10 March's BBC Question Time, factchecked

11 March 2016

On the Question Time panel last night were Scottish Conservative and Unionist Ruth Davidson MSP, Scottish Finance Minister John Swinney, Scottish Labour's Jenny Marra MSP, Scottish Liberal Democrat's Willie Rennie MSP, the Scottish Green Party's Patrick Harvie MSP and journalist Tim Stanley. 

We've checked their claims on the EU referendum, the deficit in Scotland, oil revenues, employment, and NHS spending. 

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EU referendum

“Scottish Eurosceptics do exist. One recent poll said that 36% of Scottish people want to leave the EU.”—Tim Stanley

Mr Stanley told us he was referring to a poll conducted last December which found that 34% of likely voters in Scotland would vote to leave the EU, compared to 47% wanting to stay and a further 20% undecided.

Polls conducted this year by some of the main polling companies have suggested anywhere between 22% and 31% of likely voters in Scotland want to leave the EU, according to polling website What UK Thinks. That compares to 48%-65% wanting to remain in.

If you exclude the “don’t knows”, these polls show anywhere between 25% and 39% want to leave.

How polls are conducted can make a big difference to the results. So far in the referendum campaign we’ve seen that phone polls have previously given a stronger lead to ‘remain’ while online polls have shown a more narrow gap.

The researchers behind What UK Thinks have said people in Scotland are more likely to want to stay in the EU, something they say may be due to the positions of the political parties in Scotland.

The deficit

“In terms of GDP our deficit in Scotland is double that of the UK. Our deficit is the largest in the whole of the European Union.”—Jenny Marra

Scotland’s overall budget deficit is about 10% of the size of its economy—if you include a geographical share of income from North Sea oil and gas—while the UK’s is about 5%. Those figures were published earlier this week and refer to 2014/15.

Scotland’s deficit as a proportion of GDP has previously closely matched that of the UK, but the gap widened after 2011/12.

Comparing that 10% to other countries in the EU, Scotland’s deficit is larger than any EU country over roughly the same period. As we’ve said previously, this doesn’t necessarily mean this would be the deficit if Scotland was an independent country. A lot would depend on how Scotland negotiated its share of UK debt and the tax and spending policies adopted by the Scottish government.

North Sea oil and gas

“The difference is, we were saying even two years ago, I stood up at First Minister’s Questions and said the OBR says the oil revenue for next year will be about £3bn. Alex Salmond tried to swat me aside and said “Don’t be ridiculous, it’ll be £8bn”. It’s actually going to be a lot lower than that.”—Ruth Davidson

Forecasts compiled by the Scottish government before the independence referendum predicted Scottish revenues from the North Sea could be anywhere between £3 billion and £8 billion in 2016/17. That was based on Scotland having a geographical share of revenues.

These forecasts were based on six different possible scenarios. The least rewarding one—the £3 billion estimate—was based on forecasts by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). Where revenues end up would depend on things like what happens to oil and gas prices, production levels and the costs of identifying and extracting the oil.

The OBR’s latest forecasts suggest revenues for the whole of the UK could be around £100 million in 2016/17.

Oil prices are notoriously volatile—the Institute for Fiscal Studies has previously commented that “Oil prices seem historically to have followed something closer to a random walk rather than oscillating around a well-defined trend”.

This meant that predictions of future oil revenues were always uncertain, and still are.


“we’ve got higher employment that the rest of the United Kingdom”—John Swinney

75% of working age people in Scotland are employed, according to the latest statistics. That’s the highest rate of any nation in the UK. The lowest is in Northern Ireland where 69% of people are in work. There are regions in the east and south of England with a higher rate.

But Scotland has the joint highest unemployment rate too. Rather than looking at the employment status of all working age people, this measure just looks at people who are in work or seeking work.

On this measure, 6% of ‘economically active’ adults in Scotland are unemployed, the joint highest rate with Northern Ireland. England has the lowest rate, where 5% are unemployed.

NHS spending

“Between 2010 and 2015 even though health spending in England went up by 7% and there was a portion of that, all of that, is passed on through Barnett consequentials... it only went up by 1% in Scotland”—Ruth Davidson

This is correct according to calculations sent to us by the Scottish Conservatives, which were done for the party by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre.

Taking inflation into account, NHS spending in England has been rising every year since 2010/11. In total, it has risen by 7% up to 2015/16, based on spending plans.

Spending after inflation in Scotland rose in some years and fell in others, and saw a 1% overall rise up to 2015/16.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies provided figures to the BBC last year which closely match these. Using estimates at the time they found English health spending rose by 6% after inflation compared to 1% in Scotland, this time between 2009/10 and 2015/16.

The Scottish government decides how much money it allocates to the Scottish NHS from the overall block grant it receives. The Barnett Formula—which determines this grant—only takes account of population size, rather than the different health needs in each nation, according to the Nuffield Trust.

The IFS said in 2014 that the Scottish government had chosen to protect the NHS in Scotland slightly less than it has been protected in England.

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