To quote the renowned economists on the Fiscal Commission Working Group: "By international standards, Scotland is a wealthy and productive country."
So it still surprises me when people ask, ‘but what has Scotland got?’
Students across Edinburgh and Glasgow will be more aware of Scotland’s economic strengths than others. By definition, you are part of a university sector that is among the best in the world. Perhaps your degree will bring you into contact with the exciting BioQuarter at Little France, one of the hubs on which Scotland’s growing reputation in Life Sciences is based.
Engineers will know that the Port of Leith is well placed to benefit from jobs and investment as a key location in Scotland’s renewables revolution. Few in the capital will have missed Scotland’s burgeoning food, drink and tourism industries. And, of course, we have oil and gas.
Over the next few weeks, Yes Scotland will be pointing to the facts that show how wealthy our country is. In fact, Scotland would be the eighth wealthiest country per head of population in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) — with the UK lagging behind at 17th. And the statistics show our public finances are better placed than the UK’s, and many other European countries. That’s why, when pushed, ‘No’ politicians accept that there is no question that Scotland could survive as an independent country. I’d go further — I would say we would thrive.
That’s because there are major improvements that we can and must still make to our economy and society, but only independence will ensure we can do that. Let me explain two of the most important.
Firstly, why hasn’t our economy been growing more strongly? Over 50 years, Scotland’s growth has been 40 per cent lower than equivalent independent countries — that makes a massive difference to standards of living and public services. We could improve on that; for example, by using new tax powers to tackle our business start-up rates and lagging commercial research and development. But only if we have the powers. Small independent nations are forging ahead in terms of growth, innovation and wealth creation, so let’s join them.
Secondly, we have a fundamental problem with how our wealth is distributed. Far too many families do not feel as if we live in a wealthy country. The UK is one of the most unequal countries in the developed world, with income inequality among working aged adults rising faster here than in any other OECD country over the period since 1975. That hasn’t happened by chance; it’s a result of conscious policy decision made by successive Westminster governments.
As the Fiscal Commission Working Group pointed out: "Without access to the relevant policy levers — particularly taxation and welfare policy — there is little that the Scottish Government can do to address these trends."
Again, other small independent countries are leading the way, with countries like Norway not only topping the wealth leagues but also securing far greater levels of fairness and equality. There is no reason why Scotland can’t choose the same path.
These are the opportunities that independence offers. The 'No' campaign will provide a vague sound-bite about ‘the best of both worlds’ and compile a list of issues which they think are too hard for the people of Scotland to deal with — unlike the Danes, the Swedes, or the Swiss.
But with Westminster’s austerity programme increasing poverty levels and undoubtedly harming growth, it’s almost impossible to offer a positive vision of the future under Westminster governments.
Quite simply, Westminster isn’t working for Scotland. Let’s take our future into our own hands and follow the lead of other small independent nations to forge a fairer and more prosperous country.