Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond went head-to-head on Scottish independence in a televised debate on Tuesday night.
Both politicians bombarded the audience with figures, making it hard to follow the facts. So BuzzFeed asked the independent fact-checking organisation Full Fact to analyse some of the key assertions made by the two politicians during their debate.
1. Darling claimed Scotland has higher public spending per head than the rest of the UK.
“Money has flown both ways over the last 30 years,” he claimed. “But in the last 22 years Scotland has spent more than it’s put in.”
Public spending per person has been higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK, and around 20% more than in England. The Scottish government says this is partly because there are fewer people per square metre compared to the rest of the UK, so it costs more to provide public services.
“For each one of the last 33 years Scotland has paid in more in tax per person than the average for the UK,” the first minister claimed.
If you minus Scotland’s total tax receipts generated per person since 1980 from the average for the UK, they’ve contributed a surplus of £222 billion in today’s prices (again, counting Scotland’s geographical share of North Sea oil and gas).
But, on the basis of a population share, or just looking at the taxes it generates on dry land, Scotland generates fewer taxes per person than the UK average.
4. Salmond questioned the Office for Budget Responsibility’s estimates.
Even professional forecasters are sometimes off the mark. The OBR has previously both overestimated and underestimated oil and gas revenues. That’s because future prices of oil and gas are notoriously hard to predict and fluctuate massively year on year. Changes to production, demand and political influences – like sanctions against Iran – can all affect the oil price within a short time frame.
5. Darling said Scottish government oil and gas estimates are optimistic.
The Scottish government has produced its own estimates, nearly all of which predict that the money it gets from oil and gas will increase. That’s because it thinks that production will increase, that Scotland will get more investment into the North Sea, and that oil prices won’t fall from their current level. Its most pessimistic scenario – based on the OBR’s forecasts – says revenues will barely change from what they are now.
6. Darling claimed Scotland’s population is ageing faster than the rest of the UK…
With an ageing population, it’s unclear what pensions might cost an independent Scotland, which means risks for future spending.
The ratio of pension-age to working-age people is rising faster in Scotland than in the rest of the UK, and an ageing population means pensions are getting more expensive. Darling also commented on EU law with implications for people with workplace pensions.