Today has seen the publication of my latest contribution to Common Weal’s White Paper Project. Click here to take you to the launch page or on the image below to take your directly to the paper. Further coverage can be found here and here in The National.
GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland) 2015/16 reported Scotland’s fiscal deficit to be in the region of £14 billion per year, portraying Scotland as the country experiencing some of the most challenging financial circumstances in Europe.
However, this study must be viewed firmly in the light of Scotland being a member nation of the United Kingdom and, as such, any attempt to use them to project the finances of an independent Scotland must be treated with caution and qualification.
The very act of independence will result in significant redistributions and reallocations of government resources which will likely result in economic benefits accruing to Scotland. Additionally, decisions on how to establish and govern new Scottish state institutions will also improve Scotland’s budget at the point of set-up, further strengthening the fiscal position vis-à-vis that presented in GERS and that of the rest of the United Kingdom.
• The act of independence brings with it many structural changes which will significantly benefit Scotland’s fiscal position to the effect of several billion pounds equivalent per year.
• By shifting the focus of defence from one of outward projection and nuclear deterrent to one more in line with modern European nations, savings of approximately £1.1 billion per year can be realised. Even in the event of Scotland committing to NATO member defence spending targets of 2% of GDP, the increased spending within Scotland can be expected to have additional economic benefits resulting in tax revenue increases of around £300 million per year compared to the status quo.
• A reasonable case for the debt and asset negotiations due to independence will result in Scotland saving up to £1.7 billion per year in debt interest repayments.
• The legal requirement of the UK Government to provide the UK State Pension for all those who have met the criteria would likely have to be the subject of negotiation post-independence, but the expectation would be that this would lead to billion-pound savings for the Scottish Government in at least the first year.
• A substantial fraction of unidentifiable spending accounted to Scotland is, in all likelihood, spending to cover UK wide government functions which Scotland may or may not choose to replicate or reproduce in some form post independence. Whilst savings will be made by reason of lower running costs and wages in Scotland compared to London, the additional economic benefits of spending in Scotland instead of elsewhere in the UK could result in additional tax revenues of approximately £719 million per year.
• The opportunity for an independent Scotland to redesign the tax code from the ground up, eliminating built in inefficiencies, loopholes and exceptions will help reduce the “tax gap” by approximately one-third, increasing revenue by about £3.5 billion per year.
• Whilst the UK’s tax revenue as a percentage of GDP is around the OECD average, many countries neighbouring it successfully maintain higher rates of tax revenues which, if replicated in Key Points: Scotland, could further improve the financial situation by several billions per year.
• Even without increasing tax revenue as a percentage of GDP, an independent Scotland could be placed in a position of relative “deficit parity” with the current UK budget.
We’ve already published a paper reopening the currency debate, debt and assets, a proposal for a National Investment Bank and others. We want to produce further papers on pensions, defence, customs and excise, a detailed paper on the role of the Central Bank of Scotland, and others. All working up to a paper not just showing the limitations of accounting exercises like GERS but doing away with it entirely and building a case for an independent Scottish budget built from the ground up to suit our needs, rather than just being a tweaked version of what the UK does.
We are incredibly under resourced for this work but we think it’s work worth doing.