This January the Scottish Government published its policy paper on Scotland’s future outside the EU: Scotland’s Place in Europe: People, Jobs and Investment.
It is a remarkable document. It claims that unless Scotland is able to stray in the EU Single Market wages will fall by £2,000 every year to 2030, Scotland’s strong productivity growth will be reversed, GDP will fall by almost 10 per cent, 80,000 jobs will be lost and Scotland’s population will shrink to such an extent there will be insufficient resource to care for the old and sick.
It claims that the EU represents an indispensable driver for growth and its Single Market holds the potential for even greater trade liberalisation, particularly in services and marketing, to the benefit of Scotland.
The document makes no mention of any aspect of the EU that anyone on the Left might find objectionable – its ban on state aid, its demand for fully marketised public procurement, its competition rules that prevent comprehensive public ownership or its hostility to collective bargaining.
The document’s most worrying feature, however, is its lack of realism. It is almost frightening that any government should be running a country on the basis of such ignorance. Scotland, it claims,
‘is home to a strong and productive economy. Our economy is characterised by a diverse business base with international successes across a wide range of sectors… Our labour market is performing strongly ..Our productivity performance has also improved, with Scottish growth in productivity between 2007 and 2015 higher than any other country or region of the UK.’
Scottish government ministers would do well to read the current Fraser of Allander Economic Commentary which talks of ‘a backdrop of ongoing economic fragility. Growth in Scotland slowed to just 0.1 per cent over the three months to June. Over the year, growth has been around one third that of the UK.’ And low productivity has been a key cause.
The Scottish economy IS fragile. It is unduly dependent on a dwindling number of big firms externally controlled by investment companies that take big dividends but don’t invest in R&D or new equipment. Its smaller firms are in crisis. Only half the number export compared to twenty years ago. And the decline of oil and gas will have a long term-term depressive effect across Scotland.
This is why an activist industrial policy is so desperately needed. To rescue the economy there will have to be a State Investment Bank to take stakes in the big companies to ensure that they do invest and don’t get taken over. There will need to be state aid and the use of public procurement to recreate regional concentrations of industrial expertise – with public ownership to transform infrastructure.
And, as Alex Neil told our AGM, this just can’t be done inside the EU or its Single Market.
The danger represented by the SNP’s policy document is that it plays straight into the hands of the neo-liberal zealots in the Conservative Cabinet who are determined to secure the interests of the big overseas banks in the City and keep Britain inside the Single Market in some form whatever the costs to the economy.