Independence in the modern world. Wealthier, happier, fairer: why not Scotland?

This paper sets out a detailed analysis of the UK’s performance across a range of economic and social indicators relative to that of ten European countries. It is the first in the 'Building a new Scotland' series, focusing on independence.


An independent Scotland could not be transformed to match the success of the comparator countries overnight. The comparator country models discussed here – especially the Nordics – have benefitted from virtuous cycles created through persistently high investment in their people over time. But the examples in this paper illustrate the range of choices that would be available to an independent Scotland able to pursue different policies from those adopted by Westminster over many years.

No two national models are the same. A key lesson from the experiences of the countries considered above is that models evolve to reflect national circumstances, specific challenges, cultures, traditions and institutional legacies. For instance, the Nordic nations have made different choices to those of Ireland or Switzerland, reflecting different policy choices over time. Scotland's national development model would be informed, not dictated, by experience elsewhere.

But, as the analysis set out in preceding sections confirms, countries of a similar size are achieving better outcomes than Scotland is able to achieve with key economic and social powers reserved to the Westminster Parliament. These countries provide working examples of the possibilities and options available to an independent Scotland. Through the careful application to Scotland's specific circumstances, and drawing upon lessons from the economic development paths chosen by other nations, significant progress can be made across the range of economic and social priorities covered in this paper.

The evidence also suggests that the full powers of independence are necessary to build a successful model in which deep social solidarity and economic dynamism become mutually reinforcing, reflecting Scotland's needs and preferences. It would be extremely challenging to start investing in, for example, labour market policy at Danish or Swedish levels under the limited powers of devolution. Full powers over tax and spending – and the levers that allow us to increase revenues from stronger economic performance – would open up significant new choices and opportunities for an independent Scotland.

There will of course be a range of views about precisely how and whether progress in Scotland with those full powers can be achieved. Independence by itself will not guarantee improved performance: that will be determined by the quality of decision-making. The Building a New Scotland series will set out the Scottish Government's proposals, but we welcome contributions from across Scotland and look forward to a national debate about how as an independent country we can create a wealthier, happier and fairer Scotland.

Scottish Government
June 2022



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