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6 May 2015

Three charts that show that Scotland should stop whining

Scotland, after London, is the biggest winner from our current political arrangements. Forget stronger for Scotland, where's Yorkshire's voice?

By Jonn Elledge

Underlying both last year’s Scottish referendum, and the surge in SNP support that’s come since, there’s been a feeling that the country is getting a raw deal. Scotland, the nationalists argue, has been forgotten by a Westminster government that struggles to see beyond the M25. Scotland feels unloved.

This is an argument that seems to ignore the fact that the last Chancellor of the Exchequer was Scottish, the last prime minister was Scottish, and the one before that was half-Scottish, too. But nonetheless, it’s an inescapable fact that London dominates the UK to a quite horrific extent, and its ability to suck in wealth and people from elsewhere in the county and turn them into higher house prices should be a source of concern to all of us. The case for rebalancing the distribution of money and power in this country away from the capital is a pretty strong one.  

But it’s not clear that Scotland has been the main victim of this trend. Compared to other regions, in fact, Scotland has done, er, pretty well, actually.

For one thing, it’s richer than most other regions. This chart shows the per capital gross value add (GVA), one measure of the size of a region’s economy. 

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Scotland isn’t as rich as London or parts of its orbit, no. But it’s richer than the entire rest of the country. (This graph excludes oil and gas revenues, incidentally, so if anything it understates quite well Scotland is doing. Allocate those to Scotland, and the country’s performance is about 23 per cent better.)

Scotland does rather well out of the Treasury, too – better than anywhere other than Northern Ireland. 

You’d expect a more rural region to need higher spending per head, but nonetheless.

And, despite having its own parliament, Scotland still has better representation at Westminster than many other parts of the UK. 

This graph looks at the number of MPs each region has, and the share of the UK population it contained at the time of the 2011 census. The regions on the left are over represented in the House of Commons; those on the right are under represented. Look where Scotland is.

The SNP line of late has been that Scotland needs a strong voice to represent its interests at Westminster. Fair enough, you can see why it’d be an attractive pitch.

But it’s really quite hard to find a measure on which it’s getting a raw deal now. Scotland is rich, and well-represented, and relatively speaking awash in public spending. It may not feel like it sometimes, on the streets of Glasgow or Dundee; but Scotland is doing alright.

All of which raises the question – when the SNP appear in national debates demanding a better settlement, then why isn’t anyone making the same case for the the north east of England, say? London’s dominance is a problem. But Scotland is far from its biggest victim.