Economic Strategy

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 8th February 2005.

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Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), Spokesperson (Constitutional Affairs; Treasury), Leader, Scottish National Party

Has the Secretary of State seen the "Index of Success", published by the Federation of Small Businesses and prepared by Mr. John McLaren, the Labour party's former economic adviser? It shows Scotland as 10th out of 10 of the small countries in the survey, behind Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand, Austria, Denmark and Ireland. With the Tories saying that Scotland is unattractive and the Labour party's former economic adviser saying that we are bottom of the league, what is it about those other countries that makes them so successful—except that they are independent and Scotland is not?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

As ever, the hon. Gentleman might do better to look at the detail of the report instead of making the usual wide-ranging assertions that do not bear close examination. That survey showed that Scotland has many good and attractive aspects, which is why, with the rest of the United Kingdom, it is enjoying a long period of sustained economic growth and low unemployment.

One point that the FSB report highlights, and the main factor that is holding Scotland back, is its poor health record. That is why the Scottish Executive is putting substantial sums into health and making the necessary reforms to improve our health. That is important.

Yesterday, the hon. Gentleman claimed that he could set up some sort of fund to support Scotland from North sea oil.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

The hon. Gentleman says, "Like Norway," but I am wondering what sort of fund it would be when it would have an annual shortfall of more than £4 billion, even if every single penny of North sea oil revenue were allocated to Scotland, which would be unlikely. [Interruption.] The fact is that the hon. Gentleman's economics do not add up. They did not add up when he was leader previously, and they do not add up now.

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Labour, Airdrie and Shotts

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is strange that those who purport to speak for Scotland spend their time talking it down? Rather, they should recognise the extent to which men and women in both the public and the private sector have succeeded in building a Scotland that can look forward to the future with confidence. Those who talk down Scotland talk down Scotland's people.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

My right hon. Friend is right. The fact is that nationalist policies failed and were rejected by the electorate on each and every occasion when the hon. Gentleman led his party previously, and they will be rejected when he next leads it into an election. When people look around Scotland they see economic success, more people in work, more businesses, and expansion across the board because of the economic policies that are good not just for Scotland, but for the whole of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr Peter Duncan Mr Peter Duncan Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

The Secretary of State implores us to look at the detail, but that shows Scotland's relegation to 36th in the world league for competitiveness. Is he proud of that record in government?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

If the hon. Gentleman looks at all the recent economic surveys of Scotland and the United Kingdom, he will see that they universally recognise Scotland as a good place in which to do business. When he comes to the Dispatch Box and looks over his shoulder to see all of two Conservative Members sitting in the Chamber today, he may want to reflect that part of his problem is the Conservatives' attitude to Scotland. Yesterday morning, his prominent Front-Bench colleague said on the radio:

"The problem in Scotland has absolutely nothing to do with immigration levels, I'm afraid it has to do with the fact that Scotland is not a very attractive place for people to come and settle."

Does that not speak volumes about just how out of touch the Conservative party is with Scotland?

Photo of Mr Peter Duncan Mr Peter Duncan Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

The simple fact is that Scotland's economy is not attracting or retaining the very best. The figures are indisputable, with gross domestic product growth consistently lagging behind the rest of the UK, at some 7 per cent. since 1995, business start-ups at only three quarters of the UK level, and manufacturing export levels continuing their seeming decline. What more will the Government do to redress that decline, and when will they sit up and take notice?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Rather like the hon. Gentleman who speaks for the nationalists, the hon. Gentleman who speaks for the Conservatives is selective in the statistics that he quotes. I notice that he did not actually repudiate what his Front-Bench colleague said yesterday—that the Tories believe that Scotland is not a very attractive place for people to go and live in. What about the fact that we are home to one of the biggest banks in the world? The Royal Bank of Scotland is building brand-new headquarters just outside Edinburgh, and we are home to numerous other financial institutions that are doing well, such as the Halifax Bank of Scotland. Even in manufacturing, where, yes, there have been difficulties because of the difficulties that face the electronics industry worldwide, there are successes to which we can point. The fact is that Scotland is now a very different place from the Scotland of the 1980s and 1990s, when there was record unemployment and a second generation of people were growing up with no work. The other thing that the hon. Gentleman should focus on is that the policies he advocates—£35 billion-worth of public spending cuts, with all the economic instability that would result—would take Scotland back to the past. No wonder the Conservatives are completely out of touch with modern Scotland. On present form, they are likely to remain that way for years to come.