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Scotland’s healthy exports

Posted on January 25, 2013 by

When I wrote previously about how Scotland’s export business does not depend on the UK (as had been claimed by Alistair Darling at last year’s Mackintosh Memorial Lecture), one of the questions I was asked was what export business Scotland has.

On Wednesday, in a piece lurking at the bottom of Scottish news section, the BBC reported a £1.6bn rise in Scottish exports. The Global Connections Survey (GCS) – full report here – showed that exports were up to record highs both to the rest of the UK and to the rest of the world. Scotland’s exports to the rUK showed a value of £45.5 billion, and to the rest of the world they rose by the headlined £1.6bn, up to £23.9bn.

It’s worth noting that none of these statistics include oil (see page 2 of the report), despite the mention of “refined petroleum” below – we’ll deal with that another day.

A full breakdown reveals the top five export sectors to the rest of the world as:

  1. Food and beverages (£4.2bn)
  2. Manufacture of coke, refined petroleum and chemicals (£3.7bn)
  3. Computer, electronic and optical products (£1.4bn)
  4. Financial and insurance activities (£1.4bn)
  5. Mechanical engineering (£1.4bn).

Combining the total exports and dividing it by population (with an exchange of £1=$1.58 and a Scottish population of 5.25m) shows that Scottish exports per capita are $20,886.  This would put Scotland in the top 10 performing countries in the world – a very healthy position for a small nation. And remember, this is without oil.

A surprising aspect of the figures is that the percentage of our total export which goes to the rest of the UK is 65.6% – smaller than Canada’s export to the USA, which sits at 73.7%.  It’s often argued by the UK government and the No campaign that Scotland’s export to the UK exists because we are all governed by Westminster, so it seems curious that Canada achieves a higher proportion of export trade with the US despite being fully independent from it.

An independent Scotland, then, would be starting from a strong base, but there are still significant opportunities for improvement. Scotland already has a surplus of energy from our existing infrastructure, and the potential (and intent) to soon create an energy surplus entirely from renewable energy, creating export opportunities.

We have a surplus of fresh water (a natural resource likely to become even more critical than oil over the next 100 years) which in itself creates further export opportunities. And we have a wealth of fertile land where we can boost our own consumption of locally produced high-quality food products, but for which the export potential will also continue to grow.

The fact that many people in Scotland believe we have no industry left, and associate our social problems with this perception, demonstrates a gross failing of our current system. Scotland has a healthy and diverse economic outlook, which ought to have been reflected in dramatic increases in our standard of living and the health of our society over the last 40 years.

That it hasn’t is as damning an indictment of London rule as anything we can bring to mind. And all the Westminster government has to offer in return for Scotland’s natural and industrial riches is further decline and growing inequality, stretching into the next decade. In 2014, Scots will have to choose between two very different futures.


Find more from Stuart Darling on his fine self-titled blog.

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53 to “Scotland’s healthy exports”

  1. Craig says:

    Excellent work as usual !

  2. muttley79 says:

    @Stuart Darling

    Are you working in the Yes campaign?  This is exactly the kind of information we need to be getting over to the people of Scotland.  Unfortunately there is no way the media will highlight this kind of good news about Scotland.  Little wonder the BBC barely covered it.  It will have been missed by many voters no doubt. 

  3. redcliffe62 says:

    Will this success as a wealthy exporter even without oil be the headline in the Herald tomorrow? Thought not.
    When the Yes campaign lets the facts fly in 2014 and make a case everyone will have more in ther pockets if independent they had better be right as the MSM will tear them limb from limb if wrong.

  4. Luigi says:

    I hope, with independence, that one major Scottish export will diminish – the brain drain!

  5. Bigheed says:

    I never thought I would ever say this…”well done Mr Darling”

    Stuart seriously fantastic work on this…….this is the info we must find more of, Scotland being a normal country….who would have believed it???? 🙂 

  6. Doug Daniel says:

    Ever since I saw Better Together going on about “twice as much exports to the UK as rest of the world”, I’ve been trying to think of a good way of debunking their myth. Stuart has done a fine job doing that here.

    The thing that unionists don’t seem to understand is that the trade between Scotland and England is nothing to do with political union – it is because we share a border. Austria’s biggest export market? Their bigger neighbours Germany, of course! In fact, for every country that borders Germany, their biggest trading partner is… Germany! Finland’s biggest export partner? Oh look, it’s that massive country they share a border with, Russia. Hmmm, I wonder who New Zealand’s biggest trading partner is? Oh, what a surprise, it’s that big country beside them!

    The myth is that if Scotland goes independent, all that export trade will disappear. But it won’t. English businesses don’t export from Scotland just because we’re in the union, and that’s doubly true now that there’s the single market, where they could easily get their exports from any other EU or EFTA country.

    If Scotland does indeed have an over-reliance on English exports, then this is an argument for going independent in itself, as it would suggest we could be doing more trade with other countries. Although the main problem with the figures – and it’s acknowledged in the GCS report – is that it’s difficult for businesses to properly differentiate inter-UK exports from trade with Scottish companies, because it’s not the sort of thing the tax-mannie cares about.

    But as Stuart says, Canada’s exports to the US counts for over 70% of its trade, and they’re managing just fine (as is Mexico – over 80% exports going to the US…)

  7. dadsarmy says:

    Here’s another thing Scotland is good at. Beam me up Scotty!

    “Scottish scientists make Star Trek tractor beam a reality”

    Next they’ll be telling us that Scotland is at the forefront of Asteroid mining for minerals (and maybe precious ones). Hasn’t happened I think. Yet …

  8. dadsarmy says:

    Good article. As I keep saying (elsewhere in the past), I worked on a model of the Scottish Economy early-mid 70s from data from questionnaires to Scottish Business which showed – without oil – Scotland would do better with Independence. It’s when I thought about it all and started supporting Indy.

    That was without oil, Thatcher may have done a lot to destroy what was currently the industrial landscape of Scotland – Singer, Hoover, Ravenscraig, Scott Lithgow, Britoil, ultimately Timex, Leyland Bathgate and Albion, and many many others, but Scotland has adapted – typical for a small vigorous country.

    Roll on 2014.

  9. Angus McLellan says:

    The No argument seems to combine “we are extremely dependent on trade with rUK” – which is dealt with above – and also “separation will lead to a fall in trade with rUK” – which isn’t.
    On the second claim, see for example this story in the Herald last year: (Scotland as part of the UK has access to a larger domestic market, which could be threatened by independence with an impact on the flows of trade, labour and capital between Scotland and the rest of the UK; before their split, the Czech Republic and Slovakia had a great deal of cross-border trade, after it, this decreased significantly) Any civil servant who can’t find other examples to add to the Czechoslovak one ought to be sacked on the spot as there are dozens. As ever, the UK’s past history of separation provides an even better example: Ireland.
    Open and shut? Well, no. It depends what decrease means. Exports to the UK made up 98% of Irish exports in 1923, 90% in 1950, 67% in the early 70s and perhaps less than 33% today. That’s a clear decrease, right? No room to argue there. Well, maybe there is. Why should the destination of exports matter? It’s the volume, in cash terms, that interests businesses and governments. Unadjusted for inflation, the cash value of Irish exports increased fifty-fold between 1950 and 1998. I can’t find the numbers for Ireland to turn that into a constant prices figure, but it’d be a reasonable assumption that the real-terms value of Irish exports tripled over those years. Some decrease that.

  10. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    ” for every country that borders Germany, their biggest trading partner is… Germany! Finland’s biggest export partner? Oh look, it’s that massive country they share a border with, Russia. Hmmm, I wonder who New Zealand’s biggest trading partner is? Oh, what a surprise, it’s that big country beside them!”

    Standing by for your handy table we can get made into a snappy graphic and post up, then…

  11. Keith B says:

    Excellent article, with one little concern – hope it doesn’t make me pedant of the day. The figures are from the Global Connections Survey for 2011. However, the list that this has been compared to is largely made up of estimates for 2009.
    Reworking the figures for 2009, instead of 2011, we get exports to rUK £41.5bn and ROW £21.6bn giving a total of £63.1bn. Using the same population and exchange rate figures as the author (don’t know if that is valid) we get a per capita figure of $18,993 (UK $5,780 – and this figure would fall once Scotland is disaggregated).
    That would place us 11th on the ranking, just behind Denmark. Annoyingly Denmark is one of the two countries on the list that have been shown with the estimate for 2011. Now I have absolutely no idea what Denmark’s figure for 2009 was, but it would probably be less than 2011’s which would probably put it back below Scotland – and make my bitch irrelevant (especially as UKCS is excluded). The point is we are quite happy to moan when others don’t compare like with like.

  12. Angus McLellan says:

    @Rev Stu: Not just geography though, important as it is. History – as in shared languages, currency unions and free trade areas – has a big influence too. There are academic studies out there which (claim to, and presumably do) prove this.

  13. Doug Daniel says:

    Stu – Hmmm, if only I’d saved the spreadsheet I started making up last weekend…

    I’ll see what I can do. 

  14. Angus McLellan says:

    @Doug: is your friend. Under “Popular Queries” you can get excel spreadsheets with things like Bilateral Trade by Industry for any country pair, or a of OECD-TWO Trade in Value Added (close enough to what you’d need).

  15. AndrewFraeGovan says:

    Whit dunderheidit haverings! It’s a parody surely.

  16. Cuphook says:

    That article is an impressive reinterpretation of reality where black becomes white and up is down. With skills like that they should tackle subjects outwith politics. I look forward to a Unionist refutation of Newtonian gravity because they know that the Earth sucks.

  17. Cuphook says:

    For anyone planning on reading that Guardian article I suggest this song by way of a musical aid.

  18. creag an tuirc says:


    I didn’t even get by the first sentence. If the SNP’s campaign is deeply negative, were the hell does that put the BTs campaign? Shallowly negative! 🙂 The guy’s obviously a tadger.

  19. Derick says:

    OK, EXCLUDING oil, Scotland’s exports are $20,886 per capita per annum
    Add this to the ranking of countries ‘exports per capita’. (2009, CIA World Factbook)
    Norway No 5 $24,564
    Ireland No 6 $24,000
    Iceland No 9 $21,500
    Scotland $20,886 (2011 figure)
    Denmark No 10 $19,893
    Sweden No 17 $13,924
    Finland No 20 $10,766
    Better Together my hairy Shetlan erse

  20. Geoff Huijer says:

    Excellent article! Thank you.

  21. Cameron says:

    The problem with selling the Yes cause, is that we have possibly too strong a case. Presenting fact based examinations of the social and economic benefits we could expect following independence, could easily look like we are reveling in schadenfreude. Lets face it, the rUK is pretty screwed without Scotland, oil and the City of London. Finance capital is mobile after all, where as the common-wealth of a nation is not.

  22. FreddieThreepwood says:

    Sort of O/T … Just watched Reporting Scotland (I know, I know …) and its ‘report’ on Sturgeon’s speech in Dublin on the positive case for Scotland in the EU, on the jobs created and sustained by that membership and the threat posed to them by Cameron’s promise of an in/out referendum … at least that’s what it should have been. 
    Instead, the piece (of shit) was topped and tailed by Raymond Buchanan buttonholing some Irish politician who said (clearly just to get rid of the big teuchter so she could carry on having a drink) that an independent Scotland would have to apply for EU membership … like we haven’t heard that startling piece of news before! 
    So – even if it’s old news, even if it’s wrong, even if it wilfully ignores the obvious real EU story of the week – it’ll do just so long as it pisses all over an item that just might put a positive gloss on the independence campaign. 
    Makes you weep.

  23. Thanks for the comments.

    @muttley79: I’m not part of the official Yes campaign but doing what I can to promote the cause. For my blogging, my brief bio is here:

    @Keith B : Its true that the wiki list does contain stats from different years and thanks for doing the sums on the 2009 figures.  I think using the same exchange rate and population is reasonably accurate as their hasn’t been much variation since then.  I don’t think anyone will dispute that either way it shows that Scotland is in a very healthy position here (even without the oil & gas factor)!

    @Cameron: The point about the case for Scottish independence being too strong is one to be aware of.  It is easy to get frustrated about the misconceptions but for a lot of people it is the rhetoric that they’ve been fed for decades.  I think it is important to recognise that a lot of people are just starting to consider the possibility of independence and I’m sure we have time to set the record straight (more of my thoughts on this here:

    I don’t think the rUK will be screwed without us though (even though it is clear that Scotland has been getting milked for some time…).  Westminster (or more to the point, the self-serving megalomaniacs that sit there) will undoubtedly suffer, but this will be because the government will be broken in size and with that I think it will have to become more connected to the society it serves.  The rUK also has its share of unfulfilled potential – as we vote Yes the people of Britain collectively save £100,000,000,000 with the instant stop of the next-gen Trident system.  The masses across these islands (and beyond) have lots to gain from our Yes vote in 2014…

  24. pmcrek says:

    Very impressive analysis Rev and a very positive argument.

  25. Macart says:

    Good upbeat article Stuart. Good to know we’re not a one trick pony.

    @Tinyzeitgeist and Cuphook

    Wandered onto that Guardian article, laughed myself silly for two minutes and left a post warning others about its intent. Hopefully nobody will bite and go off on one. Wasn’t exactly subtle was it? 🙂

  26. Yesitis says:

    @Freddie Threepwood
    Yes, I watched Reporting Scotland, and yes, it made me want to weep. Day in, day out…utter bollocks! At least we managed to get a few more mentions of Team GB and more Scots athletes wearing Team GB outfits. Someone tell them, there will be no Team GB at the Commonwealth Games.
    Blair McDougall is what is known as a “proud Scot”.

  27. muttley79 says:

    @Stuart M Darling

    Thanks for the article Stuart.  I was wondering what level of support do you reckon there is from business in Scotland towards independence?

  28. M4rkyboy says:
    Max Keiser on the Daily politics.
    Anyone else seen this?I was impressed at his performance.
    Pretty bleak picture he paints.

  29. thomas says:

    many thanks fur this article stuart. 

    great stuff. 

  30. dadsarmy says:

    Great minds think alike. But perhaps it’s also an attempt to get the YES campaign to respond in the same style – fortunately I’d say Blair Jenkins is clued up to that.

  31. @muttley79: I know that our Finance department analysed the potential impact of Scottish independence and from a business level we were neutral – the products and services we have will determine our business future.

    The polls haven’t been great so far but I know that the questions in these polls weren’t framed to clarify what exactly independence means (trade arrangements, currency etc).  We’ve been here before though:

    Ultimately I think business will be fairly neutral in the build up to the referendum – big business will obviously want to keep favour with the UK Treasury in case there is a No vote (lobby purposes).  However, I do feel that there is a danger that the personal views of ‘business spokespersons’ become interpreted as the view ‘of business’ (noting that these may be the people who are fairing well under the current system so might not be so inclined to rock the boat).  

    My own opinion on this is clear though – I firmly believe that independence will bring a more efficient government that is not only more connected to the needs of society but also more effective in enabling business growth.

  32. dadsarmy says:

    @Stuart M Darling

    Any opinion on Iain MacMillan?

  33. Macart says:

    @ Dadsarmy

    LOL 😀

    The language, the whole article was so over the top. Basically an uber troll in a daily title. I reckon you’re absolutely right, Blair won’t rise to that and I seriously doubt the SG will either.

  34. Ha what next dadsarmy, an opinion on Blair McDougall? 🙂

  35. Cameron says:

    @ Stuart M Darling
    Should government focus on creating a good “business environment”, as opposed to focusing on creating a good “social environment”? Surely this has been the central theme of the neoliberal orthodoxy over the last 40 years, which has resulted in a greater concentration of wealth than ever before in human history? This is a self perpetuating cycle, which we will hopefully have the chance to throw out in 2016. Not that I am anti-business, but I think balance and equity are not only desirable, they are essential to a healthy society.

  36. muttley79 says:

    Thanks for the reply Stuart.

  37. This is extremely interesting, but it creates more answers than it answers.  For instance:
    1. If Scottish exports w/o oil are worth $20,886, what’s the figure including oil?
    2. Surely there must be some correlation between exports and GDP.  I found this:  It seems exports are normally between 30% (UK) and 50% (Denmark) of GDP.
    3. It seems from the above that Scotland’s GDP would be likely to be somewhere between Denmark’s and Norway’s, and perhaps higher than both.  Or am overlooking something?
    4. If so, why has the Yes campaign put the independence premium so low?  Are we not talking about tens of thousands of pounds per capita per year? 

  38. dadsarmy says:

    CiF is fun, but spending too much time on it was bad for my wealth!

    What amazes me is the paucity of genuine arguments from the NO side. Figures are distorted, facts – not facts, and even now the Treaty of Union is being mis-read!

    Thing is, if any of them get their info from the NO campaign, no wonder.

    Bit by bit, on the other hand, we’re able to use more and more full information based on fact, and provable links to the source material. Even in the recent SSAS survey.

    SuperClean beat me to the figures quoted above – the 66% figure rUK / total export in that Guardian article. What a laugh!

  39. Cameron says:

    Just watched Max Keiser. Though he does have an interest in making the points he made, his holdings in gold, I do not think there is any doubt that we are entering in to an inflationary depression. That tends to have nasty consequences. Now that European Stability Mechanism is in place, I think the rest of Europe will come under similar pressures.
    Rather a large reason to vote Yes, though it will take our own currency to get us out of the shitstem.

  40. southernscot says:

    These stats produced by the EU are about regional GDP within Europe 2009 makes very interesting reading (PDF)
    ESTAT-2002-05354-00-00-EN-TRA-00 (FR)

  41. muttley79 says:


    We must keep up the struggle…It is like a exiled Wings over Scotland over there at times!  😀

  42. The Rough Bounds. says:

    Any time I have heard someone say to me that they are intending to vote NO, but insisting that he/she is Scottish and proud my retort is, ”Oh? Proud of what? Your chains? Are they nice and shiny?”
    They don’t like me for it but that’s o.k. ‘cos I don’t like them either with their ‘Scottish Cringe’.
    Sometimes you have to call it like it is.

  43. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    “Any time I have heard someone say to me that they are intending to vote NO, but insisting that he/she is Scottish and proud my retort is, ”Oh? Proud of what? Your chains? Are they nice and shiny?””

    I might try “Of what? Being from the only nation on Earth that lets another country tell it who its government’s going to be?”

  44. dadsarmy says:


    For some odd reason I felt compelled to work out that 24 billion barrels of oil is 1 cubic mile.

    Wasn’t really any worthwhile Unionists to put in their place 🙂

  45. Macart says:

    @ Dadsarmy

    Ach they’ve never let facts get in the way of generating column inches before. Weeellllll, that’s not true is it? They do use facts in those pages, but as for how they present them…… that’s another thing altogether. As for the better together team???? What facts can they present?

    Look at the horrible position they find themselves in. Their titular head is one of the heroes directly responsible for the current economic state of these islands. They are ably aided and abetted by the fearsome four of Cameron, Osborne, Alexander and Moore. Alexander and Moore have become the most gaff prone front men in Scottish political history, neither of them being overly familiar with the dangerous end of a calculator. DC and Oily however are creatures of a different shade altogether. Arrogant, dismissive and pretty ruthless to boot. Their recent backstabbing of the no campaign’s Labour leadership over an EU referendum must have turned Darling’s eyebrows a fetching shade of white to match his barnet. Not helped by Osborne’s hardline austerity stance. Promising years more of economic misery, what can better together realistically offer the Scottish electorate?

    More powers? What? Perhaps control of airguns and peashooters? They’ve already binned FFA out of hand.

    They have no argument, no promises they can make without cast iron guarantees, which any of the big two will renege on in a heartbeat (they have the form). They’ve already lost the argument. No there’s only one thing keeping their whole campaign afloat and that is their bought and sold media. Without them onside, their campaign would wither and die within the month and they know it. The only way to get round it is new media, social media and feet on the ground. We’re also going to need a few very public breaks. We could do with some of Mr Cameron’s oh so public gaffs a la his visit last year. Perhaps Osborne going off on one against Labour directly or Scotland (both would be good). He’s arrogant enough to think he’d get away with it.

    But the media is a sticky problem, we’re going to need every bit of the next twenty odd months. 

  46. dadsarmy says:

    Yes, I agree. Unless the NO campaign have any aces up their sleeves – and I think they’d have played them already – they have nothing to offer but hurl insults at the SNP and the YES campaign. That’ll lose like 2011. I think all we have to do is resist the urge to hurtle insults back, keep calm and carry on.

    I think if we do this, some of the media will have to mend their ways – some is already. Otherwise they just make it blatantly obvious where their loyalties lie, even to totally non-political channel 4 racing watchers!

  47. Macart says:

    Upbeat and positive it is then dads. I think Mr McDougall’s wee tirade is a hint of the latest tactic. They’re desperate to bait cybernats into online rammies. That article wasn’t aimed at either YES or the SG directly. They’re targeting people like us and whatever happens, however justified, we cannot, must not rise to that bait. 

  48. dadsarmy says:

    Indeed. It’s not easy, but I guess we can get away with the odd slip.

  49. I’ve expanded my comment above into a blog posting.

  50. Adi says:

    First of all 65% of exports to the rest of UK is huge as UK is a small place but 70% of exports for Canada to USA is fine as one state is like a country in Europe. USA is bigger than the whole of the EU, did you know that.  Also the Scottish GDP is only 214b and the whole of UK is 2,445b so it won’t be effect that much as Scotland GDP is tiny compared to UK as a whole. 

  51. Tom says:

    I don’t get why the Scotland compared them self to Norway as they have double the amount of oil that the whole of UK has and their population is little smaller than Scotland so each person in Norway has double the oil that a Scottish person has. Also Norway was a country is way bigger than Scotland.

  52. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    Adi, Tom – as you’re clearly the same person, with the same IP address, can you pick a name and stick with it? Ta.

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