Putting aside the bluster and bellicose rhetoric that is likely to be at the heart of Alex Slamond’s speech to the SNP faithful at their annual conference tomorrow, if he is to have any chance of realising his dream of an independent nation he will need to make a persuasive case the Scottish people would be economically better off by leaving the UK.
In opening the party’s conference in Perth yesterday, the SNP leader sought to continue with the argument Scotland is a net contributor to the UK as a sign an independent Scotland would indeed be somehow richer.
“At the last count, Scotland received 9.6% of the UK’s taxation, and received 9.3% of the UK’s spending. That gap is £2.7bn, or to put it another way £1,000 for every family in Scotland.
“That’s £1,000 that we could spend on vital services. That £1,000 that means we could borrow less, we could save for the future, or we could defend the vital services which are part of the social fabric of Scotland.”
Looking deeper at the figures, however, reveals that whilst as a percentage, Salmond’s case might be true, when looking at actual amounts spent, Scotland ends up being a net beneficiary from its membership of the union.
On revenue received from Scotland, the Scottish government’s official expenditure and revenue statistics, known as GERS, for 2010-11 (published in March this year), puts the total figure at £53.1 billion – which equates to 9.6% of the total UK tax take.
The GERS report explained:
“In 2010-11, total Scottish non-North Sea public sector revenue was estimated at £45.2 billion, (8.3 per cent of total UK non-North Sea revenue). Including a per capita share of North Sea revenue, total Scottish public sector revenue was estimated at £45.9 billion (8.3 per cent of UK total public sector revenue).
“When an illustrative geographical share of North Sea revenue is included, total Scottish public sector revenue was estimated at £53.1 billion (9.6 per cent of UK total public sector revenue).”
On spending, however, whilst the figures do indeed show Scotland received 9.3% of all UK-wide public spending, this amounts to £63.8 billion.
As the GERS report notes:
“In 2010-11, total public sector expenditure for the benefit of Scotland by the UK government, Scottish government and all other tiers of the public sector, plus a per capita share of debt interest payments, was £63.8 billion. This is equivalent to 9.3 per cent of total UK public sector expenditure.”
By being part of the UK therefore, Scotland receives £10.7 billion more than it pays in.
With the polling period for the regular Scottish Public Opinion Monitor having finished on Monday, the very day Alex Salmond put his name on the document that established the framework for a referendum, IPSOS Mori’s figures show:
• Of those who indicated that they are certain to vote in the 2014 referendum, 30% agreed that Scotland should be an independent country, down 5 points since June and 9 points down since January. Support for the Union meanwhile has increased, as 58% of Scots said they would vote ‘No’ in the referendum, an increase of 3 points since June and eight points since January. Twelve per cent of respondents said they were undecided, up 2 points since June;
• Asked about voting intentions for the Scottish Parliament, Labour has managed to reduce the gap with the SNP to 5 points. The SNP are on 40% among those certain to vote, down 5 points since June, and Labour on 35%, an increase of 3 points over the same period. This represents a ten-point swing in favour of Labour since IPSOS Mori’s poll in December 2011. The Conservatives are on 13%, up 1 point from June, with the Liberal Democrats on 8%, up 2 points since June;
• Alex Salmond continues to be the most popular leader in Scotland as half of respondents said they are satisfied with his performance. However, his net satisfaction rating has fallen from +35% in December 2011 to +10% in this poll;
• Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont’s recent speech on universal benefits has done little to boost her standing among Scottish voters. Just 35% are satisfied with her performance as leader while 30% are dissatisfied. This represents a net satisfaction rating of +5%, which has fallen by 4 points since June. Of particular concern will be the fact a third of Scots felt unable to rate her performance, the same as IPSOS’s poll in June;
• Interestingly, since IPSOS’s June poll, the only leader to have seen their net satisfaction ratings increase in Scotland is David Cameron - he is up 11 points.
Outlining the scale of the challenge the nationalists now face, Christopher McLean, senior research executive with Ipsos MORI Scotland, explained:
“Now that the process for the referendum has been agreed and the real debate can begin, this poll highlights the considerable challenges facing the ‘Yes’ campaign. At the turn of the year, support for independence was increasing and touching 40%. That momentum appears to have been lost and the level of support for independence has returned to its historical average.
“On the other hand, although the ‘Better Together’ campaign has a healthy lead, the poll shows that they cannot afford to be complacent, particularly given that more than one in ten Scots remain undecided.”