For some, Scotland has come to symbolise the dark and fearsome North, a land of wild winds and forbidding mountains, witches, and whisky. The Scottish play by Shakespeare no doubt is partially to blame for this mythology - for it is also a land of light and many colours, its clearer air enhanced by rainbows when the sun emerges.
It is also a land of technological ingenuity: Scotsman John Logie Baird invented the television, James Watt the steam engine. It's not just about the industrial age: Sir George Bruce of Carnock in 1575 worked out how to extract coal from under the sea, building an artificial island to do so.
More recently, in 1996, it was a Roslin Institute project at the University of Edinburgh which created Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell.
And despite the recession and talk of secession, the country has much cause for optimism. The oil and gas industry is booming, and exports of whisky and other products such as fish continue to be strong too.
Economic forecast up
October saw the Fraser of Allander Institute raise its forecast for economic growth to 1.3 per cent for the year, and 1.8 per cent next year, with retail sales rising - although it warned people not to borrow more despite the improving outlook.
Unemployment figures are not yet shrinking, however, with 7.3 per cent of Scots currently out of work, a figure expected to rise to 8.4 per cent or 224,800 people by the end of 2014 before finally beginning to shrink.
So what's the view from the channel?
Stuart Little, director of Hamilton, Lanarkshire-based Cisco partner Provista, says he believes it will be a while until the benefits of the improving outlook trickle down to grassroots level. That said, Little claims he is certainly seeing opportunities in the IP telecommunications space and, in a funny kind of way, the recession has actually helped his company.
"Cisco is probably most of what we do - IP solutions and support, design and consultancy," he says.
"We have a lot of companies doing consultation to save costs, and move around and be more mobile, maybe working from home. And maybe because we're smaller and more agile, we can do more for them."
The company was founded in 2006 and is going from strength to strength, starting with a few people working from home and today having 20 staff reaping £4.5m in revenue in the year ending July.
This year it also went over the border to open an office in Birmingham; today you can be based anywhere, he notes, and Provista is doing more and more business UK-wide. Many customers are looking for help to connect even further afield, as part of expansion to places such as Asia.
"We have built our company and have most of our customer base in Scotland, and we do talk with larger organisations, and some public sector customers. But because of the geography of Scotland, sometimes people can be more remote, so maybe that is a driver for mobility and flexibility," he says.
Provista has ridden the wave of IP communications adoption that has come into its own in the past five or six years, and that has been its good fortune. Increasingly, customers are talking about cloud as well,
The oil and gas industry based in Aberdeen is particularly buoyant these days, he notes, and Provista is spending increasing amounts of time there seeking out the opportunities. There is money to be spent, and companies have an interest in technologies of all kinds to help them compete on the world stage.
"We do quite a bit of business in Aberdeen," he confirms.
While places such as Lanarkshire can be cost-effective locations to operate in UK terms, Edinburgh is as expensive as London, and Aberdeen may be even more expensive still, he adds.
However, on the whole, according to Little, there appear to be few differences between England and Scotland when it comes to doing business. Certainly there are cultural adjustments that must be made, and the legal systems vary in several important respects. However, apart from contract law, not much springs to mind so far, he says.
"IP is borderless," adds Little. "Though one thing I have found is that some of our UK customers ask us about some of the complementary services, and you need to find the right partners."
In Scotland, the relatively small size of the market makes it necessary to develop an ecosystem of partners to deliver the right customer solution - but he has found that true in England so far as well, with the problem being that Provista is not yet well known further south.
Another difference in Scotland has been the relative availablity of high-speed broadband - although that situation has begun to change more rapidly in recent years with a push from the Scottish National Party (SNP) government.
"In my house, we have had 2Mbps to 3Mbps download speeds - but we're going across to fibre and will have 40Mbps to 50Mbps soon," Little says.
Also, he adds, it may be true that in Scotland it is more important to be able to justify an IT spend, and that has become even more necessary in recent years.
"What I have found is that in the past few years IT managers used to have more freedom to spend. Now they are asked: ‘Why are you buying that? How do you know you will get a good deal?'."
Is Scottish independence from the UK on the cards? And will it make a difference to the channel? Little says he feels that pragmatism will win the day next year, and Scotland will remain part of the UK.
On the other hand, whether or not Alba stays in the EU is not, unlike in England, a subject for debate - though perhaps that will change if Scotland opts for independence.
"The worst thing is the uncertainty: hurry up and make a decision and get on with it. We just want to know," says Little.
"I think we are maybe better off in the UK - but that's just a personal view."
Mark Mason, head of sales at national collaborative technology distributor Steljes (pictured, right), is based in Edinburgh. Ten years ago, he notes, the idea of a head of sales being based in Scotland rather than in the Surrey head office would have appeared daft - but today, with modern communications, it is very do-able.
What's more, he says, the standard of living is high and it is easy to get around, whether it be working, shopping on the Royal Mile or enjoying the great outdoors.
"It's an absolutely fantastic place to live," he enthuses. "I'm in the biggest business park in Scotland, and it's five minutes from Edinburgh airport and five minutes from the motorway. I'm 20 minutes from the city centre. From home, I can be in the centre in 15 minutes, and 15 minutes the other way in the country."
There has been some upheaval related to the building of the new tram network across the city, and infrastructure has required investment in the past that is only now being concluded - but on the whole, life is very well connected, Mason says.
"The schools stand up pretty well on a global level too. I have two children, one in Primary One and one in Primary Four. Their school has tradition as well; it has been teaching since 1646."
Two characteristics get you a long way in Scotland, he notes: proactivity and loyalty. Echoing Provista's Little, Mason confirms that working together with a group of partner companies you know well - most of which are likely to be SMBs - can be critical to business growth.
The government in Scotland is continuing to reinforce this too, further opening up its frameworks to competition from smaller suppliers and perhaps doing it better, Mason hints, than in the UK as a whole.
"The channel physically helps each other here, day in and day out," he says.
"And I've noticed that if you have a seminar in Scotland, the confirmation numbers might be lower, but the rate of attrition of attendees is lower too. If people say they'll come to something, they'll come."
Five facts you probably didn't know about Scotland
■ Edinburgh in 1824 became the first city in the world to have its own municipal fire brigade.
■ Scotland incorporates a whopping 790 islands, and only 130 are inhabited.
■ The national motto, used by the royal coat of arms and the Order of the Thistle, is: "No one provokes me with impunity (nemo me impune lacessit)." A phrase that may well send shivers down the spine further south.
■ Scottish mathematician, physicist and astronomer John Napier, the Eighth Laird of Merchistoun, invented logarithms.
■ The Atholl Highlanders, led by the Duke of Atholl, make up the only legal private army in Europe. In principle, that is - as they're "only ceremonial". They derive from the 77th Regiment of Foot dating back to 1777, and are based at Blair Castle in Blair Atholl, Perthshire, which when besieged in 1746 became the last place in Great Britain to be so.
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