By Margaret Cuthbert

A RECENT edition of the Sunday Herald featured an article on the move by the SNP Growth Commission towards considering New Zealand rather than Norway, or any other country, as an economic model for an independent Scotland.

The same issue included an article by Iain Macwhirter which noted the neoliberal and laissez-faire management of the New Zealand economy which could badly affect support for Scottish independence. Both articles can only be described as welcome reporting, and as such they require further attention: both raise serious issues which need to be addressed whether one supports Scottish independence or not.

But before we can make any serious assessment about which economic models could work in the future, in Scotland we need to start with some hard work to understand the state we are in, the worse state we are getting into, and what the Scottish Government is doing about it. What we need is hard data, and this is where it all falls down.

For example, it’s important to understand the power held by central and local government in Scotland, and their ability – or inability, due to the power Westminster still holds in much of these areas - to change things.

It’s also important to explore which Scottish Government policies have and haven’t been working in the last 10 years, and the effect recent decisions are likely to have. These include a cack-handed fiscal settlement agreed by the SNP government with Westminster; a ridiculous water charging policy that is overcharging today’s consumers and impacting badly on business and on customers who are struggling to make ends meet; and the continuing use of public-private partnerships (PPP).

All of these issues have been examined by economist Jim Cuthbert, published and presented to the Scottish Government. All results have been based on data, as opposed to government surmise, and they suggest that Scotland is now suffering as a result of this government’s actions. On top of this lies the effect that Brexit might have on the Scottish economy and our apparent inability to make any fundamental difference to the UK decision to leave the EU.

Once we have explored these issues thoroughly it will become much easier to map a way forward, but if we cannot find the information that we need in order to do this then major questions need to be asked of a system in Scotland that prevents the ordinary citizen being able to understand what is going on. The recent revelation that the SNP had indeed been in contact with data-grabbing firm Cambridge Analytica despite initial attempts to avoid the issue, is just another indication of the secrecy and obfuscation that is now common, for example.

Rather than addressing these issues, the Scottish Government is now treating us as simpletons. We are led on their website to the latest cringing, bold-headlined performance indicators and direction of travel arrows, which mean nothing to most people. A bit of groundwork can lead one to some of the detail on important statistics, but these do not cover the work of the quangos and the arms length bodies subsequently created by them. Indeed, the latter are not even covered by Freedom of Information.

Also needed is an assessment of the swathe of inaction from a government in Scotland interested in independence and trying to make a case for it. Many people in Scotland are keen on returning to an independent state. They deserve not to be sold short. Just a few of the areas in Scotland requiring serious research include land reform; fisheries; an integrated approach both to tourism and to transport; timely information on exports and imports and businesses; and the funding and support for technical studies and research as used to be carried out by polytechnics.

But no serious research can be carried out without a good, timely, set of data. It is not enough for the Scottish Government and its quangos to have wish lists of what they are planning to do. We need hard facts on what the projects are, what data is collected on them, and what the final evaluation is, with the data provided substantiating the assessment. Performance indicators and direction of travel arrows are infantile and worthy of the scrap heap.

At present, there is a level of obfuscation and lack of freedom of information in a number of areas, which is unworthy for a proud democracy. A study of responses from heads of quangos, such as Scottish Enterprise, at parliamentary committees shows the lack of respect these bodies can have for the Parliament, and also the inbuilt weakness of the committee system in holding the government to account. I am still waiting for a breakdown of money spent on exports and Foreign Direct Investment promised by the then head of Scottish Enterprise to the relevant committee two years ago – it was not provided at the time although it must have been known that such an obvious question would be asked.

If some of these problems were addressed we could move towards helping local business growth, tackling the diversity of jobs and opportunity, and ensuring a good distribution of employment and business in all parts of Scotland. There is plenty hard work to be done here in Scotland without embarking on fanciful mind maps covering other neoliberal countries around the world.

It is time for change, and hopefully, after a good start, the Sunday Herald will rise to the challenge and encourage its readership to become actively involved in seeking answers.


After working in industry and in a number of universities in Scotland, Margaret Cuthbert worked as a consultant on economic growth. As well as working in the OECD in Paris, she became a member of the World Expert Group on purchasing power parities. Her work and that of Jim Cuthbert on the Scottish economy can be found at