LONDON: Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has told AFP in an interview that the economy can prosper outside the United Kingdom, despite dire warnings from London about the risks of independence.
Salmond insisted that Scotland’s “increasing profile internationally,” as a result of the calling of an independence referendum to take place in September 2014, had helped to attract foreign investment.
As Scotland gears up for the referendum campaign, the pro and anti camps are thrashing out what leaving the UK would mean for the Scottish economy.
Some analysts fear an independent Scotland would rely too heavily on its offshore oil industry, while its banking sector took a huge hit in the financial crisis.
British finance minister George Osborne warned last month that an independent Scotland would sacrifice control over much of its economy if it continued to use the pound sterling. Osborne also cautioned that the uncertainty over Scotland’s future was hitting foreign investment.
The man leading the independence drive scathingly dismissed the comments, arguing that Scotland’s growing profile in its own right was paying dividends.
“Scotland is having a lot of success with investment,” Salmond told AFP in a telephone interview.
“George Osborne came to Scotland about 18 months ago and said that he’d been speaking to people who were thinking about not investing in Scotland. Since then we’ve topped the league on inward investment in Europe, outpacing every other aspect of the UK, including London.”
He added, “If George Osborne tells you that the sky is blue, I’d have a look up and see if it is or not because anything he says, just do the opposite.”
Salmond, the 58-year-old leader of the centre-left Scottish National Party (SNP), said Scotland was increasingly seen as a destination for modern industries.
“What we’re actually finding is that Scotland’s increasing profile, internationally, is an advantage. People are often thinking about Scotland and certain investments for the first time.
“Once we get onto people’s radar, then we’ve got the international agencies which are controlled by the Scottish government which can offer people not just incentive packages but more importantly the skills they’re looking for to do the job.” Salmond said life sciences, energy and business outsourcing, in addition to financial asset management, “are our key growth areas and will continue to be so”.
Business outsourcing is “one of our big specialties,” he said, adding it was “entirely wrong” to think that was a glorified term for call centres.
“The skills that are deployed are quite different from that,” he said.
Salmond was speaking after French management services firm Webhelp TSC announced the creation of 400 new jobs, boosting their workforce in Scotland to 3,400.
While Scotland’s still considerable reserves of North Sea oil and gas were well known, Salmond said fewer people were aware of the rapid progress on renewable energy.
“We’re one of Europe’s leading renewable countries in terms of both our own conversion to renewable power but also our lead in offshore wind and wave and tidal technology which is very, very important for us for the future.”
Salmond said he was also proud of the “highly successful” life sciences and pharmaceuticals sector, with companies such as LifeScan, a Johnson and Johnson company, who now do all of their global research on diabetes in Scotland.
On September 18, 2014, Scottish voters will be asked the yes/no question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
Polls show that a majority of voters are currently opposed to independence. But Salmond argued that Scotland going alone was the logical economic choice.
“We control our economic strategy. What we don’t control just now is demand management in the economy – an economy in Scotland and the rest of the UK which is desperately suffering from a demand deficiency at the present moment and that’s a real problem,” he said.
“For all that, we now have lower unemployment than the UK as a whole.”
The Scottish economy grew by 0.5 per cent in the last quarter of 2012, while the British economy as a whole contracted by 0.3 per cent.
The SNP used to advocate joining the euro currency post-independence but now says continuing with sterling would be the “best starting point”.
“The euro is a less appealing prospect now because clearly the currency system has great difficulties, nor is it looking for any immediate entrance of new members – I think it’s having enough difficulty with the ones it’s got.
“For that reason sterling is our best option and that’s the one we’re pursuing,” Salmond said.