Readers of this site may remember the story published on the BBC earlier this week, where the figures for GDP per capita miraculously switched overnight from showing Scotland as a net contributor to the UK to implying that Scotland was a net recipient.
And after reviewing the data posted by the BBC, it appears that the export figures have also been massaged to imply that Scotland exports vastly less than it does in reality.
The figures quoted are cited as coming from the Office for National Statistics, and claim that Scotland exports only £16.9 billion of goods and services. But does it?
Scotland’s exports are mainly based around:
- Food and beverages
- Business services
- Electronics and instrument engineering
- Mechanical engineering
- Oil & gas
- Fuel-based equipment
- Renewable energies, equipment and technology
And our top export markets are:
The Scottish Government already collates all the information relating to these exports and the Financial Times has already done all the legwork to analyse what it means.
Back in January of this year an article entitled “Scots exports would be worth almost £100bn after independence” set out the figures for Scottish exports based on the Scottish Government’s Global Connections Survey, and notes how an independent Scotland would be among the world’s top 35 biggest exporters.
“The estimate of Scotland’s 2012 exports lays out in stark terms the strength of Scotland’s economic ties with the UK. It shows that £47.6bn of a total £73.6bn in non-oil exports of goods and services, and almost half of its oil and gas exports, were to the rest of the UK.”
In fact in 2012, Scottish oil and gas exports alone came to over £24.4bn, with the rest of the export trade bringing the overall total to £98.1bn.
So how is it that the BBC is reporting Scotland’s economy as only exporting £16.9bn? The trick the BBC appears to have employed is to take the figures for Scottish exports to the rest of the world (that is, excluding the £58.3bn that’s sold to the rUK) and then to exclude ALL of the Scottish oil and gas exports too.
(The feeble excuse offered is that oil and gas revenues have been excluded “as there is no agreement between Holyrood and Westminster on their allocation”. Effectively the BBC is suggesting that Scotland might get none of the oil and gas revenue at all.)
But even at that the BBC figures are still exceptionally low. The FT table shows that Scotland exports £39.8bn to the rest of the world, including oil and gas. Yet even without oil and gas in those “International” figures, Scotland’s global exports (as detailed in the pie chart on the right) total a respectable £25.9bn. That’s a hefty £9bn (or 53%) higher than the figures cited by the BBC.
We can feel your eyes glazing over from here, so let’s boil it down:
Actual Scottish exports: £98.1bn
Scottish exports excluding oil and gas: £73.6bn
All Scottish exports excluding the rUK: £39.8bn
Scottish exports excluding both the rUK AND oil and gas: £25.9bn
Figure quoted by BBC for “Scottish exports”: £16.9bn
Super-alert readers will have noticed that the numbers still don’t quite add up for the explanation, so we had a dig around, and the only £16.9bn figure we could find came from a table in the 2013 ONS report “Official statistics in the context of the referendum on Scottish independence“ – except that for some reason the BBC has chosen to use the 2010 stats rather than the more recent (and 8% higher) ones for 2012.
Those figures are for the highly selective “manufactured exports” category, which means that they exclude all manner of services as well as oil and gas.
What the BBC has done here isn’t just careless, it’s deceptive. In order to gauge the reality of Scotland’s finances you clearly need to look at exports as if the country was already independent, in which case the rest of the UK would be an export market as well, radically shifting the balance. And obviously you need to include ALL of Scotland’s exports, not just an arbitrary selection of them.
Readers may feel that the state broadcaster – in using outdated figures and assuming an independent Scotland would end all trade with the rest of the UK and have no oil or gas revenues – has somewhat overstepped the bounds of impartiality. On the basis of the evidence it would be difficult to construct a case for the defence.