them.
“During this debate it has been amazing to see the Scottish people engage and interact with politics, question our society and begin to believe in themselves! This presents a fantastic future for tech start-ups as that belief is needed to even start off down this road or join a start-up and try to change an industry.
“When we started Mallzee we had very few answers. We had an idea and a belief in ourselves but our path was still to be defined. We knew that we could be successful but there would be many difficult decisions along the way and that we would have to work much harder than if we stayed in our safe corporate jobs.
“We’ve taken control of our own lives and decided to forge our own path, despite the risks, because we knew the rewards would be worth the uncertainty.
“An independent Scotland, in my mind, would be in a very similar position. As a nation we might not (currently) have all the answers but we would know where we wanted to end up, be the only ones in control of our destiny and, most importantly, finally have the belief that we will get there – no matter the path!
“To create a new young culture where anything is possible can only be a driver for start-up tech companies and a society where they can flourish.
“The opportunity that presents itself is too good to turn down in my opinion.”
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