Scotland politics

Daily question: How do jobs fit into the referendum debate?

As the people of Scotland weigh up how to vote in the independence referendum, they are asking questions on a range of topics.

In this series, we are looking at those major questions and by using statistics, analysis and expert views shining a light on some of the possible answers.

Here, on the day the latest unemployment figures are released, we focus on what the effect a "Yes" or a "No" vote might have on the jobs market, north and south of the border.

You can follow the referendum story through our Scotland Decides website. And more can be found on.....

BBC news website user Maggie McGonigle asks: "How would fiscal independence specifically work with job creation in Scotland?" Colin Armstrong and Scott Millar also ask jobs-related questions.

How important is the employment question?

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For most voters the key test of whether the economy is healthy or not can be summed up in one word - JOBS.

If employment is on the rise then it's usually assumed the economy is heading in the right direction.

More jobs tend to mean the economy is growing. Lower unemployment tends to mean fewer lives and communities blighted. Shorter dole-queues tend to mean the government(s) of the day can relax a little, safe in the knowledge that a political backlash has been staved off for a while.

Older readers may remember the 1979 general election and the Conservative poster campaign, "Labour isn't working". That election saw Labour swept from power for years. Many of us recall the fierce political rows during the 1980s, as UK unemployment soared to more than three million.

So what can we expect in the future?

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Whether Scotland votes "Yes" or "No", it really is unclear whether there would be a growing workforce and shorter dole-queues.

We're emerging from a long economic downturn.

The financial crisis of 2008 saw banks collapse like dominoes, and unemployment soar - not just in Scotland and the UK, but in most Western countries.

This economic heart-attack ushered in years of stagnation, with many countries still struggling to emerge from the downturn.

Some - like Greece and Italy - are still in recession. The UK, by contrast, has picked up in recent months, and its economy's grown faster than any other country in the G7 group of leading industrial nations.

This recovery's taken many by surprise: the IMF and others have had to revise upwards their predictions for economic growth, as the UK's economy performed better than expected.

The jobless rate in Scotland has fallen to 6% in the period May to July. That's now just below the rate of 6.2% for the UK as a whole.

Unemployment in Scotland has fallen by 35,000 compared to the same period last year. Scotland's economy is now bigger than it was before the crash of 2008. Employment in Scotland - the total workforce - rose by 87,000 in the year, and is at an all-time high.

The UK economy has changed dramatically since the 1970s. The labour market is now far more flexible. During the downturn, this helped keep the jobless total much lower than some had feared.

Mass unemployment was replaced by widespread under-employment, as people eked out part-time jobs, or seasonal or casual or fixed-term work. The result's been a record level of employment, even if the UK's economy has failed to deliver higher living standards for its citizens.

In the last year in the UK we've seen employment rise by more than 800,000.

What are the campaigns saying?

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The Better Together campaign argues that a "Yes" vote in the referendum puts the UK's recovery at risk, and it claims that political divorce - however amicable - would create barriers to growth.

It says uncertainty over a future Scottish currency, tax rates and EU membership threaten the UK's single market, and Scottish companies' ability to trade internationally, with a consequent threat to jobs and livelihoods.

However, the Yes campaign says independence would create not risk, but opportunities to grow the Scottish economy and boost the workforce.

It claims an independent Scottish government, with all the economic levers at its disposal, would be able to fine-tune the environment for businesses, growth and jobs better than Westminster can do right now. Its supporters point to other small countries - like New Zealand, Singapore and Switzerland - which are wealthy and successful - and ask: "Why not here?"

So, what is the measure of success?

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Every month, when the official employment figures are released, politicians pore over the data, comparing Scotland with the UK as a whole. Sometimes it seems we're doing better - at other times, worse. But that obscures a key issue. Some argue the right comparison for Scotland to make should NOT be with the whole of the UK - but with its regions.

Right now, London and the south-east are generating high numbers of new private sector jobs.

And Scotland's economy is performing pretty strongly as well. Other parts of the UK lag further behind.

So, whether or not Scotland chooses independence, voters here may well ask in the future: "How does our level of job creation compare with the richest regions of these islands?"

And the challenge for all our political leaders will be to ensure Scotland's rate of employment and job creation rise up the UK's league table, into the future.

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