Scotland Decides: shipping in an independent Scotland

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In the first of two exclusive articles written by senior names in the Scottish referendum debate, Alf Baird makes the case for shipping in an independent Scotland.

Alf Baird is a professor of maritime business and a senior member of Academics For Yes.

A Yes vote means a brighter future and expansion for Scotland’s maritime industry.

We’ll start with the building blocks - our own shipping register and flag. Tonnage Tax and the Seafarers' Earnings Deduction will be retained.  Vital services provided by NLB, MCA and MAIB will continue after independence. Some UK certification and accreditation schemes will switch to Scottish equivalents over time, whilst ensuring international recognition continues.

An independent Scotland’s strategy for economic growth will include a significant focus on expanding export trade. That means upgrading major seaports and improving international shipping connections.  An independent Scotland would make more use of EU funding (e.g. TEN-T) to support investments in ports and intra-European shipping connections.

Too much of Scotland’s trade is currently routed via ports in the south of England which means higher environmental impacts as well as high transport costs and a loss of jobs here. So an independent Scotland will focus on developing direct ‘Motorways of the Sea’ to EU markets based on EU TEN-T policy guidelines.

Contrast Westminster’s approach which has seen the UK increasingly dependent on foreign owned ships and seafarers from other nations to carry UK import/export trade. And Westminster has for decades ignored shipping as an important enabler and facilitator of trade whilst its pursuit of port privatisation and industry self-regulation has been uniquely detrimental.

With Scotland’s strategic ports owned by offshore private equity groups we’ve seen minimal investment in new port infrastructure, and high port charges - in turn penalising Scottish trade. The transfer by successive Westminster governments of regulatory power to private ports has made them unaccountable to users and the public. Scotland’s major estuaries have not had a new port built since the 1970’s; contrast this with most other nations where new port capacity is considered vital for economic growth.

No other nation has neglected its major seaports as the UK has done, and the consequence can be seen in the ever worsening trade deficit, with the UK as a whole importing almost twice as much as it exports.

Scotland, fortunately, is the opposite of this with a positive trade balance helped by immense natural resources and high volume export goods such as whisky which is shipped to almost every country in the world. With independence, Scotland’s trade performance will be even better with improved ports infrastructure, lower port and transport costs, improved international connections and better regulation. A Yes vote will put international trade and our maritime industries back at the heart of economic strategy.