SCOTLAND has increased its reliance on exporting to the rest of the UK, according to new official figures, leading to Unionist warnings about the risks of independence.

Scottish Government statistics show the proportion of Scottish exports going to the rest of the UK in 2019 increased from 59.4 to 59.8 per cent.

International exports fell as a proportion of the total, from 40.6 to 40.2%, and within these, exports to the EU fell from 19.1% of all exports to 18.8%.

Unionists said the numbers showed independence could “wreak huge economic damage” to Scotland by creating a trade border with its most lucrative export market. 

The SNP always cites the size of the overall European market as an argument in favour of leaving the UK and rejoining the EU.

However, while the EU may be seven times the size of the UK market in theory, in practice the UK is the destination for three times as many Scottish exports as the EU.

The latest figures show that in 2019, the value of Scotland’s exports increased by £3.6bn or 4.3% to £87.1billion.

Of this, the largest increase was in exports to the rest of the UK, up £2.5bn or 5% to £52bn.

International exports were up £1.1bn or 3.4% to £35.1bn, of which £16.4bn went to the EU (up £420m or 2.6%) and £18.7bn went to the rest of the world (up £730m or 4.1%). 

The jump in exports to the rest of the UK was driven in large part by a 33.6% rise in utilities exports, due to strong growth in Scotland exporting electricity to the rest of the UK.

Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants to hold a second independence vote by the end of 2023, Covid permitting, with an independent Scotland then rejoining the EU.

That would make the Scotland-England border an external EU border subject to checks and controls which the First Minister admits could create practical difficulties for trade.

She has said she will put forward her solutions to the border issues closer to Indyref2.

Tory MSP Liz Smith said: “These figures are further proof of the enormous benefit Scotland derives from being part of the UK.

“Hundreds of thousands of Scottish jobs are reliant on us being part of the Union, given that trade with the rest of the UK rose by £2.5bn on the previous year to £52bn and accounts for 60% of our total exports.

“It goes without saying that Scotland separating from its most important trading bloc would wreak huge economic damage – and yet that’s exactly the nightmare scenario the SNP, with their independence obsession, are hell-bent on creating.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat finance spokesperson John Ferry said: "The Scottish Government almost seem embarrassed to admit that we export more than £50bn to our friends in the rest of the UK. That's more than we export to every other country combined.

"The Conservative Government's reckless Brexit will cost us enormously in the long run but that is nothing compared to the damage that would be done if the nationalists get their way and Scotland is wrenched out of the UK internal market too.

“The Conservatives and SNP are both trying to put new barriers in the way of our working and trading with our neighbours.

“The lessons of Brexit are the lessons for Scottish secession. Breaking unions makes us poorer. We don’t need more chaos and uncertainty.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: “The Scottish Government’s export figures show again that the rest of the UK remains by far Scotland’s most important market, with exports to England, Wales and Northern Ireland worth three times more than all EU countries combined.

“Scottish international exports to non-EU countries are also up more than 4% since 2018, showing the enormous potential for Scottish businesses outside of the EU.

“As we continue to strike progressive new trade deals around the globe, we are unlocking export opportunities which will benefit Scotland and the whole UK.”

The Scotland in Union campaign said the data showed leaving the UK would be “devastating for jobs and livelihoods”, even if a separate Scotland could rejoin the EU.

Chief executive Pamela Nash said: “These figures conclusively demonstrate the vital importance of remaining part of the UK.

“The rest of the UK is by far the most important trade market for Scotland, dwarfing every country in the EU combined.

“Whatever you think of Brexit, it’s clear that leaving the UK and seeking to rejoin the EU – which is far from guaranteed – would be catastrophic for jobs and livelihoods.

“Rather than build barriers with the SNP’s negative vision for a weaker Scotland, we have a bright future ahead of us as part of the UK, rebuilding our economy, keeping the pound, and maintaining positive relationships with our friends and neighbours.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “These statistics for 2019 show a strong underpinning performance in Scotland’s exports before the twin economic shocks caused by the global pandemic and EU Exit.

“The main driver for a growth in exports to the rest of the UK was an increase in electricity exports, helping to keep the lights on in England and Wales.

“The figures provide further evidence of the importance of the EU to Scotland’s trade.

"The detrimental impact of the UK Government’s approach to our exit from the EU is evident in more recent HMRC trade statistics which showed that in the year to June 2021, Scotland’s goods exports to the EU were 25% down on the equivalent period in 2019.

“Through our Export Growth Plan, we remain focused on increasing Scotland’s international exports to 25% of GDP by 2029.

“Statistics for the year to June 2021 show Scotland’s goods exports increased by 3% compared with the previous year if oil and gas are excluded. This compares with a 2% decrease for the UK as a whole and suggests our export strategy is succeeding, despite the impact of Brexit.”