This article first appeared in The Scotsman on 22/20/2021.
There is a consensus within Scottish politics that growing our nation’s exports should be prioritised.
Few could argue with Nicola Sturgeon’s argument that boosting exports would be ‘good for productivity, good for the balance of trade and good for our quality of life’.
So why is the First Minister so obsessed with taking Scotland out of the most important trading market we belong to – the UK?
Independence would be an act of economic vandalism that would take an axe to our exports industry, devastating jobs and livelihoods.
For someone who claims to care so much about Scotland’s potential, it’s baffling that she can’t see the reality of her constitutional obsession, which would put barriers in the way of the extraordinary opportunities we enjoy.
We are in the strange situation of having a nationalist party in Scotland that wants to diminish our nation’s potential.
Sturgeon is fond of describing the EU single market as ‘eight times bigger than the UK market’, which is a reference to the bloc’s population of 500 million.
What the SNP leader deliberately omits is the reality of Scotland’s export market, which was outlined today in the Scottish Government’s own official figures.
In 2019, trade with the rest of the UK of £52 billion amounted to a massive 60% of all Scotland’s exports.
In contrast, the entire EU accounted for only 19% (£16.4 billion), while non-EU exports made up 21% (£18.7 billion).
That means trade with the rest of the UK is over three times more important for Scotland’s economy than the EU, demonstrating why leaving the UK would be devastating for jobs and livelihoods – and that’s even if a separate Scotland could rejoin the EU, which is far from guaranteed.
The SNP’s plans to scrap the pound would also have a major negative effect on trade in goods and services, particularly in financial services which is one of Scotland’s main exports.
And Nicola Sturgeon’s proposal for a separate Scotland would also lead to a hard border with England, jeopardising the frictionless movement of goods and threatening jobs – as well as building barriers between friends and families.
Whatever you think of Brexit, it’s clear that our most important single market – by some distance – is the UK.
While nobody is suggesting a separate Scotland could not trade with the UK, the trade barriers that would spring up would hugely hamper growth.
So Sturgeon’s dream of boosting exports would be dashed. Some honesty from the SNP is long overdue.
If the Scottish Government really cares - as it should – about growing our export market and giving our incredible entrepreneurs and employers the opportunities they deserve, then it will admit that our brightest future is being part of the UK.
That way we can rebuild our economy, keep the pound, and maintain positive relationships with our friends and neighbours while remaining part of the UK single market which is so vital for so many of us in Scotland.