Arguments for Scottish independence are strengthened by the pandemic, Scottish finance secretary Kate Forbes has claimed.
Forbes spoke after new figures showed Scotland’s deficit more than doubled last year amid the impact of coronavirus.
The deficit was 22.4% of GDP in 2020/21, the highest ever recorded by the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (Gers) figures.
Opponents of independence say the higher public spending shows the extent of the UK Government’s support during the pandemic.
But speaking to journalists following the release of the Gers figures on Wednesday, Forbes said: “I think the arguments for independence are strengthened through the pandemic.
“Three years ago, when the figures for the notional deficit were around 7% or 8%, similar questions were asked around whether or not Scotland could truly be successful as an independent country.
“The UK’s deficit right now – as a result of an unprecedented shock – is about 14%, the highest in Europe.
“The fundamental difference is that we assume the UK Government will manage that position down, because of the levers at its control.
“Partly growing the economy, and partly managing its finances in a prudent and a sustainable manner.”
She said the Scottish Government will continue to focus on growing the economy but the impact of coronavirus makes it difficult to forecast the future.
Discussing how an independent Scotland would manage the deficit, she said: “There would be decisions made in the immediate aftermath of an independence vote, during a transition, as to how we manage our public finances.”
Asked how quickly the deficit could be reduced, she said: “This is not the Scottish Government’s deficit, this is a notional deficit, where 40% of spend and 70% of tax is reserved to the UK Government
“When it comes to the event of independence, we would know what our starting position is and want to manage our finances in a sustainable fashion as quickly as possible.”
Pressed on the cost of borrowing for an independent Scotland, she said the new country would have to establish infrastructure such as a debt management office and receive a credit rating.
She acknowledged “uninhibited borrowing on open markets” would be a “very different position” to her request for more borrowing powers from the UK’s national loans fund.