Scottish Election 2021: Why the economic case for independence is strong and the alternative looks like a return to Tory austerity – Kate Forbes

You don’t become a self-made multi-millionaire without knowing a thing or two about creating wealth. So, when entrepreneurs like Sir Tom Hunter talk, politicians listen.

Last week, Sir Tom released a report his Hunter Foundation commissioned from consultancy Oxford Economics. The report is challenging and constructive in equal measure, and, if re-elected, I am eager to work in partnership with people like Sir Tom to deliver our shared ambitions.

Sir Tom’s report compares Scotland to other similarly sized economies. And he is correct – we are the ideal size.

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Of the world’s wealthy, developed nations, seven of the ten richest are of similar size or smaller than Scotland. If countries like Ireland and Denmark can be economically successful, why not Scotland?

And something else stands out. Developed independent countries our size tend to be the fairest and happiest, according to international comparisons.

Sir Tom may not have intended this, but his report did two things: it pointed out the structural inequalities of the union’s economy, and it made what I believe is a compelling case for independence.

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Hard Brexit inflicted on Scotland

Ayrshire-born entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter's views on the economy should be taken seriously, says Kate Forbes (Picture: John Devlin)

Yes, Scotland faces challenges, but it fares well in a UK context when you exclude London, too often the primary economic focus of Westminster governments.

The report highlights slow population growth, the importance of immigration, and associated difficulties presented by Brexit.

Of course, our borrowing powers and ability to invest, as well as our ability to attract skills and talent through migration, are restricted because they are controlled by Westminster. And, as for Brexit, Scotland rejected it yet one of the hardest Brexits possible is being inflicted on us.

The SNP agrees we need radical, ambitious policies to secure a strong and green recovery, which is why we have set out a National Infrastructure Mission, which will see capital investment increase dramatically in the coming years, as well as the Scottish National Investment Bank, to invest in growth businesses, increase support for business R&D, for entrepreneurs and to set out ambitious plans to transform Scotland’s tech sector.

Scotland is wealthier than countries like Jacinda Ardern's New Zealand when compared on a population basis (Picture: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

We have already introduced the fairest, most progressive income tax in the UK, set the most ambitious climate change targets in the world, supporting new low-carbon industries, and provided certainty and stability by extending 100 per cent non-domestic rates relief for retail, hospitality, leisure and aviation businesses for the whole of next financial year. And our manifesto will outline further ambitious policies to transform Scotland’s economy.

Wealthier than Japan and Italy

Even those who want Westminster to dictate Scotland’s future freely admit Scotland has what it takes to be independent. How successful we are will, of course, depend on Scotland’s efforts and the decisions we democratically make.

But examples from throughout the world, coupled with our bountiful resources and talent, demonstrate the potential we have to build a more prosperous and fairer country.

We are already wealthy – our national income is £177 billion. On a per-head basis, that makes us wealthier than rich countries like New Zealand, Japan and Italy.

We are educated and talented. Our universities are among the very best in the world. The number of people with college or university qualifications is among the highest in Europe.

Sir Tom pinpoints renewable energy as key to future economic growth. Again, he is right. We have extraordinary energy resources.

Scotland has up to 25 per cent of Europe’s tidal power potential and 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind potential – far greater than our population size within the EU. But again, energy policy largely sits at Westminster, not in Scotland.

We also export high-quality produce and goods. Our food-and-drink industry is an incredible success story, worth around £15 billion. We export more manufactured goods to the EU and the rest of the world than we do to the rest of the UK.

We are at the cutting edge of the industries of the future. Glasgow builds more satellites than anywhere else outside California and our life sciences cluster is one of the biggest in Europe.

Vast economic opportunity of the EU

But Boris Johnson’s Brexit is already hurting. Our high-value food-and-drink industry is being particularly badly hit. Brexit will disproportionately affect Scotland, despite a majority of Scottish voters rejecting it.

If Scotland was a member of the EU, we would be part of the huge European Single Market of 450 million people – seven times the size of the UK.

That vast economic opportunity is one of the reasons why so many European countries of our size find the EU so beneficial.

Before EU membership, Ireland did not have well-developed trade with other European countries and was a lot poorer.

Now its trade with the EU and the rest of the world is much higher and the country is substantially wealthier. If Ireland can do it, so can Scotland.

So, the size of our economy, our educated workforce, natural resources, and varied economy demonstrate Scotland has got what it takes.

The question then is simple: who should be in charge of our shared economic future?

Let’s not forget, after 2008, the Tories chose to pay for the mistakes of bankers through austerity. The current Chancellor believes austerity was the right choice. He’ll be in charge of managing our recovery so, if austerity is the plan, we can’t allow the poorest in society to pay the highest price again.

After the pandemic we face a major economic re-building job. So, who do you trust to lead it? Should it be yet another Westminster government like Boris Johnson’s or a government in Scotland equipped with the full powers of independence?

While Covid-19 has been harmful in many ways, Sir Tom’s research illustrates great opportunities for Scotland.

International entrepreneurs and businesses will want to relocate to countries where they can transition to a green economy easily, where they have easy access to renewable energy, where there is a pipeline of talent and skills to do the jobs.

Let’s make that country Scotland.

Kate Forbes is Finance Secretary and SNP candidate for Skye, Lochaber & Badenoch

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