THE retail tycoon who is the country's most prominent advocate of entrepreneurialism has emerged as the influential figure behind what the First Minister described as his "flagship policy" for schools in the run-up to the May elections.
Tom Hunter's part in the almost messianic drive to revive the Scottish tradition of 19th century capitalists such as Andrew Carnegie will help make enterprise education virtually compulsory in all schools once HMI produces a set of specific performance indicators to assess progress.
All teachers will be invited to train in enterprise activities at least once every two years as part of their continuing professional development.
Jack McConnell and Jim Wallace, his Liberal Democrat deputy, on Tuesday placed ministerial muscle behind the strengthened initiative when they responded to the review of enterprise education, Determined to Succeed, at Trinity Academy in the capital.
Labour ministers have had enterprise in their sights since 1997 when Brian Wilson, the then education minister, said he wanted to put enterprise education "at the heart of the curriculum".
But the renewed emphasis owes much to Dr Hunter, former boss of Sports Division and now head of West Coast Capital, who shared this week's political platform after announcing that he was adding pound;2 million - matched by the Scottish Executive - to the pound;40 million pot already announced for enterprise over the next three years.
He was an irregular member of the initial review team, headed by Nicol Stephen, Deputy Education Minister, which reported before Christmas.
Dr Hunter's association with Mr McConnell has ensured a key advisory role for an enlarged Schools Enterprise Programme, initiated three years ago by the entrepreneur and his business friends. It has employed 36 seconded teachers who have helped to train 5,000 primary teachers in enterprise activities and lay on activities for 38,000 children.
In a highly influential presentation on the same day to the Scottish Parliament's lifelong learning committee, the founder of the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurialship at Strathclyde University said that he was placing his total faith in schools to change the culture of Scotland.
"We have to start right at the beginning," he said. "It's not only to produce a classroom full of Richard Bransons - that would be quite bad - it is about building self-confidence, self-belief.
"We should not get fixated about building entrepreneurs - that will come - but it's about building a can-do attitude."
Dr Hunter said that he was proud of the interest generated worldwide in the Schools Enterprise Programme, which was taking the lead in promoting enterprise.
Chris van der Kuyl, the computer games mastermind, told MSPs: "This is going to take a generation and we have to start somewhere."
Mr McConnell, speaking at the Trinity Academy launch, said he was determined to see every pupil experience enterprise education. "We need to create future generations who are much more willing to take risks and have a go, to try and fail and try again, and to be as ambitious as they can be for themselves and their country," he said.
The First Minister backed more vocational education and work experience, arguing that the current system was failing far too many boys of 14 and 15.
John Mulgrew, education director in East Ayrshire and review group member, said there was the prospect of "a significant development" and welcomed the emphasis on delivery through local authorities to schools.
Mr Mulgrew also welcomed a place for education directors alongside business directors on the Schools Enterprise Programme.
WHAT IT MEANS
* All pupils from P1 to S6 must have a chance to do enterprise activities every year. Local authorities to develop plans, promote them among parents and phase in programmes.
* All pupils over 14 must have the chance to do "work-based vocational learning".
* An enterprise development officer for every school cluster.
* All schools must develop partnership agreements with local businesses and others with a target of 2,000 agreements by 2006.
* Enterprise in education to be included in all initial teacher training courses and all current teachers to be offered special in-service training.
* A strategic forum to meet at least twice a year to ensure the programme is being implemented, schools to spell out their ideas in their development plans, and new performance indicators to judge progress.