Scotland has huge economic strengths, which we need to maximise and build on.
But our entire economic future – jobs, investment, livelihoods, household incomes and overall living standards – are all being threatened by a Tory hard Brexit.
Taking the whole of the UK out of the world’s biggest single market
is – to use the Prime Minister’s own words from her Brexit speech last week – “an act of calamitous self-harm”.
And threatening to take Scotland out of the EU and the European single market against our will is a democratic outrage.
Scotland overwhelmingly voted against Brexit, and people certainly did not vote for the ruinous hard Brexit now pursued by Theresa May and the right-wing of the Tory party.
Scotland’s economy is strong, diverse and has proved itself to be resilient in the face of the most challenging global conditions in recent years.
We have substantial natural resources, which many other countries can only look on at with envy.
Our GDP per head is among the highest of all the nations and regions of the UK.
Our youth unemployment rate is second lowest in the whole of the EU.
And there are now 40,000 more people in employment in Scotland than before the 2008 recession. The unemployment rate has fallen over the year, and is now lower than the EU average.
More and more firms are choosing Scotland for their headquarters, recognising that we are one of the best places to do business.
We also have world class universities and research institutions which have given us one of the most highly educated workforces in Europe – and we are known for the quality of our products right across the world.
That includes world-leading hi-tech products, our financial and other services and our fantastic food and drink industry, which goes from strength to strength.
That’s why it is perhaps no surprise to see that the value of Scotland’s exports rose by £1 billion from 2014 to 2015. That is a huge amount in just one year, with the value of Scottish goods and services now at £28.7 billion.
The fact that the UK is our biggest trading partner is not surprising. It is typical of countries the world over that neighbouring nations conduct a lot of trade with each other. For example, in 2015, over 75 per cent of Canadian exports went to the United States.
But of course our trade with the rest of the UK is a two way relationship. Scotland is the second largest destination for exports from the UK, behind only the USA.
And Scotland does not face a choice between our UK and European markets.
To suggest, as some have implied, that cross-border trade between Scotland and England faces being cut off if we become independent flies in the face of common sense, in the face of political and economic reality – and in the face of the UK Government’s own words.
Ever since the Brexit vote last June, Tory ministers have gone out of their way to make clear that there will be no hard border, economic or otherwise between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“No return to the borders of the past” has been the mantra echoed by the Prime Minister and a whole succession of her cabinet, in relation to the Brexit situation facing the island of Ireland.
They point out, quite rightly, that the common travel area in the UK and Ireland long precedes the EU and will continue, whatever the result of Brexit talks.
And they simply cannot, with any consistency or credibility, claim one thing for Ireland and another for Scotland.
But the threat to Scotland’s economy from a hard Brexit, outside the European single market of around half a billion people, is a very real one indeed.
That market is around eight times as big as the UK market alone, and its importance is shown by the fact 79 per cent of investors into the UK had cited membership of the single market as a driver behind their decision.
Here in Scotland, experts have warned that a hard Brexit could cost 80,000 jobs, with real wages £2,000 lower over a decade. And analysis shows that by 2030 the overall cost to Scotland’s economy could be more than £11 billion a year. Meanwhile, exports are predicted to be around 11 per cent lower.
That is why the Scottish Government is clear that protecting our existing place in Europe’s single market is so vital for our future.
It is the best outcome for our businesses, for job creation and for economic growth.
We have put forward detailed plans showing how our place in the single market can be preserved even if the rest of the UK leaves.
It is up to Theresa May to show she is serious about her pledge to consider those plans.
Keith Brown is Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work. This article was originally published in the Daily Record.
Scotland did not vote for the Tories’ hard Brexit vision – a vision of a low wage, low tax, deregulated race to the bottom. If you agree, pledge your support today.