Scotland’s exports total £73.6billion a year – even without North Sea oil production. We can be a successful independent country. #indyrefI have no issue with their second sentence. I'm not one to make the "too poor, too wee, too stupid" argument. Indeed, it is only ever independence supporters who do.
— Yes Scotland (@YesScotland) June 15, 2014
But the first sentence gave me pause, because £73.6 billion is more than a quarter of total UK exports. I know Scotland punches above its weight as a benefit of the union, but this struck me as unlikely. So I went and found the Scottish Government's figures. Here we are:
"The total value of international exports from Scotland in 2012 (excluding oil and gas) is estimated at £26.0 billion, of which £15.4 billion was from the manufacturing sector and £8.7 billion from the services sector."
The total value of exports from Scotland to the rest of UK in 2012 (excluding oil and gas) is estimated at £47.6 billion, of which £25.3 billion was from the services sector and £12.7 billion from the manufacturing sector.
Let's have a look at where the data comes from first. It's derived from the Global Connections Survey (GCS), an annual exercise which asks companies to classify their own trade. Around 5,000 companies with operations in Scotland are sampled, and the government says around 2,000 respond, "including nil responses". So, fewer than 2,000 data points then, but we don't know by how much. They are asked to fill in a form which has precisely one question tracking Scotland versus rest of UK sales, and the fourth most common complaint by companies is that they can't separate out their "rest of UK trade" from their "Scottish trade". [page 8]
One can appreciate their difficulty. If the Tomatin distillery company (try their 30-year-old, it's a cracker) was estimating the percentage of its whisky sold into the rest of the UK, how would it classify its sales to Asda (head office Leeds)? How does Tunnocks divvy up its deliveries to Morrisons? What does a company supplying call centre services to Sky write down in the percentage box? Moreover, what motivation have they to take the time and effort to make this accurate? What's the easiest way of filling out the form?
Is this level of evidence a good basis on which to decide the future of our country? Does it make any sense whatsoever to pretend that companies doing business entirely within the UK, with goods often crossing the Scottish border more than once, are somehow involved in "export"? Do these companies even think of themselves as "exporters" as they operate in their home market? Does the "Rest of UK" figure have any meaning at all?
To be fair, the GCS does deliver a bit more detail. It tells us [page 10] that the largest industry sector by far in the "Rest of UK exports" is financial services, accounting for nearly £10 billion - more than 20% of the total. Indeed, according to Scottish Financial Enterprise that's 90% of the Scottish financial services industry's customers.
Unfortunately here's where the wheels really start to fall off.
The only reason many Scotland-based financial services companies can successfully sell into the rest of the UK at all, is that both supplier and customer are in the same country. This would of course stop being the case if Scotland became independent. What we're actually adding up here is the value of financial services business that Scotland stands to lose should we vote to separate from the UK.
ICAS has said that proposed transitional arrangements to resolve cross-border pension problems are "wholly insufficient"; that EU rules preclude regulatory sharing meaning that separate systems and therefore separate markets are an inevitable result of independence; and that the White Paper's assertion of a shared workplace pension protection fund is pretty much pie in the sky.
It's fair to say that classifying as an "export" the supply of a service that could not actually be supplied across a national border is a very considerable stretching of the truth.
I'm not an economist, and I'm open to the likelihood that I might have mis-stepped in this layman's analysis, but it seems to me that explicitly basing a call for a Yes vote on a set of figures which are at best a hurried guess - and at worst a dishonest representation of the potential for Scottish exports to the rest of UK should independence come - is pretty slippery.
And another thought creeps inexorably around my head. Most people aren't going to look this closely at the things the Yes campaign says. When it says a Yes vote will end child poverty, for example, a good number of people are going to take it at its word. And when someone like me takes issue with such assertions, I will be dismissed as a scaremongering tribalist/careerist/BritNat/whatever.
So perhaps this blog is just another straw in the wind. Perhaps the relentless battering of those expressing doubts over independence will sideline these questions just as it has sidelined others. Perhaps the key Yes argument - that everything will be fine just because we want it to be - will win out in the end.
It's a hell of a basis for dividing our country in two.