Economy latest

GDP growth. Source: GDP growth by industry. Source: Unemployment Currency (£). Source: ECB; usually updated at 16:00 CET (working days) NYMEX Brent Crude Oil
Q-on-Q growth 2017 Q1 on 2016 Q4 Apr – Jun 2017
  • +0.1% (2016 Q2)
  • +0.1% (2016 Q3)
  • -0.2% (2016 Q4)
  • +0.8% (2017 Q1)
  • Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing: +0.4%
  • Production: +3.1%
  • Construction: -0.7%
  • Services: +0.3%
3.9% (-1.2% year on year) £1 = € () £1 = $ () dollars per barrel ()
GDP growth. Source: GDP growth by industry. Source: Unemployment
Q-on-Q growth 2017 Q1 on 2016 Q4 Apr – Jun 2017
  • +0.1% (2016 Q2)
  • +0.1% (2016 Q3)
  • -0.2% (2016 Q4)
  • +0.8% (2017 Q1)
  • Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing: +0.4%
  • Production: +3.1%
  • Construction: -0.7%
  • Services: +0.3%
3.9% (-1.2% year on year)
Currency (£). Source: ECB; usually updated at 16:00 CET (working days) NYMEX Brent Crude Oil
£1 = € () £1 = $ () dollars per barrel ()

Continue reading Economy latest

UK growth slows to 0.3%

Office for National Statistics, today:

  • UK gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated to have increased by 0.3% in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017, the slowest rate of growth since Quarter 1 2016.
  • Slower growth in Quarter 1 2017 was mainly due to services, which grew by 0.3% compared with growth of 0.8% in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2016.
  • In Quarter 1 2017 there were falls in several important consumer-focused industries, such as retail sales and accommodation; this was due in part to prices increasing more than spending.
  • Production, construction and agriculture grew by 0.3%, 0.2% and 0.3% respectively in Quarter 1 2017.
  • GDP per head was estimated to have increased by 0.1% during Quarter 1 2017.

Melanie Baker at Morgan Stanley, via The Guardian:

We expect this slower quarterly pace of growth to persist in 2017, reflecting our assumption that higher inflation will dampen real consumer spending growth and an assumption of subdued business investment as Brexit approaches.

Given that Scotland’s economic growth has trailed that of the UK since 2015, and given the Scottish economy’s contraction by 0.2% in Q4 2016, we could be looking at a recession1. Figures for Q1 2017 in Scotland won’t be available until 5 July.

Polling roundup

BMG for The Herald

Sample size: 1,041 Scottish residents aged 16+
Method: online
Fieldwork: 7-11 April 2017

Summary | Datasets

Imagine there’s another referendum on Scottish independence tomorrow, how would you vote if asked “Should Scotland be an independent country”?

(Change from previous poll in brackets)

  • Yes: 49% (+1)
  • No: 51% (-1)

Including undecideds:

  • Yes: 43%
  • No: 45%
  • Don’t know: 11%
  • Prefer not to say: 1%

James Kelly’s analysis here.

Survation for The Sunday Post

Sample size: 1,001 Scottish residents aged 18+
Method: online
Fieldwork: 18–21 April 2017

Summary | Datasets

If there was a General Election for the Westminster Parliament taking place tomorrow, and there was a candidate from all political parties standing in your constituency, which party do you think you would vote for?

(Change from 2015 in brackets.)

  • Scottish National Party (SNP): 43.1% (-6.9)
  • Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party: 27.9% (+13)
  • Scottish Labour Party: 17.8% (-6.5)
  • Scottish Liberal Democrats: 8.8% (+1.3)

If there was a referendum tomorrow with the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, how would you vote?

  • Yes: 46.9% (+0.1)
  • No: 53.1% (-0.1)

Also, of those likely to vote—and before they were removed in order to arrive at the above headline numbers—9.1% of respondents were undecided as to whether they would vote yes or no.

If the upcoming General Election produced another Conservative majority government, would this make you more or less likely to support Scottish independence?

  • More likely: 37.9% (including 41.1% of undecided voters)
  • No more or less likely: 39.8%
  • Less likely: 15.5%

Panelbase for The Sunday Times

Sample size: 1,029 Scottish residents aged 16+
Method: online
Fieldwork: 18–21 April 2017


Westminster voting intentions, with change from 2015 in brackets:

  • SNP: 44% (-6)
  • Conservative: 33% (+18),
  • Labour: 13% (-11),
  • Liberal Democrat: 5% (-3)
  • Green: 2% (+1)
  • UKIP: 2% (-)

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Change from previous poll in brackets.

  • Yes: 45% (+1)
  • No: 55% (-1)

When do you think another Scottish independence referendum should be held?

  • In the next year or two, while the UK is negotiating to leave the EU: 32%
  • About two years from now, when the UK has finished negotiating to leave the EU: 16%
  • There should not be another Scottish independence referendum in the next few years: 52%

James Kelly’s analysis here and here.

John Curtice’s analysis of the weekend’s polling here and here (paywall).

Source for 2015 vote share: BBC.

Predicting Scottish Councils elections: an impossible task?

By Jeremy Blackwell

A few words about me

Jeremy BlackwellJeremy Blackwell, almost 26 now, known on Twitter as @WeAreThe59. My friends usually call me Jez or JB but Jeremy is OK—actually I like it better. Born in France and studied statistics and political science there.

Living in Craiglockhart since late 2015 with my French boyfriend Alban and our beloved dog Bosco. Also member of the SNP, so no ambiguity about where I stand. Started seriously working on polls and projections during the 2015 General Election campaign; loved it and carried on during the 2016 Scottish Parliament campaign. And now giving a try at the 2017 Scottish Council election.

Hits and misses

Psephology is not an exact science. Sometimes polls are wrong. Sometimes your method is wrong. It’s closer to ‘trial and error’ than to rocket science, whatever the pundits might tell you about it.

Like everyone I totally missed General Election (GE) 2015 because UK-wide polls were so off the actual result. But I got Scotland right because Scottish polls were really accurate. Got the 56-1-1-1 part right; only got the exact seats wrong. I thought the Labour seat would be Glasgow North East; not Edinburgh South. I also thought that the Tory seat would be Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, not Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. Still, I got the Lib Dem seat right. That was the easiest one.

I did better on Scottish Parliament (SP) 2016. Everybody got it wrong because the polls were wildly overestimating the SNP vote. But I was the ‘least wrong’ of all, crediting the SNP with only 66 seats while others went up to 70 or even more.

Now to the heart of the matter

The main question is: can Scottish Council elections be predicted with the same level of accuracy as Westminster or Holyrood elections? And the answer is a resounding no. Standard or sophisticated statistical methods that work for Parliamentary elections mostly fail for Council elections because there are many more variables that interact in sometimes unpredictable ways.

The first factor is that there are many more independent candidates in Council elections than in Parliamentary elections, and they get a much bigger share of the vote:

  • 0.1% in the 2015 General Election in Scotland
  • 0.3% in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election
  • but 11.8% in the 2012 Scottish Council election

The second factor is that Council elections definitely follow a wholly different pattern from other elections, like Westminster (WM) and Holyrood (HR) elections did before 2015 when they finally aligned. Council elections are still very far from aligning on the WM/HR voting patterns. One reason is that we have 59 MPs, 73 constituency MSPs but 1,219 Councillors after the last Boundary Review. So personal factors have a heavier influence on the Council vote, while Parliamentary votes are closer to a divide purely on party lines that can be statistically projected.

The third factor (and probably the most important) is the voting system: STV (Single Transferable Vote). There are many technical explanations of STV to be found (just Google it and make your pick). All of them are technically right but all are wrong on one major point. STV is not and has never been PR (Proportional Representation). Quite the opposite, in fact. STV is the perfect vehicle for tactical voting, and is even worse in many cases than FPTP (First Past The Post). Partly because FPTP is basic and simple while many people find STV extremely complicated and don’t fully grasp its limits and implications, and also how it can be used to maximise tactical voting.

Continue reading Predicting Scottish Councils elections: an impossible task?

UK Government spends £47,000 on social media ads highlighting Scotland’s trading position

A Scotland Office online campaign to highlight Scotland’s trade with the rest of the UK cost £47,395.65, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by and others reveals. The majority—£38,892.33—was spent on Facebook, while £4,483.36 and £4,019.96 went to Google and Twitter respectively.

The activity, funded by the Cabinet Office on behalf of the UK Government, promoted the fact that the rest of the UK is the primary market for Scotland’s exports of goods and services. The campaign included pay-per-click Google advertisements appearing above search results, and a video on Twitter, both highlighting official Scottish Government export statistics.

The Scotland Office said in their FOI response that “[r]esearch shows many people do not understand the importance of the trading relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK—which is worth four times that of trade with the European Union, and supports four times as many Scottish jobs. This campaign addresses that, informing the public and encouraging Scottish businesses to take full advantage of our biggest, barrier-free market.” They add that “[t]he UK Government has a responsibility to ensure the public are equipped with the facts.”

What are the facts? The Scottish Government estimates that in 2015 Scotland exported 63% of goods and services to rUK, 12% to the EU, and 21% to the rest of the world1. In exporting such a large proportion to one partner, Scotland is an outlier in the EU2. However, Canada exports even more than Scotland does to its biggest market—the United States—and has done for decades. In 2015, it exported 77% of goods and 55% of services to the USA. In 2000 the services figure was even higher, at 61%3. Similarly, in 2015 southern neighbour Mexico exported 81% of goods to the USA.

Scotland, Canada, and Mexico’s trading situations can be explained at least in part by the fact that each country is geographically adjoined to a relatively huge market. The authors of a recent London School of Economics report—Economists for Brexit: A Critique—note that “…trade is affected by the distance between countries, their size, history and wealth (the ‘gravity relationship’).”4

For a small economy like Scotland, however, there is a strong argument to be made for diversifying exports, since relying on one market is a source of risk. That’s what New Zealand and Ireland5 did. Both were once heavily reliant on the UK market.

In the meantime, though, not even the Scotland Office is suggesting that trade with rUK will cease in the event of independence. Indeed, rUK is estimated to export more to Scotland in absolute terms than Scotland does to rUK. Reducing friction at the border with England would be in everyone’s interests.

It should perhaps also be noted that at the same time as buying online advertising to highlight Scotland’s trading position, the present UK Government is advocating withdrawing from its biggest market—the EU single market—into which the UK exported 43.6% of goods and services in 20156.

Freedom of Information request on Scotland’s trading position 1 of 2

Freedom of Information request on Scotland’s trading position 2 of 2

Roundup, Wednesday 19 April 2017


James Kelly, writing at Scot Goes Pop, 18 Apr:

It’s probable that the SNP will shed at least a few seats [in the upcoming UK general election]. They hit a ‘sweet spot’ in 2015 when the unionist vote was split in a particularly favourable way, but that’s no longer the case. Limited losses to the Tories (and perhaps to the Lib Dems) are to be expected, so it’s important that we don’t allow the narrative of what the SNP “need to do” to run away with itself. Even 38 seats out of 59 would be an emphatic victory… but it’ll hopefully be a lot better than that.

Scotland’s Brexit Choices

Dr Kirsty Hughes, Director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations, 17 April:

The Article 50 clock is ticking, but talks are not likely to start until the end of May or early June. The two year deadline to conclude exit talks means, barring a change of heart, the UK will be out of the EU by March 2019 but with most of its future EU-UK trade deal still to negotiate.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has asked for a second independence referendum, and a Section 30 order, so that Scottish voters can have a choice on independence or not before the UK finally leaves the EU. Theresa May has said, for now, she won’t go along with that. However this political stand-off develops or is resolved, Scotland will have to make its Brexit choices amidst considerable uncertainty – unless it gets no choice, with May turning ‘no, not now’ into ‘no, never’.

If Sturgeon and May resolved their disagreement so that a second independence referendum could be held by March 2019, what might Scottish voters know by then, and what will still be uncertain?

In-depth, must-read analysis from the recently launched SCER think tank.

Sources of data and statistics

We’ve added a page linking to various sources of data and statistics relating to Scotland and the wider world, including GDP of Scotland and its regions, trade, population, politics, energy, health, and the environment. Check it out here and let us know if we’ve missed anything.

Employment statistics, February 2017

The UK’s Office for National Statistic (ONS) published the latest employment statistics on 12 April. The table below draws from Labour Force Survey estimates for December 2016 to February 2017. Arrows denote year-on-year direction of change.

Economically active Employment Unemployment Economically inactive
Aged 16-64 Aged 16-64 Aged 16+ Aged 16-64
Country Rate (%) Rate (%) Rate (%) Rate (%)
England 78.8 75.0 4.7 21.2
Wales 76.8 73.0 4.9 23.2
Scotland 77.0 73.4 4.5 23.0
Northern Ireland 72.7 68.8 = 5.2 27.3

Source: ONS dataset A01: Summary of labour market statistics (Table 22: Regional Labour Force Survey Summary). Further information: ONS April 2017 UK labour market bulletin.

  • Scotland had the lowest unemployment rate in the UK, but employment and economic activity were both down.
  • The ONS also released some experimental statistics on unemployment by age for the countries and regions of the UK. Unemployment among those aged 16–24 in Scotland fell by a spectacular 32,000 (-49.8%) year on year. However, there was also a 29,000 increase in those 16–24 designated as economically inactive1.
  • To coincide with the release of the figures, the Scottish Government has published updated charts based on data since 1992 which show longer-term trends in employment, unemployment, and economic inactivity in Scotland. If you compare this quarter with the same one in 2008, Scotland does on average slightly better than the UK on those three measures.
  • Stuart McIntyre of Strathclyde University offered his thoughts on the data via Twitter.
  • Finally, the ONS actually released quite a few datasets related to Scotland on 12 April. You can view a list here.