On 28 January 2015, there was good and not so good news to be had from the statistics published by the Scottish Government. These showed that the Index of Manufactured Exports had grown by 1.8 per cent during the third quarter of 2014. On a rolling-annual basis however, comparing the latest four quarters to the previous four quarters there had been a fall of 0.5 per cent and the Volume Index creeping up to 99.7 had still failed to surpass 2011's measure of 100.
The (Seasonally Adjusted) Index scored 103.7 in 2011 Q1, 100.7 in Q2 of the same year, both well short of 2008 Q3 when the Index stood at 105.2. Most notably, the sector that has suffered a big fall over the longer term is Electrical & Instrument Engineering between 2007 when its index stood at 135.8 and the latest 2014 Q3 total of 86.7.
Boosting the quarterly figures however, the Refined Petroleum, Chemicals and Pharmaceutical Products (RPCPP) sector did particularly well with an 8.9 per cent rise and Textiles, Clothing and Leather increased by 9.6 per cent. Great to see that last category gain such an advance but no eureka moment for a road to recovery as the category now only has a 2.8 per cent weighting level in the tables – long gone the days when Textiles were King.
Disappointing was an overall fall of 1.1 per cent in Engineering and Allied Industries due to a 10.9 per cent tumble in Transport Equipment.
On an annual basis and helping to explain that poor 4Q-on-4Q drop, was a large decrease of 8.3 per cent in RPCPP and a little unexpected, the Food and Drink category slipping by 4.5 per cent. Together, these two sectors account for roughly a half of international manufactured exports from Scotland.
Holyrood on 26 January issued its Global Connections Survey 2014 which showed that £27.9 billion worth of Scottish goods and services, excluding oil and gas, were exported across the world in 2013. This was a solid rise of £1.9 billion (7.2 per cent) over the previous year. (2014 figures will be collected from mid-May 2015 until July and be published in January 2016).
As for Scotland's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), figures published on 21 January to end 2014 Q3 showed a growth of 0.6 per cent over the previous quarter. There was an unfortunate fall of 0.7 per cent in the Production sector matched by a nearly similar rise in services and it looks likely that Construction's 3.2 per cent expansion helped most in making Q3 a satisfactory one.
Comparing 2013 Q3 with 2014 Q3, the figures showed a respectable 3.0 per cent annual growth in the Scottish economy. Using the same quarters on an annual basis, this was better than the UK's as a whole which had risen by 2.6 per cent.
Final 2014 year figures are due to be published by Holyrood on 15 April.
In money terms, compiled for Scotland to end of 2014 Q2, the country's GDP was estimated at £132 billion for the onshore economy, approximately £24,700 per head of population. This figure increased to £134 billion (£25,000 per capita) using a Scottish population share basis when the offshore totals are included, and the figure the independence for Scotland supporters like: £150 billion (£28,100 per head) using an offshore geographical basis.
Although these figures are of recent compilation and publication, they are now historic and occurred during a period of high oil prices (>$100 per barrel) with business assumptions being made on little change. One headline of the Scottish Sunday Express in December, warned: "Scotland's oil industry 'close to collapse'" and is unsustainable at less than $60 per barrel. (The same article stated that the Scottish Government assumed a long-term price of around $113 per barrel).
Alarmist maybe but even if the worst happens, Scotland's economy has a diversity that, over time, would 'plug the gap'. Harder times are undoubtedly going to cast a giant shadow on those communities where oil and gas play a major role in the economy – like Aberdeen – and the Scottish government will hopefully act with prudence and caution.
Sadly, one piece of legislation passing through Holyrood at the moment with neither of these attributes and winning verbal criticisms of "Reckless", "Bizarre", "Misguided" and "Tax Dodgers's Charter", is a bill to bring an end to the collection of debts owed for non-payment of the Community Charge (aka Poll Tax) in Scotland.
The amount still owing is £425.3 million and will be "written off" with Scottish local authorities to receive £869,000 in compensation – little was being collected in recent years – and the authorities will be unable to pursue payment as of 01 February.
With a Scottish government able to pass legislation like this, maybe it's just as well that Scotland's economy is as diverse as it is!