Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP has been buoyed by recent polling showing a surge in support for Scottish independence, with one survey putting those in favour of a break from the rest of the UK eight points clear at 54pc. The polling comes off the back of the First Minister’s pandemic response, which has been widely touted as a key factor in advancing her separatist cause. But the crisis has also exposed the deepest flaws in the economic case for an independent Scotland, according to leading economists.
Professor Jim Gallagher, a former secretary to the Commission on Scottish Devolution and a Better Together adviser, argued there was “never an economic case for independence”.
The academic suggested the SNP were using spurious economic claims to justify their emotionally-charged motivations to quit the UK.
He went on to say making the case for independence would be even more difficult for Ms Sturgeon’s party today than it was in 2014.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, he said: “If there is another referendum, the 2014 line of argument, making the rational case versus the emotional one, is going to be even harder but both still matter.
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“There never was an economic case for independence, there was an emotional case and some nonsense made up to make it sound economically good.
“That’s even truer now.”
Angus Armstrong, director of Rebuilding Macroeconomics at NIESR and former head of macroeconomic analysis at the Treasury, put the dilemma facing the SNP down to public sector debt.
The economist argued an independent Scotland would face a crushing debt burden which would spark devastating consequences for its currency options.
He said: “The whole issue comes down to one thing: public sector debt.
“If the debt is divided by population, a newly independent Scotland would start life with a public debt burden of over 100pc of GDP, which would have consequences for its currency options.”
Mr Armstrong went on to question the credibility of a newly-independent nation coming into being with bigger deficits than the rest of the UK.
The expert explained Ms Sturgeon would need to prove she is capable of running Scotland’s fiscal affairs prudently before she is to realise her separatist dream.
He said: “An independent Scotland would start with bigger deficits than the rest of the UK, the same debt burden and you want to use someone else’s currency?
“Do you really think that is credible?
“Scotland can certainly be an independent country.
“But in order to do that it needs to convince people it can run its fiscal accounts prudently.”
And Prof Graeme Roy, director of the Fraser of Allander Institute and former head of the First Minister’s Policy Unit, issued another warning shot to the SNP.
He said the party would need to “set out a very clear plan of how they would manage the public finances” once the higher debt burden and larger deficit is taken into account.
Of the Scottish economy, he said: “It has higher public expenditure than the rest of the UK and in the past that gap was made up by oil but if oil revenue is not there, there is nothing to make up that gap so that’s why the deficit is so much bigger.”