Martin Flanagan: Scotland won't avoid Trump/Brexit slowdown

There was never a reason that Scotland was at all likely to buck the trend of a projected slowdown in economic growth in the wake of Brexit.

Clouds are gathering over the Scottish economy. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

The caution on business investment south of the Border triggered by the EU referendum was always likely to be reflected in Scotland as well in terms of falling GDP. As such, professional services and accountancy giant PwC’s latest economic report will surprise few: it forecasts Scottish economic growth in 2017 will halve to 0.9 per cent next year from 1.8 per cent this year.

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Scottish economic growth '˜to halve' as Brexit bites

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That is lower than the 1.2 per cent figure PwC forecasts for the wider UK in 2017, down from 2.1 per cent, but it would still mean, if correct, that recession on both sides of the Border would be avoided.

The problem, however, is that business uncertainty is not just confined to the possible repercussions of the Brexit vote. That is now arguably somewhat small beer compared to the spectre of what a protectionist tariff-spraying and US deficit-mushrooming President Donald Trump could mean for the global economy.

If Brexit was going to make Scottish businesses think twice before investing ahead of knowing the new EU trading ground rules, there is a significant Trump multiplier effect.

Similarly, although PwC thinks, with much justification in my view, that Brexit is more likely to act as a drag on the economy over an extended period rather than imparting any short, sharp setback, any trade war launched by the unpredictable Trump (China is in his sights, in particular) could be an overnight game-changer for business uncertainty.

We are in uncharted waters, and if recession is avoided next year, as PwC predicts, it should really be a case of thanks for small mercies.

Bet on getting back to business

It is funny in the business world how after the fever of takeovers passes, executives go back to the day job: trying to squeeze out organic growth.

William Hill has had a torrid time in the takeover handicap derby this year. First it was the subject of a joint unsolicited takeover bid from Rank Group and 888, followed by its own abortive tie-up with Canadian poker firm Amaya. Surprise, surprise, under interim chief executive Philip Bowcock, the latest four-month trading update is pretty positive.