‘DEVASTATING” new trade and welfare stats from Westminster shows why the Union’s not working for Scotland, SNP president Michael Russell says.

The impartial House of Commons Library has produced a host of tables on poverty, exports, pensions and more that place the UK as the only north-western European country with a negative trade balance since the year of the Brexit referendum.

It also shows how whisky exports have dropped by £5 million per week in the past two years. And the figures place the UK “at the bottom of the league” for productivity and with the least supportive unemployment benefits in north-west Europe.

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The striking statistics can be read elsewhere in this newspaper. And, writing in this week’s Sunday National, Russell says the material bolsters the case for independence, post-Brexit – and that staying in the Union is impacting on quality of life for Scots. He said: “This devastating research detailing national wealth and income inequality show how deeply unequal the UK is in relation to our north west European neighbours in the 21st century - even before the pandemic hit.

“For all the talk of the ‘broad shoulders’ of Westminster, it’s more like a long shadow when the facts and statistics are laid bare.

“Under repeated Tory governments that we’ve rejected for over 60 years, the UK now also has the lowest pensions as a proportion of pre-retirement income in north west Europe, combined with the highest rate of inequality.

“People in Scotland need to know that independent countries very similar to us - countries like Ireland or Denmark - are investing in their people and building fairer, more equal societies. Independence works for them; it can work for Scotland too.”

Work by the House of Commons Library reveals how UK exports of whiskies to the European Union were £105.7 million lower in January-May 2021 – the first few months of EU withdrawal – than in the same period in 2019.

The reduction amounts to a fall of £5m-a-week on average.

The flagship sector accounted for three-quarters of Scottish food and drink exports in 2019, and more than 20% of overall UK goods exports. Argyll and Bute MP Brendan O’Hara says it’s “crucial” for communities: “The losses to Scotch whisky exports have been eye-watering, as a result of a Tory Brexit and the UK Government’s lack of action over the US tariffs. It is beyond time the UK Government made amends for this.

“We need to see continued and intensified support for Scotch whisky and that includes a response to the long-awaited Treasury review of alcohol duty. But it is clear that the only way to protect Scotland’s whisky sector is to get it out from under the control of Westminster Tories with the full powers of independence.”

The change in whisky sector fortunes comes as separate figures show the UK is the only north-west European country with a negative trade balance since the year of the Brexit referendum. Far from boosting exports, Brexit sees the UK in the worst position of all north west European countries.

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While Ireland had an accumulated trade balance of 48.1% from 2016-21, the UK’s is -5.5%.

Even next-placed Iceland had a positive balance at 0.8%, with third-bottom Norway on 4.8%.

Looking specifically at the difference the economic shock of Covid has made, the UK’s accumulated change is also the worst over 2020-21, sitting at -19.3% compared with 12.2% for Ireland.

The UK Government refuted the export claims, calling them “misleading”. A spokesperson said: “The impact of the Covid pandemic and restrictions across Europe have affected trade and depressed demand, so it is too early to draw firm conclusions on the impacts of our new trading relationship with the EU. The latest export statistics for May also show that the value of goods exports to the EU was higher than the monthly average for 2020.

“We continue to help businesses get the support they need to trade effectively with Europe, including by running export helplines and webinars with experts, providing financial support to SMEs and delaying the introduction of full import controls.

“Industries can also seize new opportunities as we strike new trade deals and reduce trade barriers around the world, as we did when we secured the suspension of the US’s retaliatory tariffs for the Scottish whisky industry earlier this year.”