We Need To Talk About: GERS (2016-17 Edition)

“The GERS figures are not meant to be anything other than a way of showing the current position under the present arrangements.” – The BBC 

The annual Government Expenditure and Revenue report is out and, as with previous years, I’ve written an analysis of the report and what it means for Scotland. The GERS report itself can be downloaded here.

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A more detailed analysis I have prepared for Common Weal can also be read here.

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The UK is a deeply unequal union and London continues to capture a greater and greater proportion of the wealth of the state to the detriment of everywhere else. This single fact has to frame everything we think and say about the finances of Scotland.

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Twas the Night Before GERSmas

‘Twas the night before GERSmas, and all through Scotland
The bloggers were screiving; their time near at hand.
The headlines were crafted with doom and despair
In hopes that Lord Darling soon would be there.
The MPs were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of oil money gushed through their heads.


And Brown with his spreadsheet, and Mackay (who’ll fudge it),
had just settled accounts and balanced the budget –
When outside the office there came such a racket,
They wondered if Ewing had started to frack it.

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Social Security For All Of Us

“Scotland can, if it chooses to be bold, creative and ambitious, use the opportunity  presented by independence to build a social security system for all of us.”

I’m proud to present my latest report for the Common Weal White Paper Project, Social Security For All Of Us – An Independent Scotland as a Modern Welfare State.

The report can be downloaded here or by clicking the images below. There has also been coverage in The National here and here.

Report CoverExec Summary Cover

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Trading Places

“GDP is increasingly a poor measure of prosperity. It is not even a reliable gauge of production” – The Economist

There’s a bit of a story happening around Scotland’s oil trade since Wings Over Scotland highlighted an otherwise completely unreported change in the way the UK measures how much oil it trades with the world and where in the UK it comes from.


The story stems from the way that the UK calculates its balance of trade with the rest of the world and specifically how it then decides which region of the UK is responsible for that trade. To do this, the UK is split into 12 regions based on the Government Office Regions of England plus Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. (These boundaries are also used by Eurostat for their NUTS 1 statistics)


There’s another “region” of the UK not displayed on the map. Not all trade can be firmly allocated to a single region and not all trade can be allocated to a region at all. This is the “Unknown Regions” of the UK. Most prominent amongst this kind of trade, at least within Scottish political circles, is trade generated by offshore activities.

There are many different ways one could approach this allocation – the methodology – and the way you do it can result in very different results. Now, if you’re the UK and are looking at UK stats these figures don’t really matter so much but they do become very relevant if you’re looking at one part of the UK and what its economy might look like if it decided to, say, discuss holding a vote for independence. Suddenly, even UK government departments start getting very interested in Scottish trade.

The particular story here concerns a change in the trade methodology around offshore oil in Scotland waters. Particularly, oil which is exported out of the UK directly from the rigs without it ever touching the UK land boundaries. Previously, much of this oil has been allocated to the Unknown Region but the change now meant that it would be allocated to Scotland. This has led to an increase in the recorded value of Scottish minerals exports for 2015 from £588 million to £6,825 million. Quite a substantial jump and one which has spread around social media. Time for a wee breakdown of what it means and take the chance to clear up a few misunderstandings I’ve seen along the way.
(This is a complex topic, after all)

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Passing Go

 “Let the children once see clearly the gross injustice of our present land system and when they grow up, if they are allowed to develop naturally, the evil will soon be remedied.” – Elizabeth Magie, inventor of “The Landlord’s Game”, the precursor to Monopoly.

For a game about rampant, exploitative capitalism and a race to deliberately bankrupt your mates, in some ways Monopoly looks remarkably egalitarian compared to modern Britain


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Personalising Pension Politics

“I am deeply concerned that if we do not fund healthcare and social care adequately people will lead much worse lives” – Sir Michael Marmot, commenting on his latest life expectancy report.

Yesterday, the Marmot Life Indicators report was published which showed that there has been a dramatic fall in the rate of increase of life expectancy in England. In fact, it has stalled completely.

For most of the last decade and a half, a baby born in one year could expect to live about 4 months longer than a child born the previous year. This rate had also been increasing through that period though the trend was broken in 2010.


2010 was also the year that the Tories came to power and started implementing their Austerity program. Now, yes, correlation isn’t causation but this isn’t the first time that a health or wellbeing indicator has been linked to Tory policy. Just a few months ago, a report was published which blamed Austerity for the premature deaths of 30,000 people in England and Wales in 2015 alone.

And whilst these studies are limited to England or England and Wales the causes of the so-called “Glasgow Effect” are now well known and have been linked to similar policies of deprivation and deliberate political attack.

But what was the UK Government’s response to yesterday’s report? Today they accelerated the rate of increase in the state pension age such that if you are currently aged 39-47 you will now need to work till you are 68.

This means that if you live in the most deprived areas of the UK, such as Blackpool or Glasgow you can expect your retirement to last just 6 years, whereas someone from a rich borough of Kensington – where average life expectancy is 84 – could expect almost a decade longer than that.

The Marmot report also highlighted something which isn’t talked about enough within this topic. The issue of healthy life expectancy. Our average person in Blackpool might live to 74 but they can only expect to reach 57 with a fair degree of health.



(Click either chart to embiggen in a new tab)

Welcome to Tory Britain in the 21st Century. Where you’re not just expected to work till you drop. You’re expected to pick yourself up again and continue working for another decade beyond that. And don’t you dare try to claim disability or we’ll put you through so many hoops and tests and stress and pain that it stands a good chance of actually killing you.

There’s no wonder that the UK has now been called out by the United Nations for its appalling treatment of the most vulnerable amongst us.

Now I’m not amongst the particular cohort of folk affected by this pension change but it’s starting to become very personal to me. It’s very much starting to feel like my parent’s generation will be the last in the UK who will be allowed to meaningfully retire – and given that my mother is a WASPI woman, this is a particularly depressing point.

I no longer expect to receive a state pension from the UK. Even if I do manage to age fast enough to catch up to the state pension I fully expect that by the time I get there the next phase of cuts will have meant that the formerly universal pension will be means-tested. If I happen to own more than £X in savings and assets…tough. No pension for me.

So I’m going to need a new plan to ensure that what retirement I eventually get is endurable. If the current work climate continues, it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to build up anything like the private pension that previous generations were able to claim so I can’t even rely on the private sector to bail me out.

The way things are going I’m going to have to do something a little more drastic. It looks like I need to win myself an independent Scotland, rebuild the entire welfare system from scratch and replace the byzantine labyrinth of means-tested “benefits” with a Universal Basic Income.

So..no pressure then…

This is where the independence campaign is becoming more personal. It’s rapidly getting to the point that folk may support independence not just because it’s desirable nor even just because it would be personally beneficial. It is approaching the stage where independence is becoming essential just to maintain a decent standard of living.

I’ve already heard from people in the campaign who now must win independence for various reasons. One so that they can escape the UK’s appalling immigration system and bring their fiancé to Scotland. Another so that they can ensure that they won’t be treated as a second class settled resident due to them being a non-UK EU citizen.

I think this could be the seed of a hundred stories waiting to be told. If you’re someone who is in a similar situation who now not just wants but actually needs independence for some reason, I’d like you to get in touch. Just email me through my contact page here. I’d like to offer some space to get these stories out there.

(Anonymity will, of course, be maintained unless you specifically tell me to publish your name)

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Grim Drama Parked

“Tomorrow’s GDP figures will confirm whether or not Scotland entered a second quarter of economic downturn in the first three months of 2017.” – Scottish Conservatives. 4th July 2017.

The quarterly Scottish GDP figures were released today after a long build up in a press anxious to see if Scotland was on, as the Express put it, the “BRINK OF RECESSION” (their emphasis).

The figures themselves rather put a misstep into their charge.


The headline figures are that in Q1 2017, Scotland’s economy grew by 0.8% which is up substantially on the -0.2% contraction seen in Q4 2016. This positive growth also means that the two successive quarters of negative growth which define a technical recession were not met.

The UK’s GDP growth over Q1 2017 was 0.2% though in my last blog post I put substantial attention onto the point that we should treat such comparisons with a great deal of care given the large regional inequalities within the UK. I’d very much like to see the GDP of the UK broken down across its regions (especially London) before commenting too much on it.

And before we all start patting ourselves on the back at avoiding our “predicted” recession, it’s worth actually diving into the numbers and seeing what they do and do not tell us about the Scottish economy.

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