Pioneering Scotland

Who put the Great into Britain? When it comes to innovation, Scotland’s claim is as strong as any of the home nations. Holly Patrick reports on the legacy of legends…

Scotland has a proud history of innovation, particularly in the fields of engineering and medicine.

The telephone, the television and penicillin – three of the world’s most transformative inventions – hail from the UK’s northernmost country, not to mention the raincoat to which the designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh gave his name. And that’s not all: anaesthetic, malaria treatment, tarmac and early radar technology were all pioneered in Scotland’s great industrial heartlands.

These inventions undoubtedly created a legacy for Scotland’s innovation sector and transformed its major cities into international knowledge hubs. Scotland’s major centres of expertise are Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, which each act as innovation centres for pioneering research and knowledge sharing in sectors such as medicine, technology, big data, design and energy.

Modern facilities such as Glasgow’s Scottish Event Campus (SEC) and Aberdeen’s TECA, combined with VisitScotland’s city-reputation-bolstering Legends campaign, continue to unify Scotland as a centre of innovation excellence and attract international associations, conferences and events.

Both Glasgow and Edinburgh have burgeoning ambassador programmes that support academics and professionals to bid for and host their association’s conferences in their city.

Ambassador programmes play an instrumental role in conferences, contributing millions of pounds to the economy and increasing the city’s international profile.

Recent figures from the ICCA Country and City Statistics report also suggest Scotland is one of the most popular places in the UK for association meetings, with only London pipping them to the post.


In Scotland, surgery and medicine are legendary. Pioneers of modern surgery including John Hunter, James Young Simpson and Joseph Lister – who revolutionised antiseptics in surgery – were all Scotsmen.

Penicillin, beta blockers, hypodermic needles, MRI technology, transplant surgery, keyhole surgery, along with the world’s first radiology department were all born in Scotland. This pioneering history, along with dedicated centres of research in Glasgow, such as the Industrial Centre for Artificial Intelligence research in Digital Diagnostics (iCAIRD) and the Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre (SMS-IC), enhance its reputation as a medical knowledge hub.

Glasgow has a proud history of innovators

Historical event venues such as the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and award-winning modern venues such as the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) comprised of they SSE Hydro, the SEC Armadillo and SEC Centre, combined with a 300-person ambassador programme, enhance the city’s chances of winning medical conferences.

Most recently, SEC announced it had won the bid to host the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology Annual Congress set to take place in 2023.

Head of conventions at Glasgow Convention Bureau, Aileen Crawford said: “Welcoming the prestigious ESTRO Congress to Glasgow is a great example of Team Glasgow working in partnership to offer a conference location that is truly aligned to the vision and mission of the association.”

Beyond hosting medical sector-specific events to share knowledge between industry experts, Glasgow Convention Bureau partnered with VisitScotland and Glasgow Welcomes to offer free educational sessions designed to help taxi drivers, staff at venues, hotel, restaurants and visitor attractions to better understand the requirements of delegates at the conference who are living with the conditions under discussion.


Edinburgh continues to pioneer technological innovation.

First, the city and more specifically Alexander graham Bell, gave the world the telephone and now some 25,000 people are working in the tech sector in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Conference Centre – Heriot-Watt University

According to the Tech Nation 2018 Report, Edinburgh is the best location in the UK for establishing a technology company, already boasting major firms such as Skyscanner, Fanduel and tech incubator firm, Codebase.

With a £1.3 billion Scotland and South East Scotland City Regional Deal, Edinburgh’s aspires to become the Data Capital of Europe.

Helping Edinburgh achieve this goal is the annual tech-entrepreneur investment programme, Informatics Venture, part of the Data-Driven Innovation Programme, hosted at The Bayes Centre in Edinburgh University. The Bayes Centre is the university’s centre for science and engineering, bringing together more than 600 researchers, students and external partners.

As for academic institutions, the University of Edinburgh ranks top in the UK for research in informatics and computer science. While Heriot-Watt University is a world leader in robotics and artificial intelligence.

Edinburgh’s commitment to the tech sector has been integral in bidding for a winning some of the world’s most renowned tech conferences. Previous prestigious conferences include the International Digital Curation Conference (IDCC and the European Robotics Forum).

In August, Edinburgh will welcome thousands of delegates to the Turing Fest and come September data industry players will descend on the city for the annual ESOMAR Global Data & Insights Summit at the newly refurbished Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC).


In 1975 when the North Sea oilfield came online, Aberdeen became a hub for oil and gas exploration. But now the city is steering its reputation towards energy as a whole, with a particular focus on renewable energies.

Aberdeen is imminently opening what is poised to be the UK’s most sustainable event venue, The Event Complex Aberdeen (TECA) equipped with a new hydrogen fuel cell power plant. TECA, which boasts 48,000 sqm of flexible event space, will use renewable biofuel created from agricultural crops and waste products.

Brought to the city with the help of the 300-member strong ambassador programme, TECA’s first major event will be the European Forestry Institute between September 18 and 20, 2019. The draw to Aberdeen is through the James Hutton Institute.


                                      Sir Duncan Rice Library, Aberdeen


Created in 2011, The James Hutton Institute brings together the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute and the Scottish Crop Research Institute.  The institute has a long history through its legacy organisations in providing independent, world-class scientific research tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges relating to food and environmental security and sustainable development.


In 2014, Dundee was named the UK’s first Unesco City of Design. The small coastal city, set on the north side of the River Tay, has a strong cultural identity and a history of creativity.

Dundee’s creative hubs are headed by the V&A Dundee. It is the only design museum in the UK outside of London and the first design museum in Scotland.

V&A Dundee

Other design initiatives and partnerships in Dundee include the Knowledge Exchange Hub, Design in Action funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council and Dundee Up, a decade long initiative committed to continuing the journey of cultural-led regeneration.

Upholding its design reputation, Dundee was chosen to host the 13th International Conference of the European Academy of Design, RUNNING WITH SISSORS in April this year, held at the purpose-built conference venue, Dalhousie Building in the University of Dundee.

Dundee & Angus convention bureau is currently working on the launch of their new ambassador network.