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“Last night our MPs voted to protect over half a million jobs in Scotland” – Scottish Conservative Party Tweet, 15 September 2020


Being tied to the Union has actually lost Scottish jobs in manufacturing, making us a poorer country.


The Tory claim would seem to imply that Scottish participation in the UK free market is especially linked to local job creation. In fact, historically, the Union has destroyed Scottish jobs.

Since Mrs Thatcher and continuing under the Blair-Brown Labour governments. British economic policy pivoted away from manufacturing towards services and a debt-driven consumer economy based on imports. Consumer debt was underpinned by rising house prices. The result was a fall in manufacturing investment and high-value manufacturing jobs. Far from benefiting from being part of the Union, Scotland was forced to de-industrialise in a manner that the smaller European economies were not. From 1998 to 2010, the Scottish manufacturing sector shrank from 19% to only 9% of the economy.

The UK national debt has now exceeded £2 trillion. Until the recent collapse in global oil prices, for 30 years Scotland generated more tax revenue per head for the UK treasury than other regions. This represents a net loss of local consumer demand and industrial investment. 

Had Scotland been independent in the 1970s, it would by now have accumulated public budget surpluses of circa £74bn, as a result of oil tax revenues and be debt free. This money could have been invested to create high-value jobs rather than the present low-wage gig economy. Far from “protecting” jobs, the Union has destroyed them. 


The latest comprehensive figures for Scottish exports refer to 2018. They show total exports worth £85bn of which £51.2bn went to England, £16.1bn to other EU countries, and £17.7bn to the rest of the world. However, exports to EU countries were up by 4.5% and total foreign exports were up 3.4%, compared to a rise in sales to rUK of only 2.5%. Clearly access to foreign markets – particularly EU countries – is a bigger driver of growth than the internal UK market.

A closer look at the sectoral position is illuminating. For exports to the rest of the UK, the largest growth in value terms was in sales of financial and insurance activities, where jobs are increasingly vulnerable to the spread of automation and artificial intelligence. As it is, more than a third of Scottish bank branches have been closed in recent years.

However, growth in Scotland’s international exports was concentrated in high-value manufacturing, machinery, chemicals, food and drink. It is arguable that that swapping EU and other foreign markets for internal UK sales (assuming the latter transpire) may have an adverse impact on jobs rather than protecting them.


The Conservative reference to “protecting” half a million Scottish jobs does not take into account the fact that a large proportion of the Scottish work force in form outside the UK. Non-UK nationals make up 7.2% of Scotland's population, or 388,000 people. They include 234,000 EU nationals. People from outside the UK make up a disproportionate share of the Scottish workforce, at 8.3%.

Brexit is an obvious threat to the substantial economic benefits – skilled labour, taxes paid, consumer spending – provided to Scotland from its foreign-born workforce. But a hard Brexit threatens the very existence of this labour pool. Already it is estimated that 2,000 EU nationals previously working in Scotland have gone home.

There is also the role of EU and foreign students in Scotland. By paying for accommodation, tuition and living expenses, they are an “internal” market equivalent to normal Scottish exports. It is estimated that foreign students in Scotland spend the equivalent of £1.1bn in exports (2016 data). These figures are not reflected in the official export statistics. Any negative impact on EU student numbers arising from Brexit will reduce these earnings.


Access to international markets is essential for the Scottish economy. 

Brexit threatens that access as does imposing a new layer of Westminster and Whitehall bureaucracy over the devolved nations, as a result of the Internal Market Bill.

Scottish exports are more dependent on a small number of sectors that employ relatively few people. Disrupting access to non-UK foreign markets is therefore dangerous when it comes to Scottish jobs.

If the Scottish economy is to realise its full potential, it needs to strengthen links with the EU, our biggest foreign customer. Maximising frictionless trade and market access with the Europe is of critical importance to the performance of the Scottish economy.

Increasing overseas exports from 20% of GDP to 40% of GDP (as proposed by the Growth Commission report) would close a vital export gap with other small advanced economies. This would deliver a productivity boost of 8% of GDP and generate additional taxation revenues of some £5bn per annum.

FACTCHECK RATING: Scottish Tories MPs voted to protect jobs – their own.

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