Scottish Election 2021: All political parties need to get serious about the economy – Scotsman comment

Economic growth in Scotland has been quite accurately described as “lacklustre” – a term some may regard as overly polite – for years.

Ayrshire-born entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter is attempting to kickstart a serious debate about how to improve Scotland's economy (Picture: John Devlin)

So it should be obvious that a central question ahead of the Scottish Parliament election has to be: what are we going to do about it?

However, amid the sound and fury over a second independence referendum and the understandable focus on Covid, it is a question that risks being overlooked or answered in only a superficial way.

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A report by Oxford Economics, commissioned by Sir Tom Hunter’s foundation, called Raising Scotland’s Economic Growth Rate, is an attempt to set out how our economy could be radically transformed for the better over the next 15 years.

Its method of achieving this – significant tax cuts and deregulation, large rises in government support for businesses, and/or increases in government borrowing to stimulate growth – may or may not be the right strategy.

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However, it is clear that we have a very real problem and a solution is required. As the Hunter Foundation points out, Scotland’s GDP per head is just 44 per cent of the rate in Singapore. Some may scoff at such a comparison but our rate is also just 48 per cent of Ireland’s.

The SNP argue that after independence the economy would start to benefit from a supposed ‘small nation’ effect. But even they should admit that leaving the UK is not a given and therefore any SNP-led government after the election needs to have an effective plan B for the long-term health of the economy.

The report argues that “it is not realistic to think that the current economic policies of either the UK or Scottish governments will produce a transformation of Scotland’s economic performance”. The Scotsman has not heard anything to make us doubt the accuracy of this assessment.

There is always a tendency towards short-termism in democratic politics because of the necessary regularity of elections. But parties that resist this temptation and demonstrate serious and considered planning for the future of the economy should be given extra credit by voters for doing so.

By trying to kickstart this debate, Tom Hunter is doing Scotland a favour. We await to see the response from all the main political parties.

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