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Today, we have had a robust, lively and generally constructive debate on the fundamental need to have a strong economy to support our public services. I thank the cabinet secretary, Keith Brown—I also congratulate him on his appointment—for bringing such an important motion to the chamber early in the parliamentary session.
Earlier today, Mr Brown and I had a very constructive meeting to discuss the agenda that we share on having a constructive dialogue to promote the Scottish economy. The Conservative Party said during our election campaign that we would be not only a strong Opposition, but a constructive one, that would suggest constructive policies when we think that they will help public services and the Scottish economy. On the central theme of the cabinet secretary’s motion, it is very clear from the debate today that the Parliament acknowledges the importance of a strong economy in supporting public services in Scotland.
I would like to congratulate all the new members who made excellent first speeches, including—forgive me if I miss anyone—Rhoda Grant, Ruth Maguire, Kate Forbes, Colin Smyth, Alison Harris, Jamie Green and Rachael Hamilton. My notes also say Murdo Fraser, but I am sure that that must be a mistake.
Let me outline what our priorities will be for the Scottish economy. We will address the challenges that we believe the Scottish economy faces. Over the past five years, the economy in Scotland has expanded by just 1.4 per cent compared with 2.1 per cent across the UK, so the Scottish economy is underperforming, which has an impact on what we can spend through public expenditure. Unemployment in Scotland is higher than that in the UK: it is currently 6.2 per cent compared with 5 per cent in the rest of the UK.
The latest economic figures show that for the past nine months, the Scottish economy has come very dangerously close to being in recession. We all know about the problems of the North Sea in respect of the oil price. Last year, for the first time ever, the North Sea oil industry made a negative contribution to the economy—the cost of tax incentives was greater than revenues from the North Sea. I am sure that all members feel for the families who have lost jobs and have suffered as a result of the problems that are being experienced in the North Sea.
I will now summarise some of the constructive policies that I said we would bring to the table. Reduction of corporation tax to 17 per cent would make the UK one of the most competitive economies in the world in that regard. The UK is now the fifth-largest economy in the world—we overtook France two years ago—because of the dynamic policies that the Conservatives have implemented. We in Scotland get the benefit of that through some Barnett consequentials—