Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Memetic Hogwash

This ridiculous meme first appeared several months ago and was throughly debunked at the time, but I see it's started cropping up on social media again

It is - like crime in a multi-story carpark - wrong on many levels.

"£2.8 billion whisky revenue counted as an English export (because it goes out through English ports)"
  1. No it isn't - not anywhere, not ever. This is simply a made up number, never sourced because there is no source. You don't need to read the other points below because the basic premise is simply made up. But if you're interested in other levels of wrongness ...

  2. There is no government "income" from whisky exports anyway - the economic value of this activity is captured in employment and corporate taxes which are of course correctly attributed to Scotland in the Scottish Government's own GERS figures

  3. Even if we're looking at export activity statistics (which have no direct impact on the £15bn fiscal deficit reported in GERS but would be relevant to an independent Scotland's current account deficit), these are of course unaffected by the port the goods happen to leave the British mainland from. Exports Statistics Scotland (ESS) figures are gathered based on customer locationa: if goods are exported from Scotland via an English port or freight-forwarder they will still be correctly recorded as Scottish exports.

  4. Peeling another layer of the onion and taking us further away from the specific lies in this meme, some suggest that because ESS figures are survey based they might be inaccurate. This is fair - no stats are perfect - but for what it's worth the way these survey forms are filled in makes it far more likely that they will understate "exports" to the rest of the UK than exports to the rest of the world. As a form-filler it's far easier to identify foreign currency export sales than sterling sales that happen to be South of the border

"£39.8 billion oil revenue said to be "unknown origin" added to Westminster balance sheet"
  1. No it isn't - The £39.8bn "unknown origin" figure comes from HMRC Regional Trade Statistics -and has nothing to do with government revenue (as reported in GERS or indeed anywhere else)

  2. There is no such thing as a "Westminster balance sheet" - this is concept apparently invented solely for the purposes of this meme

  3. If somebody was making a case for an independent Scotland's likely current account balance and missed out what would be counted as Scottish export trade by not including oil attributed in HMRC Trade Stats to "unknown region" ... then this would indeed be an issue, but I'm not aware that this has ever happened.

"I guess that will take care of the £15 billion black hole the Unionist Press goes on about"
  1. The £15 billion referred to here is presumably Scotland's notional deficit as reported in the Scottish Government's own GERS figuresb - that's where the press ("unionist" or otherwise) get the figure from

  2. Neither of the two other figures quoted in this meme have any bearing whatsoever on Scotland's £15 billion GERS deficit. Absolutely and unequivocally: no impact at all.

  3. Apart from anything else, how breathtakingly incompetent would you need to believe the SNP and Scottish Government to be for them to have missed these huge chunks of income when writing the independence White Paper?

"Just two examples of misappropriation of Scottish Income by Westminster"
  1. Neither of these figures have anything to do with income

  2. Neither of these figures are "appropriated by Westminster"

  3. er...that's it


a. see official Scottish Government website here which explains "Export Statistics Scotland (ESS) is based on the Global Connections Survey". I have filled in these forms so I know, but see actual form here and note wording of question 6;

b. If we're being picky: as per 15-16 GERS figures it's £14.8bn so if the meme's using 2015 figures (as it claims) the figure would in fact be £14.3bn. The "black hole" is more correctly defined as how much worse Scotland's deficit is than that we bear by taking a population share of the UK's deficit, a figure in fact nearer £9 billion - but this is to critique this meme at a level of detail it clearly doesn't deserve. 


Anonymous said...

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE Can you post this on the SNP facebook page. I am SICK of trying to tell the idiots on there who STIll believe in the mythical "export tax on whisky and other Scottish goods"

Anonymous said...

Hi Kev,

Your indefatigable commitment to myth busting and facts never ceases to amaze. On behalf of all those less tenacious - much obliged for all the work. The BS needs to be exposed.

Anonymous said...

The SNP drones lap it up anyway, they know deep down its rubbish but such is the addiction they go along with it anyway.

Colin Robertson said...

Fantastic research as usual Kevin. We all appreciate your hard work & time spent on this. The really worrying thing is that the SNP know these "facts & figures" are utter garbage yet expect Joe Public to believe it.

Anonymous said...

That's interesting, a blog article that has as much substance as a Christmas pantomime.

Oh yes it does!

Drew said...

'There is no such thing as a "Westminster balance sheet" - this is concept apparently invented solely for the purposes of this meme'

The semantics are possibly wrong but there is a balance sheet for the whole of the UK published by the Office of National statistics https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/nationalaccounts/uksectoraccounts/bulletins/nationalbalancesheet/previousReleases

The UK Government's revenue and expenditure is publically available too https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/525617/WEB_whole_of_gov_accounts_2015.pdf

Wildgoose said...

There are other sources of income which are not in dispute however.

For example, Scotland's share of UK defence spending is at least three times that spent by our neutral neighbour, the Republic of Ireland. An independent Scotland could massively reduce military spending; knowing that when push comes to shove, England would be bound to defend Scotland from external aggressors simply out of self-interest. That's around £3 billion savings in just that line item alone.

Immoral? Cynical? Of course. But that's never stopped Scotland's parasitism of England before. In addition, Scotland could even offer airbases to the United States to help guard the GIUK Gap and get paid for free defence! After all, it worked for Germany all those years!

Kevin Hague said...

thanks Drew yes I was aware of that - my point was really that the term is made up to sound like there is somehow an attribution of exports to "Westminster" as opposed to "Scotland" - I could also made the point that exports are not a balance sheet item anyway - this is the problem with critiquing nonsense, there are so many layers of wrongness you can get lost in them.

Of course UK government expenditure and revenue stats exist - but they are about government income & expenditure and government assets & liabilities - again unaffected by export figures (which are neither a revenue, cost, asset or liability).

As I say in the text, the economic activity behind those exports of course affects government revenue, as correctly attributed to Scotland in GERS - and they would need to be considered in any balance of trade analysis (I'm not aware of any such analysis where they haven't been).

Drew said...

True, that's a good point.

On the one hand, most import and export activity is done by private companies and therefore doesn't appear in the Government's own accounting.

Although what about the companies the Government retains a share in? Does the Government have to account for them financially on it's own books? I'm thinking RBS but also the defence cmpanies the MOD has a stake in, like BAE systems, Rolls Royce and QinetiQ. Do the 'golden share' agreements have a financial dividend too?

As the UK is the second biggest exporter of arms in the world after the US, those exports figures must be pretty substancial.

Anonymous said...

Drew, do you really think that the government takes no interest in import and export activities by private companies? Stop being naive or misleading. Why do you think HMRC records all such transactions? Do you seriously believe they are omitted from national statistics? You are either naive or addicted to conspiracies.

The Golden Share arrangements are simply to prevent foreign takeovers of key strategic defence companies. MOD receives nothing from exports, although where the UK has invested a great deal in research and development the Treasury may impose a Commercial Exploitation Levy (CEL) to get some of this back. In my experience the amounts are negligible, often just a few million pounds or less. A product usually has to be highly successful for the CEL to kick in and few achieve this.

Your insinuation that there are large amounts of unaccounted revenue is another creative attempt to establish a factoid. This is not the first time that your comments have suggested something that does not really exist or which omits key elements to engineer incorrect interpretations. Incidentally Rolls Royce UK is primarily a civil company and is not regarded as a major defence contractor in MOD circles. Rolls Royce USA is a different proposition, but does most of its work in the US for the US government, so is these is little benefit for the UK.

In other words your suggestions are rubbish, but you shouldn't let facts get in the way of generating yet another grievance from nationalists.

Drew said...


I think it is you that is too caught up in conspiracies. .

If you notice the question marks at the end of my sentences, that usually signifies a question, as opposed to making a statement.

My question wasn't about taxes on imports and exports but about what if any value of products and services the Government is involved directly in.

In some cases the Government contracts with defence contractors aren't entirely clear to a laymen. For example, while companies like BAe have the contracts at DM Beith, the facility and employees are MOD. So is the work to make armaments and munitions subcontracted back to the Government and if so how do they record this on their books?

When the US Navy and other NATO allies use the bombing ranges at Cape Wrath and Luce Bay, do they pay for this service to the MOD?

You have answered my previous question about Golden Shares so thank you. But if you have read my previous comments you'll know I'm a Lib Dem supporter so your point about Nationalist grievance is lost on me, I think you are possibly reading too much into my query


Anonymous said...

Beith is used to store, service and maintain complex weapons, not for manufacture of munitions. If Scotland were independent this work would be done elsewhere in the UK or abroad, so it would be wrong to suggest this is a hidden revenue stream. No country will maintain such facilities in a semi-disarmed country that already exhibits the sort of anti-defence attitude reflected by your own views.

MOD employees do not work for private companies - they work alongside them. It is not a case of civil servants being lent out to private companies and then their services being sold back to the public sector.

Use of ranges by foreign powers is usually undertaken on a reciprocal basis, so the UK can use their facilities and is thus not an export service. Private companies will be charged for R&D firings (but not much work of this kind happens in Scotland).

You still seem keen to imply that there are hidden defence revenues that will somehow accrue to an independent Scotland. There aren't. The MOD will almost certainly look to the USA or France to support such services rather than a Scotland which is likely to have a government that is questionably disposed and thus unreliable as far as UK interests are concerned.

Despite your protestations of being a Liberal supporter there appears to be little difference in your views expressed in numerous comments from those evinced by the SNP. That is not a conspiracy, just an observation. Are the Scottish Liberals really all that different in reality? Just asking.

Drew said...

Thanks for the info anonymous that's useful.

I'm not coming from a position of supporting independence or opposing it and I can't speak for liberals as well have no formal connection to the party other than voting for them.

I appreciate this blog is for holding the SNP account but you can't blame them for reserved matters like defence, the U.K. Government must be answerable in this regard.

My concern is for the ethical, environmental and public health impact of Scotland hosting so many MOD facilities. To find out who is responsible for such safety concerns, you have to try and follow the money. Whoever profits from defence contracts must be responsible for waste management and public safety.

For example, I understand Scotland is the only place where depleted uranium bombs are tested in the U.K. What is the impact of this to marine, wildlife and local communities from these highly toxic waste products? What happens if they get into the food chain?

Are we involved in the manufacture of weapons that kill and maim civilians in other parts of the world?