IndyFAQs: What would leaving the UK do to Scotland’s international exports?

Would Scotland see the same or better success with its exporting of goods if it were not part of the UK? Believe in Scotland believes that being part of the UK may have had less to do with Scotland’s export success than you might think. We say the real question is whether our continued membership of the UK puts us at risk.

The Truth:

Scotland is an exporting powerhouse. Its success has had little to do with being part of the UK but its future has now been jeopardised by being taken out of the European Union against its will.

The Facts:

  • Scotland's natural wealth, beauty and reputation for quality adds significant value to our exports.
    • It is Scotland’s reputation for quality, our natural resources and brand image that spans oil and gas expertise, to quality specialities such as Scotch whisky and our beef, salmon and seafood, that drive Scotland’s exporting success.
  • Scotland is a leading exporter of food and beverages from the UK:
    • According to Food and Drink Federation statistics from 2021, 30% of total UK food and drink exports come from Scotland.
    • Exports of fish and seafood from Scotland are valued at £1 billion – they make up 63% of UK total exports in this sector.
    • In 2022, Scotch Whisky made up 77% of all Scottish food and drink exports and a massive 25% of total UK food and drink exports. These exports were worth £6.2 billion.
  • In 2021, total oil and gas exports from Scotland were worth £23 billion.
  • Scotland’s international exports support around 468,000 jobs
    • Further analysis from 2018 suggested that for every 100 jobs supported by exporting, an additional 66 jobs are supported through spill-over benefits to the Scottish economy.
  • In 2022, international exports contributed £35.7 billion to Scotland’s economy, or Gross Domestic Product (GDP) an increase of 23.5% from 2021. The Scottish Government has set a policy of increasing the percentage of exports to 25% of GDP by 2029.
  • Scotland is the only UK nation with a consistent international trade surplus in goods since records began. In the past few years, Northern Ireland has generated a surplus in goods but persistently operated a deficit in the past. England always runs persistent deficits in the international trade in goods.
  • Scotland also outperforms the UK in terms of exports per head: Scotland’s exports are worth £19,842 (including oil and gas) per person, versus a paltry £9,217 per person for the rest of the UK. This clearly shows that Scotland is an exporting nation, while the rest of the UK is an importing country. 
  • Scotland has achieved this success despite having no major container ports, meaning almost all of its goods need to travel through England to be exported.
  • Brexit and leaving the European single market and customs union has had a devastating impact on Scotland’s economy. In the past year, 44% of businesses in Scotland who faced difficulties trading overseas declared Brexit as the main cause.  Our exporting success means that ironically Brexit could more negatively impact Scotland compared to the rest of the UK.


When it comes to exports, Scotland holds many vital advantages as well as significant untapped potential. Its massive success in exports has ironically put Scotland more at risk than the rest of the UK directly following Brexit. In January 2021, after the UK formally left the European Union, UK goods exported to the EU dropped by 41%. Although this has recovered somewhat, trading conditions remain more difficult than they should be for Scottish exporters. This continuing impact has threatened the UK economy, causing GDP to be 5.5% lower compared to if the UK had stayed. Even Nigel Farage – the architect of much of the original Leave project – has admitted that Brexit has failed. 

Six years on from the referendum and three years since the transition period ended – it is clear that Brexit has been an unmitigated disaster for the UK’s, and by extension Scotland’s, economy. Scottish exports and economy are far more likely to thrive with the bespoke policies and attention they would receive in an independent Scotland – and of course, an independent Scotland would be free to choose to rejoin the EU should it wish to.