GERS figures: An independent Scotland would be plunged into an economic crisis that would wreck efforts to tackle climate change – Scotsman comment
The latest annual report on the state of Scotland’s finances contains a wealth of information, but two figures stand out. Scotland’s public spending deficit was £19.1 billion in 2022-23 and, without North Sea oil and gas revenues, it would have been £28.5 billion.
The staggering gap between national income and expenditure (representing nine per cent of Scotland’s gross domestic product, compared to 5.2 per cent for the UK) is only possible because Scotland is part of the Union. If it were to become independent overnight, there seems little doubt that swingeing cuts to public services would follow. As Scottish Labour finance spokesperson Michael Marra said, these figures expose “the SNP’s plans for independence as little more than a charter for austerity.”
In such circumstances, staving off economic collapse would necessarily be the top priority for the government of an independent Scotland. And the £9.4 billion of North Sea revenue for 2022-23 would be like a liferaft to a drowning sailor. So independence presents a very real threat to Scotland's efforts to reach net-zero carbon emissions, with ministers of this parlous new state virtually forced to take up Rishi Sunak’s mantra about “maxing out” North Sea oil and gas.
The problem is that an economic over-reliance on fossil fuels, as the world gradually switches to electricity, would leave Scotland in an increasingly difficult position. Economist Professor Nicholas Stern, a cross-bench peer who wrote the influential 2006 Stern Review on Climate Change, has warned that making investments in oil and gas which come on stream in eight to ten years’ time “risks creating stranded assets and stranded employment”. North Sea oil workers could face a ‘cliff-edge’ end to their careers as coal miners did in the 1980s.
However, there is hope. The government’s independent advisory body, the Climate Change Committee, has estimated that between 135,000 and 725,000 new jobs could be created in low-carbon sectors by 2030. But doing so will require a huge investment of government time and resources to stimulate the markets. Chatting about independence is just one of many distractions from this generation’s great task: preventing climate change from spiralling out of control and futureproofing the economy.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.