STUDYING the dramatic movements in Scotland’s economic output amid the coronavirus pandemic and associated implementation and lifting of lockdown measures, what is striking is the similarity to the pattern in the UK as a whole.

And, while this reality should not really be hugely unexpected given how closely interlinked the economies are, it might well come as a surprise to many, given dramatically overblown warnings about a much-greater impact on the Scottish economy from a more cautious approach towards restrictions north of the Border.

Some people no doubt held a genuine belief that Scotland’s economy would suffer far more than that in the UK as a whole from the generally more cautious and steady approach to suppressing coronavirus. However, it was difficult to escape the impression that others who warned of doom might have been mischief-making for political reasons in these febrile times.

Whatever the case, from some of the narrative that was going around, the public could have been forgiven for thinking at times last year that the majority of Scotland’s economy had been shut down.

It is easy to understand why people might form this view of course, with lockdowns in Scotland and crucially also it must be emphasised in the UK as a whole having seen protracted closures of key consumer-facing sectors such as hospitality and tourism, and retail. International travel has also been hammered by the pandemic.

Large parts of the economy were shut down last spring, and through much of the winter, although key sectors such as construction and non-essential manufacturing that were affected heavily in the first lockdown did not face a repeat of this situation. The numbers being supported by the coronavirus job retention scheme in the spring and summer of last year were jaw-dropping, with 8.9 million jobs on furlough on May 8, 2020. They remain very high but far, far lower than they were. Figures published last week by the Office for National Statistics showed the proportion of the workforce of all UK businesses, excluding those that permanently ceased trading, on furlough has decreased to 7%, around 1.8 million people. The ONS noted this was the lowest level reported since this data series began in June 2020. However, the latest numbers nevertheless highlight the huge challenges remaining.

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It is important to realise that, while large parts of the economy were closed during lockdowns, much of the services sector, including financial, business and professional services, continued to operate, albeit with a shift to remote working. So did the sizeable public sector, in Scotland and the UK as a whole. Food retailing remained open. So did essential manufacturing, including food and medical-related production. Agriculture continued. And non-essential manufacturing and construction have overall been operating fairly normally in Scotland since coming back from the suspension of activity during the first lockdown.

Much of this activity is obviously not really seen by many, many people on a day-to-day basis, whereas the grim effects of the lockdown measures needed to save many thousands of lives on the likes of hospitality and retail businesses have been plain for all to see.

Highlighting the misconception that more of the economy was shut down than was the case is not to in any way try to diminish the massive problems created by lockdown measures and restrictions for the likes of retail and hospitality businesses, or for travel agents, holiday companies, airlines and airports, and many others.

These troubles have been huge, and in many cases remain so for the businesses such as hospitality operators which have been able to reopen but at reduced capacity and in many cases with massive debts. And those operating in the international travel sector, and the likes of nightclub and live-music venues, continue to face massive challenges given ongoing restrictions. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday signalled a three-week delay to the proposed move of Scotland to Level Zero, beyond the previously planned June 28 date.

The Scottish Government has taken a more cautious approach to lockdown restrictions at many key points of the pandemic. In terms of anticipating the impact of this on economic output, it could be looked at in two ways. The one which was seized upon by political opponents was that this caution would mean Scotland would bear a far, far greater economic cost. There was another way of looking at it though, which was that a more gradual and considered approach, while resulting in measures which understandably caused massive frustration for businesses desperate to be able to operate even at least partially at various stages, produced policy that has been less volatile.

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The UK Government has tended to pitch more dramatically in an English context from full lockdown to bold talk of reopening and has at points then suddenly had to reimpose draconian restrictions to control the virus. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s June 21 date for the removal of “all legal limits on social contact” in England has now turned out not only to be a bold claim, but unachievable, which is no surprise at all given the track record. This date has now been put back, with Mr Johnson now signalling plans for this unlocking to occur on July 19. Remember the drive in England to get people back into offices last summer as the second wave of coronavirus was building in Europe? This had to be abandoned swiftly as Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were overtaken by a reality which had long been apparent to many others.

Different approaches or not, however, at times the narrative around Scottish restrictions being much, much more draconian than those in England has been an exaggeration of the reality. At points through the second lockdown, it appeared that some people in Scotland were keen to paint a picture that there were far fewer restrictions south of the Border, when it was locked down fully as well.

Given all of the noise, the similarity of the Scottish and UK gross domestic product movements, and of the projections of what will happen from here, is certainly remarkable, even if it is not that surprising to experts. And it is particularly remarkable given just how close not only the paths or patterns but the precise percentage movements are, given extreme volatility and the fact that even in usual times there is some degree of divergence depending on what is going on.

The official figures show the Scottish economy declined by 9.6% last year, a precipitous drop but actually very marginally less-bad than a 9.8% decline in the UK as a whole.

This is not to try to make a big deal of a 0.2 percentage-point difference – rather it is to emphasise the overall economic effect of the coronavirus crisis has been broadly the same as in the UK as a whole, which suffered its biggest drop in GDP for more than 300 years.

Meanwhile, after a difficult first quarter which looks to have seen Scottish and UK GDP fall significantly, recent surveys signal both are bouncing back strongly with the easing of restrictions.

The latest Royal Bank of Scotland purchasing managers’ index (PMI) report, published on Monday, showed an acceleration of growth in combined manufacturing and services output in Scotland to the fastest pace since comparable records began in 1998. This put Scotland ahead of London, the East Midlands, and Northern Ireland in terms of its rate of growth, but behind Wales and other English regions.

On the forward-looking view, Scotland was roughly in the middle of the pack when it came to companies’ optimism about the prospects for increased activity on a 12-month horizon.

Continuing on the theme of similarity, accountancy firm KPMG earlier this month projected broadly similar growth for the Scottish and UK economies this year and in 2022.

It forecast Scottish GDP growth would be only marginally behind that in the UK as a whole in 2021, at 6.4% versus 6.6%, and in 2022, at 5.2% against 5.4%.

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KPMG forecast that growth in Scotland this year would be underpinned by strength in the manufacturing, and oil and gas sectors, with global crude prices having rebounded strongly.

And it highlighted the Scottish financial and business services sector as a key contributor to GDP growth in the long term. In this context, it flagged “the relative lesser impact of Brexit on Scotland’s financial services sector compared to London” as “an important factor”.

So, as recovery progresses, there are reasons to be optimistic.

However, there are also huge challenges ahead, not least a predicted surge in insolvencies among those businesses hammered by the pandemic.

Highlighting the similarities in the Scottish and UK economic performance, and in recent and projected further recovery, is not to understate the huge impact on businesses from coronavirus-related restrictions north of the Border (or indeed in the UK as a whole).

It is just that it seems important to bear in mind the context that, while measures north of the Border have sometimes been more cautious, the overall economic impact of restrictions put in place to save lives was very similar in Scotland and the UK as a whole last year. And projected recovery over this year and next is expected to be broadly the same.

This is in spite of all the faithfully delivered warnings, and on occasion mischief-making, about Scotland suffering hugely disproportionately as a result of its cautious approach, and pictures painted about much more of the economy being shut down than was actually the case.