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FACT CHECK: Scottish independence really cost us 250,000 jobs?




Another vision of post-indy economic catastrophe from a right-wing, pro-Unionist think tank. Meanwhile in the real Tory world, we have a cost-of-living crisis and a vegetable shortage. You couldn’t make it up.


On 26 February, the Sunday Times published an article reporting on the findings of a report commissioned by a body called Scottish Business UK (SBUK). 

SBUK is an avowedly pro-Union propaganda outfit “for business leaders who want to see Scotland thrive as part of the United Kingdom”. Its mission statement says “SBUK is providing a forceful voice against a second ballot on separation”.

It was founded by “serial entrepreneur” Robert Kilgour, a former Tory Westminster candidate, and founder of a string of care home companies. 

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SBUK’s CEO is Struan Stevenson, a former Tory MEP. The extensive advisory board includes former Labour minister Brian Wilson, former Conservative Scottish Office minister Colin Clark, anti-independence blogger Kevin Hague, Better Together campaign adviser Jim Gallagher, and Tory peer Nosheena Mobarik.  

Even being charitable, it is difficult to see SBUK as anything other than a Unionist and largely pro-Conservative front organisation which makes little effort to disguise its partisan nature.


The SBUK report in question was authored by economist Richard Marsh of 4-consulting, who previously worked as an Associate Director of the real estate company DTZ, whose holding company went bust in 2011 after the banking crisis.

Marsh did some of the exterior consulting work for the SNP’s Sustainable Growth Report, on the economic value of migration. His new report is suggestively entitled “Independence Uncovered”.

Suffice it to say, Marsh’s purported findings are not just negative but predict a truly apocalyptic meltdown of the Scottish economy and society in the aftermath of independence. No previous analysis of independence, even the most hostile, has predicted so bleak a picture.

Marsh predicts that spending cuts (aka “fiscal consolidation”) would lead to the loss of 253,000 jobs, which is around 11% of the total.  The economy would shrink by 10 per cent as public spending fell, taxes rose and trade with the UK contracted. Companies would fee Scotland, particularly banks seeking to retain the benefits of a rUK regulatory regime. 

Finally, Marsh claims that the harshest impact would fall on Scotland’s poorest communities.  Dundee, for instance, would lose 70 out of every 1000 jobs.


How credible are Marsh’s findings? As a statistician, Marsh is on record as demanding better, more qualified data from Scottish government sources. However, his own report presents its findings in a remarkably unnuanced and one-sided manner.

It is normal given the uncertainties involved in economic forecasting and econometric analysis for data to be presented with a range of (weighted) possible outcomes.

For instance, both the Bank of England and the Office for Budget Responsibility present growth, GDP, inflation and employment forecasts as a range of possibilities – not one absolute figure. Give the inherent uncertainties of economic prediction, this provides a fairer basis for consideration.

However, Marsh delivers a copious set of very specific, unnuanced predictions on everything including spending cuts, trade reduction, defence spending, indy set-up costs, impact on financial services, and sector, regional and total job losses.  

We are given a smorgasbord of over-precise predictions based on his absolute data. Few economists would have been so bold.

Second, Marsh makes some questionable assumptions which other economists would challenge as unacceptable and conceivably methodologically suspect. His calculation for the fall in Scottish national output (aka GVA) and overall job losses includes an estimate for the start-up costs of creating an independent state bureaucracy and regulatory system. 

However the costs incurred in setting up a new state (civil service, defence infrastructure, financial regulation system) would surely count as an increase in national output and jobs – not negatives.

The National: Would independence REALLY lead to the loss of 250,000 jobs?Would independence REALLY lead to the loss of 250,000 jobs? (Image: PA)

Third, Marsh systematically excludes consideration of any positive dynamic economic, productivity and trade gains resulting from independence. Most egregiously, he bases his calculations for spending cuts on the alleged Scottish fiscal deficit as published in the annual GERS report.

The area of debate here has been covered ad nauseum. The GERS data records the notional public sector deficit allocated to Scotland from UK Government fiscal decisions – Holyrood itself is mandated by law to balance its own budget.

Noone expects an independent Scotland to follow the fiscal policies of the current Tory administration at Westminster. And by definition, we do not know beforehand the allocation of debts and assets accruing to Scotland after independence negotiations. So March’s figure for fiscal consolidation is his political guess and no more. 

We should also note that the large notional regional budget deficits across the all the UK regions and nations are a fiscal optical illusion resulting from most taxes being booked to the Treasury through London. Post-independence, we will see more existing tax income booked through Scotland (particularly VAT).


Marsh makes a similar one-sided calculation with respect to the impact on trade arising from independence. Here he appropriates and plugs in data from a highly contentious 2021 study conducted by a group at the London School of Economics (LSE).

This attempted to assess the possible reduction on future trade growth (not the same thing as an absolute cut in trade) arising if the post indy Scottish economy saw its import and export tariffs diverge from England’s. 

But the LSE study quite deliberately did not calculate the trade gains to Scotland from potential EU membership. Neither does Marsh – another example of his adding up the negatives and ignoring the positives. 

Marsh also makes the dubious assumption that Scottish energy exports to England would be lower post-independence. That hardly seems credible following the Russo-Ukraine war.


One of Marsh’s most suspect calculations is in regard to the future of banking after independence. He predicts a loss of 12,000 jobs in banking and fiancé, as work relocates to England.

However, Marsh happily relies on UK Treasury data for making this calculation – numbers which are partisan to say the least. And again he blithely ignores the impact of Brexit and Scotland re-joining the EU Single Market. 

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By way of comparison, Brexit has led to a major shift of financial firms from the City of London to Dublin, which is fast becoming a significant player in the sector. Between 2016 an 2021, Dublin welcomed 135 new inward-investing financial companies compared to 102 in Paris and 63 in Frankfurt.

It is not obvious why indy Scotland would suffer a meltdown of its financial sector when Dublin, for instance, is gaining UK banking jobs precisely because it is in the EU.


Scotland has an economy on a par with the size of rich New Zealand. Yet Scottish household incomes are slated to fall by 7%, according to the OBR, as a result of the economic incompetence of the Tory government. That represents a greater threat to ordinary people than the SBUK’s dubious vision of a post-apocalypse Scotland.

The National:

FACT CHECK RATING: Zero for accuracy, 10 for entertainment value.

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