Scottish Government's latest Gers figures will show the simple truth that Scotland is better off in the United Kingdom – Pamela Nash

The Scottish independence debate cannot be used to distract people from the issues that matter most like jobs, schools, and the NHS, writes Pamela Nash of Scotland in Union.

Pamela Nash of Scotland in Union (Picture: John Devlin)
Pamela Nash of Scotland in Union (Picture: John Devlin)

It’s time for honesty from the SNP. On Wednesday, the annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (Gers) figures will be published by the Scottish Government.

The data is widely expected to show that Scotland is benefitting financially from being in the UK, with the amount of money being spent on public services in Scotland over the past financial year exceeding the amount raised through taxes and oil revenues.

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And it should be remembered that this does not even take into consideration the majority of the economic safety net that people in Scotland have benefitted from during the coronavirus crisis, with only the first two weeks of lockdown being included in these figures.

If the UK did not exist, we would be clamouring to invent it. In the most challenging of times, working together will get us through. And in the good times, it will allow us to thrive.

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Nearly one million workers in Scotland have been supported by the UK’s coronavirus job retention scheme, with the UK Government able to borrow at highly favourable rates to provide this unprecedented support to families. A separate Scotland could not do that.

Each year, it is clear that those fighting to break up the UK do not like the publishing of Gers figures.

We hear the accusation that people using the figures to highlight the economic benefit to Scotland of being part of the UK are saying that Scotland is “too wee and too poor” to survive alone. This is not the case.

Pooled resources sent where needed

In the past, Scotland has been a net contributor to the UK economy, and we would still argue for the UK. The benefit of pooling and sharing resources is not about one part of the country subsidising another, it is about creating long-term economic stability that allows for resources to be available for who and where needs them most, regardless of fluctuations in income.

We see examples of varying expenditure according to need not just in the different nations of the UK, but within them too. The expenditure required on housing benefit in London far exceeds any other area, while the need for Jobseeker’s Allowance and in-work tax credits is above the national average in the north-east of England.

This expenditure is not dependent on the tax revenues generated in the local area; resources across the UK are pooled and spent where needed.

Proponents of leaving the UK cannot ignore Gers and must address the current huge gap between what is raised and what is spent.

Huge cost of new institutions

In 2018-19, Scotland generated eight per cent of the UK’s total revenues from taxes and North Sea Oil, yet benefitted from 9.3 per cent of the UK’s total spending on public services such as the NHS, schools and pensions.

Nationalists must be honest that reducing that deficit requires two things: tax rises and public spending cuts.

They argue that Gers only paints a picture of Scotland’s finances as part of the UK; that a future separate state would look different.

Yes, the data applies to Scotland’s current constitutional settlement as part of the UK, but this would be starting point for a newly separate Scotland.

And they are right, there is much that it does not take into account. For example, the huge costs of creating new institutions to duplicate what we already have in the UK. One such indication is the spiralling costs of creating the Scottish Benefits Agency, with the latest estimate running to £651 million.

The SNP isn’t honest about the reality of independence, and still can’t even answer what currency we would use or what the impact would be of a hard border with our friends and neighbours in England.

The SNP must also acknowledge that a separate Scotland could not quickly or easily join the EU, as confirmed by European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans earlier this month. It would likely be a lengthy and expensive process, with no guarantee of success.

Bringing people together

Scotland’s deficit has been the largest in Europe in recent years, and at seven per cent it is far higher than the three per cent which the EU requires of member states.

With the devastating impact of Covid-19 still being felt and things unlikely to return to normal for years, people do not want to be divided again any time soon.

Poll after poll shows that people in Scotland actually want politicians to focus on what really matters – jobs, education and the NHS.

A recent Survation poll found that less than 15 per cent of people in Scotland consider the constitution/independence “one of the most important issues facing the country”. In fact, it came seventh in the list, with the NHS coming out top.

Next year’s election cannot be a referendum on a referendum.

The constitution must not be used by the SNP to distract from its failures in government.

When it comes to Covid-19, Scotland has the third highest excess mortality rate in Europe, a care home deaths scandal that deepens by the day, and a PPE and testing crisis that remains unresolved.

Dividing people like this is the very last thing Scotland needs as we recover from Covid-19 and it tells you everything you need to know about the Nationalists’ priorities that they want to focus on constitutional division.

The SNP should instead prioritise bringing people together, rebuilding our economy for everyone, supporting our cherished NHS, and being honest with the people of Scotland.

Together we can successfully rebuild following the coronavirus pandemic and invest in what really matters to the people of Scotland: jobs; schools; and our NHS.

The simple truth is that Scotland is better off as part of the UK.

Pamela Nash is chief executive of Scotland in Union

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