Economic Risk 'Underestimated'

15 September 2014, 06:00

An independent Scotland would face three major risks in oil, finance and pensions, the Centre for Policy Studies said. Its report, entitled Why Scots Should Say No, suggests that the North Sea revenue for the Scottish government would fall from £10.1 billion in 2011-12, but only £5.5bn in 2013-14, to £3.7bn in 2016-17, some £3.2 billion adrift of the £6.9 billion predicted by the Yes campaign.

The "probable'' flight of a large proportion of the financial services sector from Scotland, as indicated by announcement by RBS, Lloyds, Clydesdale and Standard Life last week, could leave revenues of £47.7 billion in 2016-17, excluding North Sea oil, which is about £9.2 billion lower than the £57.3 billion forecast by nationalists, the report said.

The rising cost of public sector pensions would be "likely to impose significant pressures on a Scottish budget already straitened by declining oil revenues and the probable haemorrhaging of tax revenues from financial services'', it added.

CPS, which was co-founded by former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, said the impact is estimated at £1.1 billion in 2015-16.

The report said: "Together, omission of these three factors results in a severe understatement of independence risk, both to Scots in general and to public sector workers and retirees in particular.

"The cumulative impact of these three risks on Scottish government revenues would be £13.8bn in 2015-16. Total government revenues could be £50.4bn, far below the 'yes' campaign's own estimate (£64.2bn) and far lower, too, than the £63.3bn that Scotland is expected to spend in that year.''

The report identifies a further "significant risk'' for the rest of the UK, which would see "a sharp deterioration in its current account balance, from 5.5% of GDP to over 7%''.

CPS economist Tim Morgan said: "Unfortunately for Scots, this too could have adverse implications for their own economy.''

A spokesman for Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney said: "It is little surprise that a think tank co-founded by Margaret Thatcher is against an independent Scotland, and this report is stuffed full of basic factual errors.

"With apparently no sense of irony, a Tory-leaning think tank claims that independence puts Scotland's EU membership in doubt - when in fact the only threat to Scotland's EU membership is in fact the in-out referendum being proposed by the Tories.

"Even the UK Government's own legal adviser has described the Scottish Government's proposed 18-month timetable for negotiating its continued membership as 'realistic'.

"Revenue figures for Scotland only take account of banks' activity in Scotland, and the banks have confirmed that there is no question of jobs or operations moving - just brass plaques if anything - which is another fundamental flaw in the claims.

"Meanwhile, Professor Alex Kemp recently predicted 99 new oil discoveries over the next 30 years which will be commercially viable - as well as a further 57 which will be uneconomic by 2050 but which could become viable as a result of technological improvements and a higher oil price, something that appears to have been ignored.

"In fact the only part of this report that is accurate is the importance of Scotland's oil to the strength of the pound - which is exactly why the UK Government will agree to a currency union with Scotland. This simply underlines Scotland's economic strength.

"Scotland is among the top 20 wealthiest countries in the world, and we have a once in a lifetime opportunity on Thursday to vote Yes and ensure that Thatcherite policies can never again be inflicted on the people of Scotland from Westminster.''

A Better Together spokesman said: "The risks of separation have become clearer every day. By not answering the fundamental questions and not being honest with the people of Scotland the nationalists are putting jobs, pensions and our NHS at risk.

"The impartial experts at the Institute for Fiscal studies have said that Scotland would face an extra £6 billion in public spending cuts. That is half our entire NHS budget.

"We do not need to take such a huge risk to get the change we want. Change is coming with a no vote. Faster, better, safer change. We do not have to be a separate nation to be a better nation.

"We can have what the majority of Scots want - more powers for Scotland without taking on all of the risks of independence. It's the best of both worlds. We should say No Thanks on Thursday.''