The best way to deliver jobs and prosperity to the people of Scotland is for it to remain part of the UK – argues John Cridland
The fate of Scotland is rightly a decision for the Scottish people but business is clear – the United Kingdom is so much more than the sum of our parts and we are stronger together. Scotland’s success today is achieved because of, and not in spite of, the union. It benefits from the security of a strong and stable currency, and access to international trade markets. Being part of the UK acts as a shock absorber for the Scottish economy, enabling it to weather global economic storms.
We have just published our detailed analysis of the Scottish government’s white paper. We have concluded that on the big issues that matter for job creation and driving growth, the Scottish white paper just does not stack up. Let us take the economic plan. Even taking into account oil and gas revenues, it ignores the need for deficit reduction, and instead promises more unfunded spending. We have identified at least £670m of unfunded commitments, despite the Scottish government’s insistence that its immediate policy plans are fiscally neutral. It fails to take into account that the squeeze on public services will intensify as the number of Scottish people over-65 grows.
Scotland’s net deficit is larger than the rest of the UK at 8.3 per cent or £2,303 per person and considerably more volatile. An independent Scotland would need to mirror the UK’s government’s current pace of deficit reduction to avoid breaching the 3 per cent maximum deficit allowed by the European Union’s growth and stability pact before members have to consolidate their finances.
The economic plan just does not add up. And an economic plan without necessary deficit reduction at its heart simply is not going to wash with international investors and will have major repercussions for borrowing costs for businesses – and Scottish consumers pushing up bills for loans, mortgages and credit cards.
On to the thorny issue of currency, Scotland currently does most of its trade with the rest of the UK; some £18bn more than with any other part of the world and the pound’s relative stability has reduced uncertainty for Scottish exporters and importers. As part of the UK’s monetary, banking, fiscal and political union Scotland also benefits from UK government backing for the banking sector and deposit protection.
And you need look no further than the eurozone for salutary lessons about why currency unions may not be viable without banking, fiscal and political union.
Keeping the pound is the best option for Scotland but that is only on offer through maintaining the union. The main UK political parties have ruled out currency union as an option so we are calling on the Scottish government to set out a credible plan B. Drawing a line between Gretna and Berwick, will also lead to Scotland drifting apart from its biggest trade market – the UK – and losing a significant amount of economic clout.
A new border would force Scotland’s major industries to grapple with two lots of red tape. Complex tax rules for cross-border trade would have to be drawn up. Meanwhile, costs would increase for consumers. For example, for food – as retailers who currently spread distribution costs across the UK would be forced to pass the full costs on to Scottish consumers. Children’s clothes and new dwellings are also currently value added tax exempt in the UK.
There would also be serious economic consequences for Scotland’s major economic powerhouses: defence and aerospace, financial services, energy, food and drink – and higher education. Together these industries employ almost a million people. As part of the UK, they trade within a closely-integrated internal market; benefit from common regulatory and supervisory organisations; are backed by UK government support through dedicated industrial strategies; and boast access to the world’s largest single trade market through the EU.
As for Scotland’s future relationship with the EU, an independent Scotland would also have to negotiate hard to get back into Europe. The European Commission has already made clear it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. But say Scotland were to renegotiate re-entry into the EU, it is unlikely to be a smooth or quick process – with new terms that could potentially leave it worse off. There would also be significant business uncertainty and loss of trade in the interim period.
With no credible plan for deficit reduction; no clarity over what currency it will use; or its future relationship with the EU, we believe the Scottish government has failed to provide a coherent vision for how an independent Scotland would be better off. Scotland’s economy is a real success story as part of the UK – it has the independence and flexibility of devolution alongside the support of the union. I make no bones about it: the best way to deliver jobs and prosperity to the people of Scotland is for it to remain part of the UK.
John Cridland is director-general of the Confederation of British Industry