Tweet Follow @RPJblog
By Jason Michael
UNEMPLOYMENT IS OUT OF CONTROL in Scotland. Everyone tuned into the BBC knows Scotland is an economic basket case, incapable of autonomous government without the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom. BBC Scotland’s business and economy editor, Douglas Fraser, revealed today that unemployment in Scotland had increased by 5,000 people from March – taking our unemployment rate to a whopping 4.3 per cent, a whole point-one of a per cent higher than the UK average. Gone are the days, Fraser tells us, of Spring 2017 when the Scottish government could take the credit for a rate of 3.8 per cent, the lowest rate of unemployment ever recorded in Scotland. It is time the BBC put things right and reminded Scottish viewers they are indeed “too poor.”
But there are a number of serious problems with this grossly misleading report which we will now pull apart and discuss. Economics, as Fraser knows, is not a science. Important as it is, economics is, at bottom, an imaginative and creative interpretation of mathematics, a dash of statistics, and a glass and a half of prejudice and opinion. In secondary school I was introduced to Higher Economics by Mr Crooks, a man who explained Developing World poverty as a consequence of overpopulation and an AIDS pandemic. This, he concluded – and taught, was a consequence of the Catholic Church’s ban on contraception. He had the maths and the stats to back this up, sure, but he appeared to overlook the inconvenient facts of India not being Christian and most of Africa not being Catholic. Mr Crooks was just a bigot and his economics was informed by his ignorant opinion.
Are we to assume Fraser and the economics monkeys at the BBC are any less likely to be guided in their analysis by their personal and institutional prejudices? Of course not. Unemployment figures are just a statistical record. Economics, on the other hand, is the attempt to explain the change in such rates over time – and that is an art, not a science.
Fraser’s report doesn’t state the reason why such a negligible difference between Scotland and the UK’s unemployment rates has made the news. He’s too smart for that. But the reason can be inferred from the language he uses in his constant comparison of the two sets of statistics. “The headline unemployment rate for Scotland was 4.3% of those aged 16 and above,” he writes, “while across the UK it was 4.2%.” Here the giveaway is the “while” in the second clause; it’s purpose is to create a sharp distinction in the reader’s mind between a bad situation and something better. Point-one of a percentile in comparisons of national statistics – considering all the complexities and variables – is negligible. That 0.1 is unimportant. Douglas Fraser has taken a set of statistics which say Scotland’s performance is in line with the rest of the UK and has used a tenth of a per cent difference as the basis for a report which subtly suggests Scotland is lagging behind.
@RuralLeader ‘Seasonally adjusted’—
Douglas Fraser (@BBCDouglasF) July 17, 2018
The headline, given that most people seeing it don’t read further, has already misguided the public. Fraser will no doubt say he wasn’t responsible for it, but its use of a headcount of “5,000” more seeking work in Scotland inaccurately describes the reality of the figures. In fairness, Fraser does explain that “the rise appeared to be due to more women seeking work, while male unemployment remained the same,” but the damage has been done. Readers have already been misled into believing that our economy is worse than the UK’s in general – which is not true.
Economics, as has been said, is the art of explaining the science of the numbers, but this isn’t what this report does. For the greater part of the article Fraser confuses things; continually switching between percentages and headcounts, making any real comparison or analysis of the figures impossible. What we are given is a mesh which does nothing more than repeat the data in such a manner – comparing headcounts with percentages – that it becomes an exercise in comparing apples with oranges. The purpose of this is to confuse and dampen interest. What BBC Scotland’s economics editor doesn’t do is economics – he doesn’t explain anything.
So, let’s do that for him here. These figures, as we can agree, show that the jobs market across the whole of the UK is at near stagnation – with tiny numerical differences across the countries and regions, and that, due to welfare reforms and other social factors, more women are going out looking for work. We have two questions here: Why has the UK’s economy stalled and why are more women seeking employment? These are the questions Fraser should have been answering.
The cause of Britain’s economic cardiac incident is no mystery: Brexit. Don’t trust me, trust the Scottish unionist press. Discussing a recent report on the impact of Brexit on small businesses, The Scotsman, quoting Dr Ross Brown of the University of St Andrews, had this to say:
The results of our analysis suggest that Brexit-related concerns could result in a range of negative consequences for UK SMEs, especially the impact on reduced capital investment, which critically weakens and undermines their ability to grow and prosper. Most worryingly, these perceived negative impacts appear to be foremost in the minds of entrepreneurs and managers located in the types of innovative and export-oriented companies, which are often viewed as the high growth ‘superstars’ of tomorrow. In other words, SMEs… may be the most negatively affected by Brexit.
Uncertainty about Brexit – decisions being made in London without the Scottish government’s consent and over which the Scottish government has no control – is having a profound and negative impact on the economy. Small and medium businesses, the backbone of the British economy, are not growing, they are not taking on staff, and they are struggling to make money. Not knowing what the future holds over the other side of the cliff edge, investors – or potential investors – are not putting their money to work in UK companies. Decisions being made in Westminster are having a direct effect on the economy. They have caused it to stall and thereby slowed the rate of employment.
Nigel Driffield (@nigel_driffield) July 12, 2018
Brexit is damaging the economy of Scotland, and perhaps – owning to the attention the Scottish government has given small and medium businesses – this accounts for that all-important (to Fraser and the BBC) 0.1 per cent difference between Scotland and the aggregate UK headline figure. It isn’t rocket science either to see how this would force more women to seek employment. As the economy slows more pressure is placed on the welfare system, leading to more aggressive austerity measures – as we have seen with the two-child rule and the implementation of Universal Credit; effectively forcing people who would have otherwise stayed at home into a jobs market where there are no jobs.
Did the BBC report go into this detail, did Douglas Fraser – as an economics expert – spell this out? No. Just like Mr Crooks and his agenda economics, Douglas Fraser has taken the statistical data out of context and wrapped it around his own political hobbyhorse – that Scotland fails because Scotland is a failure. This is neither economics nor science. It is a unionist default setting masquerading as something more intelligent than it really is being used to persuade license fee payers in Scotland that their country is uniquely incapable of doing its sums.
How will Brexit impact the UK economy?