Could Scotland's natural wealth help it prosper as an independent nation?

Many people are unsure about Scotland’s natural wealth, asking whether it could actually support the economy of an independent Scotland. We say that the real focus should be on how Scotland’s natural wealth can be used to help us transition to a more sustainable way of living. Here is a breakdown of Scotland’s natural wealth: 

The Truth:

The value of Scotland’s natural environment to the economy is huge and lays the foundation for Scotland’s continued prosperity as well as a sustainable economy that respects the planet and future generations.

The Facts:

  • With 8.1% of the UK’s population, Scotland possesses between 13 and 38 percent of the UK’s natural wealth (dependent on oil prices). As of the time of writing, oil prices have risen significantly, so we can assume that the current value of Scotland’s natural wealth will be on the high end of this range. 
  • In the 2023 ‘Natural Capital Accounts’, the value of Scotland’s natural resources that can be quantified* was estimated to be worth a massive £230 billion. These accounts take stock of the value provided by resources from Scotland’s environment, such as timber, water, minerals, oil and gas and renewables, as well as services derived from this environment like tourism and recreation. 
  • The total annual value to the Scottish economy of services derived from natural assets is estimated to be £15 billion, 30% of the total UK value.
    • This does not include the total value of Scotland’s oil, as it only covers the natural asset component and does not include production and management costs.
  • Scotland’s habitats were responsible for removing 23% of the UK’s physical pollutants, due to the abundance of green habitat.
  • In 2017, Scotland was voted ‘The Most Beautiful Country in the World’ by the readers of the renowned  travel publication Rough Guides.
  • Scotland produces on average just under double its production share of the UK’s food at roughly 15.6%. This includes 18.4% of the UK’s beef, as well as 67% of the UK’s seafood landings by weight, of which 72% is exported to the EU by value.
  • With less than 1% of Europe’s total population, Scotland possesses 50% of the world’s installed tidal stream capacity, 20% of all planned offshore wind power capacity in the EU** and 90% of the UK’s fresh water. 
  • In 2021/22, Scotland accounted for 85% of the UK’s total oil and gas production: 96% of its crude oil production and 71% of natural gas. 
  • The recent discovery of the Rosebank oil and gas field could be worth over £24 billion to the Scottish economy. While controversial, this field has been approved for development as of September 2023. Regardless of whether or not extracting oil from this field can be done sustainably, serious concerns remain as to whether the profits from the project as administered by the UK Government and run by the Norwegian state oil company Equinor will contribute to Scotland’s domestic economy or energy security. 

*The 2023 Natural Capital Accounts represent estimates from 2019, which is the latest year for which the ONS can estimate a natural capital asset value. 

**BiS’ own calculations: based on figures from Offshore Wind Scotland and WindEurope

Conclusion:

Make no mistake – Scotland is one of the world’s most naturally wealthy nations. The reason that to many it does not feel that way, is because it is tied to the UK economy. In the years following the financial crisis, real wages have declined, productivity has stalled and austerity has slowed life expectancy. Brexit and the chaos that the withdrawal from the EU has caused is in many ways the culmination of more than a decade of economic stupidity.

Scotland is well positioned to lead the charge to the transition from a fossil fuels based economy to a more sustainable economic model based on renewable energy – it is also set to benefit significantly from this change if the wealth generated from renewables is reinvested in Scotland and not divided across the UK. Protecting Scotland’s natural assets is vital to its future wellbeing and prosperity. 

As one of the world’s most naturally wealthy nations, an independent Scotland has the potential to create sustainable prosperity and wellbeing for its people. Scotland’s natural wealth would be the key foundation of its future prosperity as an independent nation.

Once it becomes independent. Scotland will be one of the world’s wealthiest nations. However, if it remains tied to the failing and unequal union, it will suffer as the UK’s economy continues to flatline.