It gets you that way. You find yourself in a long Facebook natter and suddenly you realise there is a fact which doesn't often get highlighted in this “debate” about Scotland’s constitutional future. Oh yes, the Unionists aren't slow to drag the “oil is volatile and will cause you no end of confusion” card, and sadly many, many people pick this one up and run with it. It defines and confines the financial deliberation within heavily bordered limits. And this is precisely where Westminster wants this discussion to be kept.
Yet, there is not so much an elephant in the room but a small herd of elephants in the room. These are all of the companies currently manufacturing and exporting from Scotland and/or selling goods to the people in Scotland, but are head-quartered in England.
Currently, the majority of goods manufactured, grown, distilled or created in Scotland are exported via ports and airports in England. All taxation receipts from the following items such as airport fees, freight charges, fuel sales, VAT, applicable export levies and associated profits from these goods are then allocated as English income at the Treasury. The exact figures are hard to break down as they appear to be intentionally difficult to search or find in any of the Westminster governmental sites. For an example of a typically Scottish product regularly exported, in 2012 Whisky exports topped £4 billion. Approximately seventy-five percent of this is exported via English ports and allocated to the Treasury as English exports and income. This is also true of beef and other farm produce grown in Scotland, yet exported via ports down south. This can only be viewed as profits and tax receipts which should be credited to Scotland lost in a system set up to confuse and obfuscate.
Then we have the interesting situation of companies that sell goods and services in Scotland, but are head-quartered south of the border. With very few exceptions, it is only chains and stores with head offices in Scotland that record profits and VAT as being income from Scotland. The majority of companies which operate central offices in England pay their taxes and are shown as making profit in England – despite it being hard earned wages which gave them those profits and VAT receipts at tills in Aberdeen or Kilbirnie or Haddington.
We all need to eat, furnish our homes and wear clothes (well most folks do!). And many of us enjoy our electronic goods or buy home improvement items – you get the picture. We go to our local supermarket, DIY store, favourite clothes shops or electrical store and pay for all those things that make our lives viable and comfortable. Except, very few of these stores have a head office in Scotland.
As a way of explanation, allow me use one chain to give a small example.
Sainsbury: They have 1,016 stores throughout mainland UK, 60 of those are in Scotland – according to 2012 figures. This is roughly 6%. Until March of this year they took £2,329 Million in VAT. Roughly 6% of that or £140 Million was taken in Scottish stores. Under the current arrangement, ALL of that money is allocated as English income to reflect where Sainsbury have their HQ.
Now, imagine in an independent Scotland, that portion of VAT generated by us busily getting on with our daily lives, equipping our bellies, families and homes, going directly to Holyrood to be spent as needed on those things that we have deemed as important to us and our society – whether it’s infrastructure or social care. Sounds great doesn't it, but it’s “only” £140 Million, I hear someone mumble. However, you need to extrapolate this small amount over every company presently operating in Scotland under the current set-up.
What we have is a pile of money heading to Westminster and not really finding its way back to help those who spent it in the first place. Not only that, because it isn’t shown as being generated within Scotland, it helps to reinforce the “Too Poor” aspect of the Unionists argument. They can throw the volatility of North Sea Oil in our faces every other day, but they deliberately miss the point of other important, yet hidden aspects of the Scottish economy (e.g. £500 million in road taxes with associated fuel duties) which isn’t being allowed to show up for us in the “Books”.
How easily they can transform Scotland’s vibrant economy, created and supported by her hard working population, from energetic to appear poor and perhaps slightly quaint and backward.