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Vote No for prosperity?

Posted on December 22, 2012 by

The core claim of the No campaign, or “Better Together” as it prefers to be called, is that Scotland is economically, politically and socially stronger as a partner within the United Kingdom. This status is defined, according to the campaign’s website, by three key factors: Prosperity, Security and Interdependence.

Each deserves scrutiny, but for now let’s focus on the first one, with reference to Alistair Darling’s recent speech at the John P. Mackintosh lecture. This was the claim that Darling made on trade and business:

“Scotland is far better represented abroad as part of the UK than we could ever hope to be as a separate state. The nationalists tell you that the UK embassies and consulates do not represent Scots. Try telling that to Scots who find themselves in trouble in a far-flung part of the world and can rely on the UK embassy to help them out. To the businesses seeking trade. They open doors for our people and businesses across the globe.

Farmers, fishermen and women, businesses big and small all reap the benefits of the UK’s global reach and global influence. Losing this influence would be a massive loss. It would be impossible to replicate it on a smaller scale.”

I’ve worked in 27 countries around the world in all six inhabited continents, so I think it’s fair to call myself a global businessman. I’m operating in a medium-sized company, but in 11 years of travel I cannot bring to mind a single case where association with Britain has differentiated our business.

Darling’s claim is dubious on at least two counts:

1. There are actual measures for countries for the amount of global business that the countries perform in the modern world.  Interestingly, a major development in the modern globalised world is that businesses from small countries have equivalent access to the global market that was previously dominated by global superpowers (a net effect of this being reduced influence for the UK, as demonstrated by the deconstruction of the Empire).

In the modern world, the list of countries with the most global trade per capita is dominated by relatively small nations with Germany being the only country in the top 20 with a population of over 15 million. The UK actually appears at 36th on this list, one place behind Gabon – an African country with a population of 1.5 million, making a mockery of the claim that the UK is somehow uniquely placed to enable global business. This seems conclusive evidence that it is possible for smaller countries to have as much influence as far bigger ones, and there are no barriers that would prevent Scotland from very quickly joining this list.

2. Outside of Europe the genuine perception is that Great Britain, or the UK in political terms, is England (a point I believe is exacerbated by the fact that the language ‘English’ is globally denoted by the Union Flag). The general perception is that Scotland is another European country the rest of the world hears little about, like other small European nations such as Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

Scotland truly lives in the shadows in this sense and therefore I think any claims that we significantly benefit from association to UK embassies are spurious. In reality we’re disadvantaged against other small nations, without our own distinct representation around the world.

The No camp’s point on trade is not made exclusively in global terms – it’s often claimed that the large volume of trade we have with England negates the case for Scottish independence. Here’s Darling again:

“We trade more with England than we do with all other countries in the world combined.  We export £45 billion worth of goods and services – 40% of our total output – to the rest of the UK.

The UK is the world’s oldest and most successful single market.  Europe has worked for over 50 years to create a market without borders for goods and services. Why on Earth would we want to turn our biggest market into our biggest competitor?”

At a glance this sounds potentially significant but looking for comparable examples elswhere suggest it to be a red herring, with the most obvious being Canada. Canada competes with Norway on an annual basis to be crowned with the highest standard of living in the world. And much like Scotland it has a population roughly 10% the size of its neighbouring country, with which it ostensibly competes.

In fact 73.7% of Canada’s total export is to the USA, but with Canada this accounts for around 25% of their total output (an indication that the Canadians are a bit better at keeping the wealth in their own nation). Yet despite this there is no movement or appetite for Canadians to send all of their taxes and high-level policy decisions to the American government. Instead both countries worked to establish the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to their mutual benefit.

Darling undermines his own point with his reference to the EU. It is indeed significant that Europe has been working for over 50 years to remove borders for trade. To this end the EU has in many ways superseded the political purpose of the UK, which in turn makes the UK redundant.  But in the modern world trade agreements can be set up in a variety of forms – an example of the EU’s flexibility is shown by member states Sweden, Iceland, Denmark having a trade agreement with their neighbour Norway, which is not in the EU.

(Norway, incidentally, is a country with an almost identical population to Scotland’s but with a much larger and more challenging landmass, yet their trade balance with the UK shows that it hasn’t exactly hampered them.)

So why would we want to turn our biggest market into our biggest competitor? The fact is that ticking along in the shadows of our biggest competitor is impairing our economic growth, and our social development is suffering. Despite Scotland’s great wealth we are find ourselves in a position where our businesses are struggling and our public sector lives under the threat of indefinite austerity measures as Westminster attempts to ‘balance the books’.

In the modern world a society has to be quick to react to the opportunities for economic growth – the taxes that are collected by the government have to be focused on areas that can create jobs, but also social justice for its people. The dependency on having our problems identified and fixed by a remote government is handicapping our growth and limiting our potential.

Small countries, meanwhile, are showing that they can lead the way in the modern world – I believe that reducing the scope of the UK government and bringing government closer to the people will prove beneficial for all people on the British Isles.


The original version of this post appeared on Darling Blogs. No relation.

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25 to “Vote No for prosperity?”

  1. Marcia says:

    Another excellent article. Thank you.

  2. Dramfineday says:

    Or as some of the old ancestors put it,  ‘Prosperity to Scotland and No Union’

  3. Eoin says:

    Alistair Darling’s point about Scots being represented by UK embassies is weird. If Scotland were to become independent, one of the rights of EU citizenship is to be represented by the embassy of another EU country anywhere that your own nation does not have an embassy.

    In other words, unless an independent Scotland somehow exits the EU, citizens of that independent Scotland will still have an embassy that will represent them, in any country in which they find themselves.

    Although this is not a commonly-known right of EU citizenship, it is a basic right nonetheless (as basic as “freedom of movement”), and a politician with Alistair Darling’s wealth of experience simply cannot fail to know this, so it is difficult to see his example of “Scots who find themselves in trouble in a far-flung part of the world and can rely on the UK embassy to help them out” as anything other than an attempt to deceive people.

  4. AndrewFraeGovan says:

    If we weren’t about to be kicked out of the EU :), I’d point out that EU citizens abroad are able to seek help from the embassy of any EU member state.

    As for “Why on Earth would we want to turn our biggest market into our biggest competitor?” What a lot of rubbish. Scottish firms do not co-operate with their English counterparts – they compete! I can’t see how this would change in any way after independence.

  5. Arbroath1320 says:

    1,000 apologies here but I’m confussed! I know, that’s not difficult, but I find this statement from Darling a wee bit confusing to say the least.
    “We trade more with England than we do with all other countries in the world combined.  We export £45 billion worth of goods and services – 40% of our total output – to the rest of the UK.”

    Now when I went to school I was always taught that 100% minus 40% left 60%. Now assuming this is STILL the case then how does Darling come up with the idea that 40% of Scotland’s exports, to rUK, is MORE than 60% of Scotland’s exports worldwide?

    If he is talking about the monetary value of the exports then why does he mention the £45 Billion to rUK but NOT mention the monetary value to the rest of the world?
    Is he feart that we might see he is lying about this figure like he has been doing about everything else or is there something else that he is desperate to hide here?

  6. AndrewFraeGovan says:

    Great minds or something 😀 

  7. AndrewFraeGovan says:

    The claimed £45billion is 40% of total output. Not 40% of total exports. Never mind there’s plenty proper lies to be exposed!
    In any case I’d see that as more of an indictment of the union – why are we not exporting to more countries?

  8. Juteman says:

    Good point on co-operation/competition AFG.
    The Union is terrified of proper competition from the north.

  9. David Smith says:

    Before the Union, Scotland had a brisk and direct international trade with neighbouring countries which largely died after 1707 as everything started to be routed through London. I think Stu recently linked to an old article written by Daniel Defoe hinting at this.
    The upshot however viewed in simplistic terms is this though; if it was achievable in the past, surely the resumption of direct trade from Scotland to the world can only be a positive thing. There is nothing to fear and we owe it to ourselves to ‘go for it’ when we are given the opportunity to wash London’s toxins from the fabric of our nation.

  10. pmcrek says:

    Great article.


    I think its fair to say that Mr Darling first showed his inability to count during his tenure as chancellor excepting of course when it involved expenses on a second home 😉

    Some UK trading data from the Guardian here (somewhat out of date though):

    Presumably the UK should be entering political union negotiations with the USA or Germany soon.

  11. Juteman says:

    Of course, being a Dundonian, I would love to see regular shipping traffic from Dundee to and from the continent, instead of sending products south for transfer.

  12. Aplinal says:

    @Juteman and others are right to point out that with Independence we will be able to create our own, and more appropriate, trading routes and channels.  There would be little point in sending everything for export to the EU (for example) via London.  This in turn may well open up more direct air-routes as the demand for direct access to the continent would make the identification and funding of these routes more viable to the operators.  The availability of these routes for other passengers would almost certainly increase traffic if the pricing was thought through (and NO APD to pay).
    The opportunities for some lateral thinking with Independence are huge.  And Scots certainly have the intellect to exploit these new opportunities.

  13. Boorach says:


    Probably because we don’t receive full back-up from the UK diplomatic corps 

  14. Yesitis says:

    Of course, being a Dundonian, I would love to see regular shipping traffic from Dundee to and from the continent, instead of sending products south for transfer
    As a fellow Dundonian, I couldn`t agree more.

  15. Westie7 says:

    Foreign Office.. Consulates.. International Assisstance.. 


    I know folk airlifted out of Libya who will describe a comparison with a Chocolate Teapot.

    I actually find that folk in Europe, Middle East and Africa find it Refreshing when I distance myself from BRITISH foreign policy and allegiance to the Evil Empire that is the USA 

  16. MajorBloodnok says:

    I find it hilarious when someone says “But what about the Embassies?” as though only the British are capable of having them.
    Surely all you need to do is appoint someone as ambassador, give them a brass plate with “Scottish Embassy” engraved on it and tell them to go and lease a flat in Sofia or Belgrade or Paris (or even London) and you’re done.

  17. Oldnat says:

    Major Bloodnok

    Lots of countries share Embassy facilities too – including the UK with Canada & soon Australia. 

  18. ianbrotherhood says:

    Long time ago, I spent a couple of years working in Japan as an English teacher – When I asked students, of all ages, what they knew about Scotland, they cited ‘tartan-check’, ‘golf’, ‘whisky’ and ‘Nessie’, but few had any interest in, or awareness of, our being part of the ‘UK’. Insofar as being a ‘brand’ with Unique Selling Points is important, we have them in spades. People like Darling know that full-well. It just doesn’t suit them to acknowledge it.

  19. Derick says:

    Shetland’s thriving trade with the Baltic was destroyed by the Union – led to a prolonged depression

  20. uilleam_beag says:

    Vote no for endless austerity, more like.

    Iainbrotherhood, you’re exactly right. After 17 years in Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China, I have experienced the very same reactions. As part of the UK, Scotland is invisible on the world stage; independence cannot fail to raise our global profile.

  21. BillyBigBaws says:

    Paul McBride and his family got a lot of help from the UK’s fantastic consular service after he died in Pakistan. The High Commission performed wonders. Just ask Aamer Anwar.

  22. scottish_skier says:

    Now come on folks, the UK’s overseas service e.g. know good ways to sneak you out of a problem country to a nice safe place in a jiffy.

    ‘Extraordinary rendition’ it’s called.

  23. Derick fae Yell says:

    “For hundreds of years the salt fish trade was in the hands of German merchants of the Hanseatic League. The museum in the Symbister Pier House tells how ships from Hamburg, Bremen and Lubeck sailed to Shetland every summer, bringing seeds, cloth, iron tools, salt, spirits, luxury goods and hard currency. Generations of the same families made the voyage and some merchants are buried in the islands.
    zoomThe Hanseatic Booth, Symbister
    This picturesque old building, restored with its dock and cargo hoist, was one of two Hanseatic booths, or warehouses, in Whalsay until the Germans were forced out by import duties after the 1707 Treaty of Union between England and Scotland.”
    “After the Union of Parliaments in 1707, Shetland was ruled from London. The isles’ prosperity for the previous 200 years or so had been based mainly on the trade carried out with the Hanseatic merchants of Germany, mostly in dried whitefish.
    In 1712, in order to discourage this trade, and to encourage British involvement, the London parliament placed a high duty on imported salt. This in effect ended the Hanseatic trade, throwing Shetland’s economy into crisis.
    Many of the prominent local land-owning families went bankrupt, and their estates were bought up by the relatively new class of Shetland merchants. Intending to take up where the Hanseatic merchants had left off, they began to look to their tenants to provide manpower for the fishing trade. This was the origins of what is known as haf fishing, and the development of the fishing tenure system”

  24. Galen10 says:

    On the subject of embassies, diplomatic representation and a Scottish diplomatic service, I’d make the following observations:

    Assuming a relatively amicable negotiated split post a Yes vote in 2014, Scotland would surely be entitled to roughly 9% of all current UK embassies and consulates worldwide by value. Thus we would either inherit a certain number of actual buildings, or be entitled to recover the cash value as part of the negotiations with rUK. I understand that the Czechs and Slovaks did something similar when they split, with for example the Czechs retaining the embassy in Washington DC, and Slovaks taking the UN embassy in NYC. Hardly seems difficult to me. Even if we were to decide to be outside the EU, there is certainly scope to share facilities with other smaller nations like e.g. Norway, Denmark etc.

    As for a diplomatic service, I have little doubt that some Scots in the current UK service would be happy to pursue careers in the smaller Scottish diplomatic corps, and that there would be nor shortage of qualified applicants within Scotland and in the diaspora. Only a narrow minded unionist drone would think it could be otherwise. (Much the same argument would apply in any number of other areas such as armed forces, civil service etc.).

    Why are so many No supporters hung up on such trivia? 

  25. Wullie B says:

    You better watch out,
    you better not cry,
    You better pay up,
    I’m telling you why,
    Mr Cameron’s coming to town .

    He’s making his cuts,
    checking them twice,
    He doesn’t think that benefits nice,
    Mr Cameron’s coming to town.

    He sees where you are sleeping,
    He knows if a bedrooms spare,
    That empty bed cant hide from him,
    He can tell if no one’s there.

    And if you’ve any children,
    And they number more than two,
    You’d better hide the others,
    Or he’ll tax you for them too!

    He can’t wait for April,
    He’s planned who he will curse,
    With extra cuts so he can make Next years Christmas even worse.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE…….Agus Hail Alba 2014

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