A Statistical Test of Independence

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By Richard Marsh 

Richard Marsh is an economist specialising in regional economics and economic statistics.  He is a member of two Scottish Government expert groups on economic statistics and economic modelling.  Richard contributed to the Sustainable Growth Commission, working on the economic value of migration. 


This paper considers the current system of statistics in Scotland and provides a number of options and recommendations that would improve it. Beyond the technical benefits this would offer, there is also significant scope to improve Scotland’s approach to economic policy development and evaluation. At the core of this paper, a case is made for an independent Scottish Statistics Agency, led by a Chief Statistician.
The UK system of producing statistics was designed to produce economic statistics for the whole of the UK, not for the devolved administrations.  Since devolution, there has been an increase in the demand for statistical evidence of Scotland’s performance across a wide range of areas. This has exposed gaps in the availability of data, with responses which seek to ‘patch’ these gaps rather than to take a more expansive view of Scotland's future needs. Indeed, if Scotland’s statistical system were to be designed from scratch it would almost certainly look very different. 

The Bean Review (Bean, 2016) invited a fundamental rethink about the way we produce economic statistics. The Digital Economy Act (2017)1 has improved access to a range of economic statistics collected by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC). 

Without a fundamental change in the way we produce data in Scotland we are likely to find ourselves reheating old data to try to answer new policy questions.  The creation of the Scottish Fiscal Commission2 demonstrates that it is possible to establish an arms-length scrutiny body to produce economic statistics. There are lessons to be learned, here, in how Scotland takes forward its approach to data. 

Scotland needs to establish an independent Scottish Statistics Agency that is imaginative, agile, forward-looking and customer-focused.  A review should be undertaken reflecting Scotland’s statistical needs and informing economic policy. Capacity will need to be built across Scotland’s statistics community, responding to the significant potential offered through the Digital Economy Act (2017). 


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