A good week for Scotland


By Russell Bruce

At the beginning of last week I reported on the increase in the number of businesses in Scotland against the almost universal loss throughout the UK over the period of Cameron’s first 12 months.

I also reported on the stories being run in the media foretelling the doom and gloom that would emerge from reports and official statistics due to be published during the course of the week, adding that it did not look to be a good week for Liam Fox.

As things turned out it was a good week for the Scottish economy but definitely not for Liam Fox.  First up was the report from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).  Although this report is based on a large sample, the Scottish sample is quite small as is the London sample.

The BCC report did however confirm findings from other more statistically balanced sources that Scotland was doing well in exports and manufacturing activity.  The number of businesses reporting from Wales to BCC was 217 but only 116 from Scotland and 133 from London.

Liz Cameron, Chief Executive, Scottish Chambers of Commerce, commenting on the report noted that the private sector in Scotland had created 57,000 jobs, more than offsetting the loss of 25,000 in the public sector over the last year.

Given the small Scottish sample and that none of the Service sector in Scotland included exporters, the report probably underestimates the service sector’s contribution to Scottish exports.

Also published last week were the Office of National Statistics (ONS) monthly jobs statistics which have already been reported on Newsnet.

One statistic has not been reported in the media and that is the Claimant Count (those claiming Job Seekers Allowance), it did not rise in Scotland according to the latest ONS figures.  Scotland was the only nation or region of the UK that did not see a rise in September.

As with previous Labour Market Statistics I will compare Scotland’s performance with London’s.  Both Scotland and London show local variations in employment and unemployment levels although overall inequality disparities are wider in London than in Scotland.

All figures and percentages quoted relate to those aged 16 to 64.

The June to August 2011 figures show that 77.4% of those of working age in Scotland were economically active compared with 75.5% in London.

Unemployment in Scotland rose by 0.2% to 7.9% in June to August compared to the March to May quarter. In London, unemployment rose across the same quarters by 1% to 10.1%.  The difference in Scotland’s favour this month has widened to 2.2%.  Or to put it another way, unemployment in London is 28% higher than it is in Scotland.

When we compare the gender breakdown we can identify that there is some cause for concern in Scotland as male unemployment has risen by 1% compared to 0.6% in London.  Unemployment amongst women in Scotland actually fell by 0.5% to 6.3% compared to a rise of 0.7% in London to 10.3%.

Comparisons over the longer term confirm the underlying strength of a very difficult recovery from recession in Scotland.  Comparing June to August 2011 with the same period in 2010, unemployment fell by 0.7% in Scotland compared to a rise of 1% in London.

Over the same quarters unemployment in Scotland has fallen by 0.1% for men and 1.3% for women.  In London, male unemployment has risen by 1% and female unemployment is 0.9% higher.

The workforce gender breakdown, in numbers, for June to August 2011 shows that in Scotland 1,240,000 males were in employment and 1,184,000 women. The number of unemployed men and women stands at 211,000 (7.9%).

In London the workforce gender disparity is greater with 2,085,000 men in employment and 1,656,000 women.  The total number of unemployed men and women in London is 421,000 (10.3%)

The small increase in unemployment in Scotland is however disappointing, if not unexpected given global conditions, the limitations the Scottish Government face with a lack of macro economic powers, no access to Scotland’s tax revenues retained at Westminster and a declining block grant from which to find economic stimulus potential.

Newsnet Scotland readers will be familiar with reports of the demise of Scotland’s oil resources being greatly exaggerated.  Predictions of the ever-impending closure of Scotland’s oil industry have been going on for decades.

Last week brought confirmation that new finds by BP west of Shetland would ensure Scottish oil will flow until at least 2050.

Finally on Friday Liam Fox fell less on a sword than on a landmine.  A long-time Thatcher favourite and darling of the Tory far right, Fox’s demise has exposed the reality of international far right connections that stretch into the heart of the present government.

Adam Werritty was denounced as a Walter Mitty figure by those close to Fox in an attempt to protect Fox. The label seems to fit but the ruse backfired as more details of the organisations Fox and Werritty were involved with emerged.  If anyone is a Walter Mitty figure it is Liam Fox.

How does the Liam Fox affair play with the economy? It’s all a question of trust.  Fox has spectacularly damaged the level of trust in the Conservatives and that plays through to trust on Westminster’s handling of the economy.

Fox did not confine himself to his defence portfolio.  We now know he had his own foreign policy agenda and was close to right wing economic thinking in the States, including the Tea Party.  If there are any politicians anywhere in the world with no inkling of how global markets operate it is the Tea Party.

We also now know that Fox’s Atlantic Bridge ‘charity’ which forged and promoted these linkages had other serving Conservative cabinet ministers on its board before it was wound up following the loss of charitable status owing to its political nature.

The ComRes poll reported in The Independent today asked respondents to ‘Agree’ or ‘Disagree’ with the statement “I trust David Cameron and George Osborne to make the right decisions about the economy.” Only 3 out of 10 agreed across all parts of the UK.  In the Scottish sample only 2 out of 10 agreed.

The only crumbs of comfort for the Tories come from an even lower level of trust on the economy for Labour.  When asked to ‘Agree’ or ‘Disagree’ with the statement “I trust Ed Milliband and Ed Balls to make the right decisions about the economy” less than 2 out of 10 in the UK agreed.  In the Scottish sample only 1 out of 10 agreed.

In extracting data from the weighted Scottish samples, the usual cautionary qualifications apply.  Comparing the UK subsets, Scottish voting intentions for Westminster and support recorded for the SNP in this poll, I would venture that the Scottish subset analysis by age and socio-economic groups is broadly in line with other recent analysis.

That trust for Cameron and Osborne on the economy falls from 3 out of 10 across the UK, to barely 2 out of 10 in Scotland is credible given the high approval ratings for the SNP Government in Scottish polls.

The Comres poll was completed before Fox resigned.  By Friday the Guardian’s investigation finally led to damaging stories in The Times and Financial Times.  It was all over for Fox and already commentators were saying it looked much more serious than the Profumo Affair.

Now it seems we are to be treated to visits by Coalition Government ministers coming up to tell us how Independence will be economically damaging for Scotland.

How would Westminster Government Ministers, in whom Scottish people have such low levels of trust in regard to their economic competence, manage to convince people in Scotland that they should be listened to and moreover believed?

Dr Fox has heaped further damage on the low levels of trust in the Westminster Government’s competence and the fallout from the landmine he fell on may yet explode a few more hidden IEDs.