AS a business journalist it is crucial not to just take the numbers that are trumpeted - whether it be by politicians on the likes of the economy or trade or by companies or other organisations - at face value.

This should really go without saying but it is on occasion surprising the degree to which meaningless numbers, or cherry-picked figures which mask the real story, can reverberate around and become received wisdom.

Of course, some politicians are past masters at coming up with and disseminating numbers to back up whatever policies or ideological stance they are taking and making these stick. This is a disheartening state of affairs. Thankfully, there are some who will pick apart the numbers and expose the flaws but, sadly, this diligent analysis is often drowned out by the general volume that the politicians have managed to generate and amplify through the media, reeling in the electorate.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: Will Scotland’s success put a smile on the face of Douglas Ross?

The Tories, as we should all know by now, have gone to great lengths to try to find numbers to make themselves look as if they are competent on economic and fiscal matters, even though the actual meaningful figures highlight their utterly dismal performance.

And so it was last week, with the UK Government’s celebratory press release about its latest round of talks to drum up a trade deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council, comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

The hype was triggered by Secretary of State for Business and Trade Kemi Badenoch’s visit last week to the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and was something on which my column in The Herald on Wednesday reflected.

The press release, issued on Monday, declared that Ms Badenoch “will hold talks to encourage the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ministers to advance the UK’s ambitions for a modern, comprehensive trade deal as she visits Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates”.

It went on: “Meeting her ministerial counterparts in each nation, and new Secretary General of the GCC Jasem Al-Budaiwi, Badenoch will also speak with senior business leaders and investors to build on inward investment to the UK - currently worth more than £15.7 billion.”

Perhaps the thinking behind including the inward investment figure was that it was a big number that might impress the public. However, it is difficult to see this figure’s relevance in the context of trade talks.

The apposite measure is surely that in the UK Government’s own “scoping assessment” of the boost to gross domestic product envisaged from a free trade agreement with the GCC.


This assessment concluded such a trade deal could lead to “an increase in UK GDP of between 0.06% and 0.11% in the long run”. This is a tiny amount.

Given the ruling Conservatives’ desperate rush to conclude trade deals with all and sundry outwith the European Union has been driven by their hard Brexit, the relevant comparison is surely with what is being lost with Brexit.

Forecasts drawn up by Theresa May’s government in 2018 showed Brexit would, with an average free trade deal with the EU, result in UK GDP in 15 years’ time being 4.9% lower than if the country had stayed in the bloc if there were no change to migration arrangements. Or 6.7% worse on the basis of zero net inflow of workers from European Economic Area countries. There has been a huge clampdown on immigration from EEA countries under the Tories.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: Braverman's terrifying speech confirms simple truths 

You would probably not expect the UK Government to mention the Brexit loss, especially given the Conservatives have refused to provide an impact assessment for the hard departure that Boris Johnson eventually delivered.

However, it was interesting to note the Conservatives did not see fit to highlight its own estimate of the boost to GDP from the trade deal Ms Badenoch went to the Gulf to try to progress. That surely says it all.

It was with a sceptical eye, meanwhile, that figures published by economic development agency Scottish Enterprise for equity investment in companies north of the Border last year were assessed.

The headline in that press release was very positive – a record year for equity investment in Scottish companies. And Scottish Government-funded Scottish Enterprise naturally has a vested interest in the nation’s prosperity.

However, dissecting the figures presented, which were based on solid research, it was difficult to see any significant negatives, or anything that detracted from the strong headline figures. And it must be noted the headline figures were in stark contrast to the UK Government’s Gulf states inward investment number - in that they were most relevant to the matter at hand.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: No one should be fooled by this pathetic Brexit circus

The value of equity investment secured by Scottish businesses was a record £953 million in 2022, up 26% from £754m in 2021, according to Scottish Enterprise’s 2022 Risk Capital Market report, based on data from Beauhurst.

The agency noted Scotland had been “surpassed only by the ‘golden triangle’ of London, [and] the south-east and east of England, for both deal numbers and amount raised”.

It made no bones about the number of deals completed in Scotland having dipped slightly last year, to 407 from 424 in 2021, noting the record investment value had been delivered “by a number of large deals valued at £50m-plus”.

Spinouts from Scottish universities continued to attract significant investment with £235m secured by 58 spinouts, up 53% on 2021, a record year for such funding. And the report highlighted strong interest in Scotland’s companies from venture capitalists.

There were many reasons to be upbeat about these figures, which thankfully provided reasons to be cheerful amid the economic and trade misery generated by the Conservatives.