15 November 2016

S5M-02488 Single Market and Trade (European Union Referendum)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-02488, in the name of Keith Brown, on the single market and trade and the European Union referendum.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I start by saying gently to the absent Neil Findlay that it is not helpful to suggest that anyone here would describe our friends and neighbours south of the border as “nasty people”. My English relatives and my friends in England remain my friends however they may have voted on whatever subject. Indeed, my American relatives and friends also remain friends. Such intemperate language devalues and contaminates his broader arguments.

We have heard from almost everybody on the Conservative benches, and from Jackie Baillie, numbers about Scotland’s exports to England. Let us examine where those numbers come from and what credibility we should place on them.

I start with a paper that was produced by the previous Labour-Liberal Executive in 2005. Regarding those numbers, it says:

“The main difficulty arises because taxes are collected at the UK level, and also since Scotland is a region of the UK ... there is no legal requirement for companies to report financial information at sub-UK level”.

It goes on to say that the global connections survey is difficult

“for both practical and conceptual reasons”.

It is difficult to say where things are exported.

Jackie Baillie rose—

Stewart Stevenson: Let me continue—I may give way if time permits.

I turn to 2013, and a paper that the UK Government produced in the run-up to the referendum in 2014—“Scotland analysis: Business and microeconomic framework.” Indeed, that paper quotes the £45.5 billion. I am prepared to agree, by the way, that the figure probably has 11 digits in it; that is probably correct. If we look one paragraph below, there is a neat little footnote that says that it may be

“£35.651 million lower than the estimate ... in Scotland’s Global Connections Survey”.

Jackie Baillie rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I have another four to do before I get there.

Jackie Baillie: I am patient.

Stewart Stevenson: That footnote illustrates precisely the imprecision about the way in which we produce the figures.

Jackie Baillie rose—

Stewart Stevenson: If time permits.

The “Export Statistics Scotland” 2014 report, produced by statisticians in Scotland, interestingly provides information that perhaps illustrates where some of the difficulties may arise. The report points out that the Netherlands is Scotland’s second biggest export market, and the biggest in the EU. That seems rather surprising, because the footnote says that the Netherlands and Belgium are consistently reported as our “top trading partners”; however, those countries contain “key ports” where many of our exports are exported.

The report goes on to deal with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs figures for regional exports of goods. Here, it gets really interesting. In the figures for the various countries of the UK, there is—and I quote—an “unknown region” that exported £37.3 billion. That is quite interesting; if that were to be attributed to Scotland, our exports beyond the UK exceed the £45 billion-plus that are represented. Could that be the case? Actually, it is quite likely, because that is the oil region, and it is only by omitting oil that one can get the result that one does.

Let us turn to the business of ports—I say to Jackie Baillie that I am now out of time. The Rotterdam effect is an idea that is so pervasive that it is part of the A-level syllabus in England and Wales, and I have before me a study note about it. The issue concerns the fact that an export is booked at the last point at which it touches the ground. Given that Scotland does not have many ports that are equivalent to Felixstowe, Zeebrugge or Rotterdam, most of our exports touch the ground and are counted somewhere else.

We need to be conscious about the numbers that have been presented. I do not say that they are wrong; it is just that, on the basis of the evidence that is before us, I cannot possibly say that they are right, and there is evidence that suggests that they might actually be the other way up from what we are seeing.

Presiding Officer, it has been an absolute delight to have the audience listen to me here today. I hope that we will talk about more numbers as the debate progresses.


Stewart Stevenson
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fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

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