‘£8bn isn’t covered!’ SNP MSP admits financial deficit looming for independent Scotland

Scotland: Macpherson grilled on independent funding

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SNP MSP Ben Macpherson spoke to Martin Geissler about the “big financial problem” facing Scotland should they achieve independence in the coming years. During a debate on BBC Scotland’s The Nines, Mr Macpherson endeavoured to explain how Scotland would pay for independence, only to be schooled by Mr Geissler, who quickly pointed out that Scotland’s revenue is insufficient to cover the additional costs of devolution taken on by leaving the UK completely. 

Mr Geissler said: “Do you accept that today’s figures at least suggest that they would give you a fairly big financial problem to start out at the start of independence?” 

Mr Machpherson said: “Well, I think what these figures show, as you rightly said, is that this is an analysis of Scotland’s fiscal position within the current constitutional framework and that is a very important fact in this situation. 

“What is also a very important fact that was emphasised today in the figures is that Scotland’s revenue is enough to cover all of the devolved spending that we already have and also all of our social security spending.”

Mr Geissler said: “But it leaves about £8 billion of spending that it does not cover in all of that! It leaves defence, it leaves repayment on debt interest, it leaves all sorts of issues that it does not cover. 

“John Swinney was very quick out of the blocks today saying that it covers all devolved spending, but the problem is if we were independent, we would have more than just what is devolved at the moment to pay for.” 

Mr Macpherson said: “So, Scotland’s revenue would cover all of reserved spending on social security, including state pensions. 

“Now, I appreciate there are other areas of an independent Scotland that we would, of course, have to cover but that would be in an environment where the Scottish government would be able to make different decisions on all areas of policy.” 

The annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) figures were released on Wednesday and unionists have been quick to point out the union dividend, the value of Scotland’s higher spending and lower revenue compared to the UK as a whole, that the analysis shows. 

Data shows Scotland’s deficit has decreased dramatically to £23.7 billion in 2021/22 – a fall of 10.3 percent compared to last year – as onshore revenues grew from the economic recovery post-pandemic.

This represents 12.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and is a huge fall from the 2020/21 figure of 22.7 percent of GDP.

In a tweet yesterday, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross used this information to suggest this was a “devastating blow” to the bid for independence. 

He wrote: “The latest GERS figures hammer home the huge benefits we all get as part of the United Kingdom. Every person in Scotland is £2,184 better off – that’s the highest Union dividend ever. These figures are a devastating blow to Nicola Sturgeon’s push for indyref2.”

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But acting finance secretary John Swinney suggested the benefits of independence, of escaping what he claims is the “economic harm” of Brexit, outweigh the potential union dividend. 

Mr Swinney said: “Remember GERS describes Scotland’s current fiscal position under current constitutional arrangements, with 74 percent of revenue and 37 percent of spending reserved, and Scotland’s economy is already suffering as a result of disastrous Tory policy decisions such as austerity and Brexit.

“In the first full financial year since Brexit, the GERS figures show the economic harm of leaving the EU is driving up borrowing in the UK and contributing to the UK deficit being one of the largest in Europe.

“Independence is no silver bullet – but surely it would be better for the Scottish Parliament to have the full economic and fiscal levers to enable us to weather the current storms, rather than leaving them in the hands of Westminster and hope for the best.”

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