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A Trading Nation

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 30th May 2019.

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Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

No. I have already had a mini-speech from the minister in the middle of my speech, so I will not take any more interventions. There is huge untapped potential, but I am not convinced that the Scottish Government understands what it needs to do to stimulate an increase in exporting. I fear that the strategy, like its predecessor, is a high-level strategy with a set of targets, but the outcome will be disappointing.

Of course I welcome the expansion of trade envoys, the better use of the global Scot network and better working with the Department for International Trade. Taking a more specific sectoral approach is good, but we need to recognise that exporting is concentrated in a small number of sectors and businesses. We trade to a small number of markets and Scotland’s exports are much lower than those of comparable countries in the EU.

The majority of Scotland’s exports go to the rest of the UK—that is not a surprise, as countries across the world tend to trade with their nearest neighbours more than they do with anyone else. Sixty per cent of our exports go to the rest of the UK and 40 per cent to the rest of the world, so members might wonder what specific measures the Scottish Government is taking to boost trade to the rest of the UK.

Let me give the chamber a flavour of what is to come. It all starts and ends with the SNP’s obsession with independence. Pursuing an economically illiterate policy of independence will create huge uncertainty for business and the economy. Breaking up the UK single market and putting up barriers to trade will create huge obstacles for exports. Let us not forget the plans to change the currency. I remind the minister that the SNP conference said that that should happen “ immediately” rather than some time later. W e have the funny spectacle of Derek Mackay and now Ivan McKee falling over themselves to say how much they still want to use the pound, in effect ceding control to the Bank of England and the UK Government. They want independence, but not really, because they would have no control over their currency.

In concluding, I say to the minister, as gently as I can, that I agree with him about the uncertainty that Brexit causes businesses in Scotland but that the arguments that he and his party use about Brexit are the very ones that emphasise the uncertainty for businesses of independence. The message from business is simple: keep the focus on exports, not the constitution—that is what the economy and the country need.