But the UK is our biggest export partner!

That's a lot of trade with UK

That’s a lot of trade with UK

We know from the director of Better Together that their main strategy was to sell the perceived safety and security of the union to undecided voters. However the uncertainty over Brexit has made it harder to argue that the UK provides more stability for Scotland. One old argument that does on paper still stand up post Brexit is that because the UK is Scotland’s biggest trading partner it would be crazy to leave. Even Kezia Dugdale used that very argument this week to justify why she had commissioned a report detailing the Scottish Labour Party plan to sit on the fence over the EU question.

So, how do we counter the statement that:

It would be madness to leave as 64 percent of our exports go to the UK!

The short answer is that whatever we trade with the rest of the UK now is likely to be similar post independence. I say “whatever” because there are reasons to be sceptical about the 64 percent figure.

We don’t know the true amount Scotland exports to the UK as the treasury doesn’t actually have any official figures for internal trade. It is just not a practicable measure. The 64 percent figure comes from the Global Connections Survey and these figures have to be taken with a pinch of salt as many companies will fail to fill in the form correctly.

The report itself acknowledges:

Forty one companies mentioned how difficult it was to split Scottish sales from UK sales, typically citing accounting practices which meant companies produce consolidated UK annual accounts.

A good example of how hard it is to get these figures correct was explained to me on another forum. Just imagine the problem an accountant may have deciphering the following scenarios:

If you run a hotel in Edinburgh and lease a room to someone coming from Liverpool, does that count as a transfer of money from rUK into Scotland? If you run a haulage company in Manchester and buy fuel in Falkirk does that count? If you produce goods in Edinburgh then ship them to France via an English haulage company and through an English port then how does the profit break down? What happens if a company in Dundee create something but the final packaging and shipping to customers happens in England? Say you run a business in Glasgow but the registered office is still your old address in Bristol?

As it is not a legal requirement to record Scottish exports, as there is much confusion in what would constitute a Scottish export and as the stats are collected via a survey that is not mandatory, then the 64 percent figure is likely to be wrong. It is also important to note that oil and gas export figures are marked down as UK exports and not Scottish exports.

However, lets say that the figure is 64 percent. Probably the best counter argument is to say that this figure will continue to be the same after independence. This is because it is highly unlikely that the EU and the UK will impose any trade barriers on each other as it would be damaging to both parties. This would mean that an independent Scotland would, if sense prevails, have no barriers with a post Brexit UK. There should also still be free movement of people, as the Prime Minister has already committed to free movement between Ireland and Northern Ireland post Brexit. There is no good reason why this same commitment should not be made with Scotland.

Also, the fear-mongering around trade is similar to the fear-mongering surrounding GERS. If the figures are correct they show a Scotland, which is still part of the UK, not trading as much with the EU as we should be given the size of the EU market. Just like the GER’s figures they show a failure of the UK, who control trade, to deliver prosperity outside of the London and the South. They don’t demonstrate an impediment to independence. A Scotland in control of its own affairs would have the power to improve its position with regard to trade.

Of course, there is an outside chance that there will be a hard Brexit and there will be a hard border, customs posts, tariffs and other barriers to trade. However, if this happens we would need to ask ourselves if we really want to be a part of a UK that would inflict such great damage on itself? In fact the scenario where this happens is better for Scottish independence as this is the exact nightmare scenario that Remain voters feared. It would surely be a catalyst for independence, giving Scotland an opportunity to attract lots of Southern based businesses that currently take advantage of being in the single market.

So, to summarise, we don’t know the true trade figure but that figure is unlikely to change much and in the doomsday scenario that it does, the prognosis is actually better for nationalists.

If you have any additional thoughts on Scotland’s exports to the UK the we would love the hear them below.

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23 Comments on "But the UK is our biggest export partner!"

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Gerald Keogh

No matter how much they try to convince us that we are BETTER TOGETHER the more I take it with a pinch of salt. For decades they have LIED, CHEATED, and ROBBED us many times over. They try to treat Scotland like a beast of burden to do as they think fit mainly for their own ill gotten gains. Make no mistake about THEM they believe that they are superior in every way and look on us at best as serfs, and this has been the case from the inception of the UNION.

John Gray

I totally agree, if we’re the burden they say we are, they would have given us independence years ago.
As to losing England as a “Market” I think it would be the total opposite, that English firms would be happy to move north, just to stay in the EU single market, when we get independence!

John Hay

I am trying to figure out this too. If Scottish exports travel outside the UK from an English port does this then add to the additional balance of payments to the English export trade .


A lot of our “exports to England” end up getting exported again out of a southern port as part of England’s exports.

Some of the salmon farms are registered in England I know because I worked for one for almost a year.I do know that we are net exporters of food,and England net importers,they need our produce and have done since 1707,that was another reason for the desperation to force a union upon us,the peasantry were starving in England and they might have revolted thus ending the privileged way of life for those in charge.We send fish from the here to Billingsgate and they sell it onto Spain,things like velvet crabs crayfish and lobster very popular on the continental mainland,sales of venison… Read more »
Norman Stewart

I would pay good money to get to the truth of this, and like many I wonder how much raw produce is sent down to England repackaged, made into pies and suchlike and then exported out of England as an addition to the English balance of payments.

Anne Hilditch
I wonder if you can answer this question for me. If there is a ‘hard’ Brexit with trade deals and tariffs between an independent Scotland and RUK, the presumption would be that less Scottish products would be bought by RUK because they would be more expensive. However, RUK would have to agree trade deals with all other non EU countries. Would it be correct to assume that these trade deals would be more detrimental than the ones that Scotland would have with these countries, since we would be in the EU which has more economic muscle for negotiations. My point… Read more »
Even if there is going to be a “hard border” between England and Scotland, I think that its potential Impact is overplayed for two reasons: 1) there is now technology in normal operation which would minimise delays — both by entering delivery notes into a Customs database before a cross-border trip and linking this to the number plate of the lorry carrying the delivery, whose number plate can be read automatically while passing the border. Thus only spot checks would be needed by customs. The same could be achieved for passanger traffic along the lines of what in the meantime… Read more »
zen broon

Even given the dodgy figures, the lack of market diversity suggests gross mismanagement of the Scottish economy over many generations.
Now who is accountable for that?

Russell Hamilton
Don’t forget the stolen oil rigs which were moved into English waters. In 1999 Tony Blair, abetted by Donald Dewar, redrew the existing English/Scottish maritime boundary to annex 6,000 square miles of Scottish waters to England, including the Argyll field and six other major oilfields. This oil now goes straight into the southern coffers. Or how about Trident. Back in the 80’s the MOD carried out tests off the west coast of Scotland. They found large quantities of oil. So what did they do? They hid the report!! Why? To allow Trident access to it’s base. That oil is still… Read more »

I doubt there would be tariffs between Scotland and rUK, the big difference would be trading across the border if an Indy Scotland no longer used GBP.

Alastair Wright

Actually when businesses complete their corporate tax return they are required to enter the monitary value or % of goods sold in Scotland, rUK, EU and rest of the world. So the figures exist.


It’s a bloody disgrace that so many people get away with using these figures like they are actually true.

Florence Roberts

Doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.


If we stopped oil exports to ruk tomorrow would they be able to keep the lights on?

Gordon Ross

Among other things, Scotland exports electricity, food and water to the rUK. Are they going to sit in the dark stinking and starving just to spite us?