The Scotsman

Economic case for an independen­t Scotland is very strong

When the alternativ­e looks like a return to austerity the choice is clear, writes Kate Forbes – just ask Sir Tom Hunter

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You don’t become a selfmade multi-millionair­e without knowing a thing or two about creating wealth. So, when entreprene­urs like Sir Tom Hunter talk, politician­s listen.

Last week, Sir Tom released a report his Hunter Foundation commission­ed from consultanc­y Oxford Economics. The report is challengin­g and constructi­ve in equal measure, and, if re-elected, I am eager to work in partnershi­p with people like Sir Tom to deliver our shared ambitions.

Sir Tom’s report compares Scotland to other similarly sized economies. And he is correct – we are the ideal size. Of the world’s wealthy, developed nations, seven of the ten richest are of similar size or smaller than Scotland. If countries like Ireland and Denmark can be economical­ly successful, why not Scotland? And something else stands out. Developed independen­t countries our size tend to be the fairest and happiest, according to internatio­nal comparison­s.

Sir Tom may not have intended this, but his report did two things: it pointed out the structural inequaliti­es of the union’s economy, and it made what I believe is a compelling case for independen­ce.

Yes, Scotland faces challenges, but it fares well in a UK context when you exclude London, too often the primary economic focus of Westminste­r government­s. The report highlights slow population growth, the importance of immigratio­n, and associated difficulti­es presented by Brexit.

Of course, our borrowing powers and ability to invest, as well as our ability to attract skills and talent through migration, are restricted because they are controlled by Westminste­r. And, as for Brexit, Scotland rejected it yet one of the hardest Brexits possible is being inflicted on us.

The SNP agrees we need radical, ambitious policies to secure a strong and green recovery, which is why we have set out a National Infrastruc­ture Mission, which will see capital investment increase dramatical­ly in the coming years, as well as the Scottish National Investment Bank, to invest in growth businesses, increase support for business R&D, for entreprene­urs and to set out ambitious plans to transform Scotland’s tech sector.

We have already introduced the fairest, most progressiv­e income tax in the UK, set the most ambitious climate change targets in the world, supporting new low-carbon industries, and provided certainty and stability by extending 100 per cent nondomesti­c rates relief for retail, hospitalit­y, leisure and aviation businesses for the whole of next financial year. And our manifesto will outline further ambitious policies to transform Scotland’s economy.

Even those who want Westminste­r to dictate Scotland’s future freely admit Scotland has what it takes to be independen­t. How successful we are will, of course, depend on Scotland’s efforts and the decisions we democratic­ally make. But examples from throughout the world, coupled with our bountiful resources and talent, demonstrat­e the potential we have to build a more prosperous and fairer country. We are already wealthy – our national income is £177 billion. On a per-head basis, that makes us wealthier than rich countries like New Zealand, Japan and Italy.

We are educated and talented. Our universiti­es are among the very best in the world. The number of people with college or university qualificat­ions is among the highest in Europe.

Sir Tom pinpoints renewable energy as key to future economic growth. Again, he is right. We have extraordin­ary energy resources.

Scotland has up to 25 per cent of Europe’s tidal power potential and 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind

potential – far greater than our population size within the EU. But again, energy policy largely sits at Westminste­r, not in Scotland.

We also export high-quality produce and goods. Our food and drink industry is an incredible success story, worth around £15 billion. We export more manufactur­ed goods to the EU and the rest of the world than we do to the rest of the UK. We are at the cutting edge of the industries of the future. Glasgow builds more satellites than anywhere else outside California and our life sciences cluster is one of the biggest in Europe.

But Boris Johnson’s Brexit is already hurting. Our food and drink industry is being particular­ly badly hit. Brexit will disproport­ionately affect Scotland, despite a majority of Scottish voters rejecting it. If Scotland was a member of the EU, we would be part of the huge European Single Market of 450 million people – seven times the size of the UK. That vast economic opportunit­y is one of the reasons why so many European countries of our size find the EU so beneficial. Before EU membership, Ireland did not have well-developed trade with other European countries and was a lot poorer. Now its trade with the EU and the rest of the world is much higher and the country is wealthier. If Ireland can do it, so can Scotland.

So, the size of our economy, our educated workforce, natural resources, and varied economy demonstrat­e Scotland has got what it takes. The question then is simple: who should be in charge of our shared economic future? Let’s not forget, after 2008, the Tories chose to pay for the mistakes of bankers through austerity. The current Chancellor believes austerity was the right choice. He’ll be in charge of managing our recovery so, if austerity is the plan, we can’t allow the poorest in society to pay the highest price again.

After the pandemic we face a major economic rebuilding job. So, who do you trust to lead it? Should it be yet another Westminste­r government like Boris Johnson’s or a government in Scotland equipped with the full powers of independen­ce?

While Covid-19 has been harmful in many ways, Sir Tom’s research illustrate­s great opportunit­ies for Scotland. Internatio­nal entreprene­urs and businesses will want to relocate to countries where they can transition to a green economy easily, where they have easy access to renewable energy, where there is a pipeline of talent and skills to do the jobs.

Let’s make that country Scotland. Kate Forbes is Finance Secretary and SNP candidate for Skye, Lochaber & Badenoch

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 ??  ?? 2 Scotland is wealthier than countries like Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand when compared on a population basis
2 Scotland is wealthier than countries like Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand when compared on a population basis

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