Scotland’s Data Desert: The case for a Scottish Statistics Agency

Overview —

This paper lays out the case for the formation of a Scottish Statistics Agency, funded to a level comparable to nations similar to Scotland, which has the power to fill vital gaps in the gathering, analysis and provision of statistics pertaining to Scotland as well as to curate a comprehensive and transparent database of statistics for public use.


Dr Craig Dalzell

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The ongoing discussions about Scotland’s constitutional circumstances have highlighted significant shortcomings in the availability and quality of data regarding the measuring of many aspects of Scotland’s economy, the demographics of its citizens and residents, data regarding its balance of trade with the rest of the UK and with the rest of the world.

Whilst a case can be made that the running of the UK as a unitary state precludes the need for many such data, particularly that regarding Scotland’s trade with the rest of the UK, the fact that Scotland now has substantial and growing devolved powers and the fact that such data is vital to discussion about the future of Scotland requires the creation of robust statistics. This paper shall outline several areas in which statistical data fails to meet required needs and shall make the case for the creation of a dedicated Scottish Statistics Agency tasked with finding solutions to this problem.


― Scotland’s level of statistical data provision marks it as the best served nation within the UK.

― However, there remains substantial gaps in provision and overall provision falls short of what would be expected to serve an independent country.

― Regardless of Scotland’s constitutional arrangements, better data provision is vital for the creation of better government policy and better management.

― Specific gaps have been identified in areas such as the regionalisation of data, the tax gap, GERS, Whole of (Scottish) Government Accounts, the National Register of Assets and Scottish import and export data.

― A Scottish Statistics Agency would be charged with identifying and filling gaps in statistical provision.

― The SSA may take the form of a single, centralised agency in which it is charged with collecting or commissioning the vast majority of statistical data.

― Alternatively it may be more of an overseer of a decentralised network of specialised data providers, a regulator to ensure the data meets a sufficiently stringent Code of Practice as well as maintaining a data portal to ensure access to the gathered data.

― Ideal budgeting is difficult to assess as they depend on the model employed. An SSA proportional in size to the UK’s would have a budget of £15 million per year and would employ 265 people. An SSA the size of Sweden’s would have a budget of £83.3 million and would employ 700 people.

― Where third party organisations are involved with gathering and manipulating data, a Code of Practice “kitemark” could be created which would indicate where such data meets the standards required for policy-making.

― Trust, transparency and ease of access to data are of paramount importance in this field and an ethos encouraging this should be built into the agency from the outset.

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