SNP says indy Scotland would prosper despite £12bn deficit
●Gap falls slightly but remains six times higher than across the rest of the UK
Derek Mackay has insisted Scotland could prosper as an independent country despite official figures revealing a £12.6 billion black hole between public spending and the taxes raised to fund them.
The finance secretary said Scotof land could do things differently outside the UK after the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) showed Scotland’s deficit had fallen slightly to 7 per cent as a share the economy in 2018-19. The SNP minister said: “We could make other choices if we had the powers of independence.”
The GERS figures spark an annual row over the economics of independence, with opposition parties insisting they underline the value of Scotland’s membership of the UK.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is seeking to stage a second referendum on independence next year, although this has so far been rejected
by Westminster. Scotland’s deficit, although down from 8.5 per cent the previous year, is now six times higher than that across the rest of the UK and higher then anywhere else in Europe.
Pro-union politicians claimed the figures underline the “Union dividend” Scotland enjoys, with Scots enjoying public spending levels of £1,661 per head higher than the UK average.
And although Scotland’s deficit fell by £1.1bn (or 14 per cent) to £12.6bn, this now accounts for more than half of the UK’S deficit.
Mr Mackay accepted that the deficit was too high when he unveiled the figures in Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, yesterday.
“The issue we have in Scotland is that macro-economic policy is still determined by the UK,” he said.
“It wouldn’t be the position of the finances of an independent Scotland on day one.
“The starting position of an independent Scotland would be determined by whatever financial arrangements we have in place and of course we would want to deliver a sustainable strategy that grows our economy, delivers greater prosperity and fairness, challenges the UK economic model that is failing because it’s far too London-centric and focused on the south-east of England.”
The figures show that revenues raised by the Scottish Government have risen by £3bn to £63bn, after the SNP introduced income tax rises for higher earners.
Mr Mackay said: “There are choices we could make as an independent country around what we spend.
“The fact that we’re raising more in Scotland, we’re raising enough to pay for devolved services, social protection, I think it shows there are choices we can make around reserved expenditure.
“To give you an example £6.5bn is assigned to either debt interest or defence spending.
“That’s a figure that’s allocated to Scotland, it doesn’t actually reflect what’s actually spent in defence in Scotland.”
Despite the rise in taxes being collected, revenues raised in Scotland amounted to £11,531 per head.
This is £307 below the UK average, despite the significantly higher public spending levels north of the Border.
Conservativefinancespokesman Murdo Fraser stepped up calls for the SNP to ditch its bid for independence.
“These figures reveal an enormous gap between what Scotland spends and what it raises in tax,” he said.
“These figures make it clear – hadwefollowedalexsalmond and Nicola Sturgeon’s advice in 2014 and backed independence – Scotland would now be facinguptoanunprecedented financial black hole.”
The 7 per cent deficit could prove to be a stumbling block to the SNP’S plans to join the European Union after independence, with strict financial rules stipulating that this must not exceed 3 per cent among members of the bloc.
Labour leader Richard Leonard added: “These figures underline the importance to Scotland’s vital public services, like our NHS of remaining part of the UK.
“A stand-alone Scotland would have one of the biggest fiscal deficits in the developed world, and the SNP’S shock treatment plan to close it is by dumping the pound and imposing unprecedented levels of austerity.”
But Patrick Harvie, leader of the pro-independence Greens, said the figures show the need for a “New Deal” outside the UK.
He added: “Independence must come with a determination to build a new greener Scotland, instead of pursuing our own version of the UK’S unfair, unsustainable and failing economic model.”
CBI Scotland director Tracy Black said the figures showed Scotland’s finances are “moving in the right direction”. But she added: “There’s absolutely no room for complacency, particularly as Scotland still lags way behind the rest of the UK when you look at the deficit as a percentage of GDP.
“The inescapable fact that Scotland spends more than it raises in taxation is a timely reminder of why a thriving and competitive private sector is essential for funding the kind of public services we all want to see.”
“These figures reveal an enormous gap between what Scotland spends and what it raises in tax”
0 North Sea GDP grew by 29 per cent in 2018-19, helped by rising production. Left: Derek Mackay and Murdo Fraser