When I wrote previously about how Scotland’s export business does not depend on the UK (as had been claimed by Alistair Darling at last year’s Mackintosh Memorial Lecture), one of the questions I was asked was what export business Scotland has.
On Wednesday, in a piece lurking at the bottom of Scottish news section, the BBC reported a £1.6bn rise in Scottish exports. The Global Connections Survey (GCS) – full report here – showed that exports were up to record highs both to the rest of the UK and to the rest of the world. Scotland’s exports to the rUK showed a value of £45.5 billion, and to the rest of the world they rose by the headlined £1.6bn, up to £23.9bn.
It’s worth noting that none of these statistics include oil (see page 2 of the report), despite the mention of “refined petroleum” below – we’ll deal with that another day.
A full breakdown reveals the top five export sectors to the rest of the world as:
- Food and beverages (£4.2bn)
- Manufacture of coke, refined petroleum and chemicals (£3.7bn)
- Computer, electronic and optical products (£1.4bn)
- Financial and insurance activities (£1.4bn)
- Mechanical engineering (£1.4bn).
Combining the total exports and dividing it by population (with an exchange of £1=$1.58 and a Scottish population of 5.25m) shows that Scottish exports per capita are $20,886. This would put Scotland in the top 10 performing countries in the world – a very healthy position for a small nation. And remember, this is without oil.
A surprising aspect of the figures is that the percentage of our total export which goes to the rest of the UK is 65.6% – smaller than Canada’s export to the USA, which sits at 73.7%. It’s often argued by the UK government and the No campaign that Scotland’s export to the UK exists because we are all governed by Westminster, so it seems curious that Canada achieves a higher proportion of export trade with the US despite being fully independent from it.
An independent Scotland, then, would be starting from a strong base, but there are still significant opportunities for improvement. Scotland already has a surplus of energy from our existing infrastructure, and the potential (and intent) to soon create an energy surplus entirely from renewable energy, creating export opportunities.
We have a surplus of fresh water (a natural resource likely to become even more critical than oil over the next 100 years) which in itself creates further export opportunities. And we have a wealth of fertile land where we can boost our own consumption of locally produced high-quality food products, but for which the export potential will also continue to grow.
The fact that many people in Scotland believe we have no industry left, and associate our social problems with this perception, demonstrates a gross failing of our current system. Scotland has a healthy and diverse economic outlook, which ought to have been reflected in dramatic increases in our standard of living and the health of our society over the last 40 years.
That it hasn’t is as damning an indictment of London rule as anything we can bring to mind. And all the Westminster government has to offer in return for Scotland’s natural and industrial riches is further decline and growing inequality, stretching into the next decade. In 2014, Scots will have to choose between two very different futures.
Find more from Stuart Darling on his fine self-titled blog.