No matter the political situation, it's always the economics that triumphs in the end. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The best currency for an independent Scotland would be Norway’s kronor

If Scotland votes for independence, it will create a completely different economic context for the two new countries that emerge.

Scotland’s referendum debate has so far centred mainly on practical issues and medium-term choices like currency, new entities' share of public debt, and membership of the EU.

Far less has been said about how the different players influenced by the outcome will be affected in the longer term. It is well worth considering how independence would eventually affect the Scottish and UK economies, particularly in relation to North Sea oil. The reality is that this constitutional change could alter the macroeconomic foundations of the political map of Europe.

Aside from the UK, Norway and Denmark are the two other countries which now explore the North Sea. In 2013 the total proportions of North Sea oil produced by these three countries were 27%, 66% and 7% of the total respectively. By my estimates, Denmark’s oil sector provided around 5% of the country’s GDP, once you include petroleum production and dependent industries such as petroleum services, pipelines, refineries and so forth. For the UK it was somewhere approaching 20%, while for Norway it was 23%.

Oil and European integration

There is a strong correlation between these oil sector figures and each country’s economic and political choices. Norway stays out of both the EU and European monetary union. It has its own independent currency, whose rate of exchange is determined by the market.

At the other end of the spectrum Denmark is a member of the EU and is part of European Exchange Mechanism II (ERM II). The Danish krone’s exchange rate is tied to the euro, making it practically another form of euro. The UK is in the middle: a member of the EU but not in ERM II or the euro.

If Scotland votes for independence, it will create a completely different economic context for the two new countries that emerge. This new macroeconomic framework will work against the currently declared goals of both countries' governments.

The economy of an independent Scotland would of course be much smaller than the economy of the new UK. This means that with the same absolute oil extraction, you can estimate that the sector would contribute more than one-third of Scotland’s GDP. In the new smaller UK, on the other hand, it would only contribute something like 1% (coming from the mainly gas fields off east England).

Future choices for Scotland and the UK

This suggests that it would suit the two countries to make completely different economic and political choices. If North Sea oil dominates the Scottish economy to an even greater degree than in the case of Norway, it would suggest that it would be even less inclined towards the EU and euro than the latter country.

The logic behind this point is that oil changes the economic cycle of a country. The easiest way to think about this is to reflect on the effect of the oil price. If the oil price is high, a country that heavily relies on oil production does well and non-producers tend to do less well, because they are paying higher prices for their fuel. When oil prices are low, this reverses.

Anyone who had a passing interest in the eurozone crisis will know that the problems between the Mediterranean periphery countries and their northern neighbours were partly caused by the fact that they needed different levels of interest rates to suit their economies. An independent Scotland would suffer a similar fate, albeit for different reasons. The more that oil dominates an economy, the less well suited it is to European integration.

For the same reason, the rest of the UK would be inclined much more towards these European institutions than beforehand. The Danish experience suggests that it might lead not only to membership of ERM II but also even to adoption of the euro.

In turn, this would also lead to changes in the EU. The sheer size of the new UK would enhance the core of EU international member states, greatly increasing GDP for example. At the same time, the relative strength of socialist-inclined France would be reduced, raising the prospect of a more Atlanticist free-market approach to European unification.

On the other hand, Scotland and Norway would be naturally pushed closer to each other. They might be joined by Sweden and Iceland – Iceland and Norway share fishing interests, while Sweden and Norway’s economies are closely aligned. This could lead to much closer political co-operation between these countries, plus a kind of monetary co-ordination, if not monetary union.

Some might dismiss these arguments, pointing out that Scotland has aspirations towards the EU and that England is increasingly eurosceptic. But such people should remember the example of the UK’s brief membership in the first European Exchange Mechanism in 1990-91. The lesson was that no matter the political will, the economics will be fundamental in determining how situation evolves.

In view of these observations, it is hard not to reach several final conclusions. The Scots are not making a choice in September that is fully informed in economic terms. And the UK and EU do not seem to be fully aware of the possible long-term consequences either.

The ConversationPiotr Marek Jaworski does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Show Hide image

Young voters lost the referendum but they still deserve a future

It's time to stop sneering at "crap towns" and turn them into places young people want to stay. 

What a horror show. A land-slide 75 per cent of young people voted in favour of Europe. The greater numbers of the over 65s met that force with 61 per cent against. Possibly the greatest divide in our country turned out to be not gender, not race, not even party politics, but age. The old and the young faced off about how to run our country, and the young lost. 
 
What have we done to our future? Well, whatever happens now, leadership is required. We can’t afford to have the terms of the debate dictated by Brexiters who looked as shocked at the mess they have made as Stronger-Inners are distraught. We can’t afford to wallow either. Young people across this country today are feeling worried and let down – failed by all of us - because when their future was on the line, we were unable to secure it. We – those who believe we achieve more by our common endeavour - all feel that deep worry, and all share in that shame.

How we should all rue the choice not to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote. And quickly re-ignite the campaign for votes at 16.

But young people don’t need our worry or our pity or our shame. They need a better chance and we need to give them one. I believe passionately that the future for this country was as a leader in Europe, but that does not mean we give up on our future now. For Labour, the challenge now is to work out how we can build a better future for all our people and communities. The sky has not fallen. The UK is still a rich country.

Beat recession with better housing

Let’s start with housing and development. It is no longer good enough to simply set targets with no possibility of meeting them. The housing crunch has killed off the chance of owning a home for many young people, and left thousands at the mercy of cripplingly expensive rent.  The housing market is broken and we need to build much faster in high growth areas like London and Manchester at the same time investing in restoring low quality housing in our northern towns, in Scotland, Wales and in Northern Ireland. 

In policy terms, we should be asking the Local Government Association, the Infrastructure Commission, and the construction industry itself, to collaborate on a counter-Brexit house building plan with a focus on areas where there is a clear market failure. We could get a champion of industry and construction such as my old Network Rail boss, Sir John Armitt, to be in charge, and lead a national mission to build and rebuild homes.

In the last parliament, Osborne first tried the "tighten our belts" approach to speeding up growth. He failed, and then tried plan B: investment for growth. Now we have the possibility of another recession on the cards and may well need to use investment to stop our economy grinding to a halt. Now - or possibly sooner - would be an excellent time for a national building project like this housing plan.

Stop sneering at "crap towns"

On economic development, it is clear that Labour needs a strategy for giving our northern towns an economic future and linking them up with the modern economy. When cities grow, and towns fall behind, those towns are a breeding ground for frustration. This is not just about cuts, it is about the uneven distribution of the benefits of globalisation. The Brexit vote was centred around areas that justifiably feel they have lost from the last decades. We need to make sure they win from the years ahead.

For far too long, there has been a sneering "crap towns" attitude. These places can offer good housing, community, and a decent life. But the problem there is work. In many of our towns, there is too little to do that can offer a young person a career tomorrow as well as a shift today.

Because, as it happens, the biggest driver of low pay tends to be skill level, not immigration. 

Teach the skills we need

Of course we should stop exploitation of migrant workers who undercut others. Let's tell firms that use exploitative agencies they can't work for the Government. But you can’t raise wages without changing the structure of the labour market. It’s not just about replacing one set of workers with another - you have to raise the level of wages that those workers can command. Because the truth about work in too many places is that most of the jobs available are either those with the low status of care work (though it may be highly-skilled work), or industries with a high volume of low-skilled work such as retail and hospitality. But from there, there’s nothing to move on to. The brain drain to cities has consequences.

Leaving Europe will shut off economic opportunity across the country to many young people.  Frankly, we owe it to them to work like demons to offer them something better closer to home.

We need a social partnership for skills and work. The Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress working together to deliver an urgent plan for training and career progression in the towns with stagnant labour markets and low skills. We need to find a way to stop the brain drain that sucks the talent out of the places that need it the most, using the experience of programmes like Teach First. When the best people feel they have no reason to return to where they grow up, it is both a sign of a deep problem and also demoralising evidence of decline for those left behind.

And our new metro-mayors must pay as much attention to the towns in their region as well as the city centre. No one left out, no one’s local shops lying empty whilst a city down the road flourishes. And no schools failing, either.

It is undeniable that people voted for change in the referendum. The problem is that the change they voted for will do little to solve the problems they face. Labour’s role is not just to point this out, but to offer a vision of real meaningful change. 

Not easy, perhaps. But one thing is for certain, mouthing platitudes about "hearing concerns"and offering only symbolic gestures has been tested to destruction. People deserve better and we need to offer it to them.

Alison McGovern is the Labour MP for Wirral South

Alison McGovern is Labour MP for Wirral South.