What are the GERS figures and why do they always cause a rammy?

Expect another row as the annual report into Scotland's public spending is published.

What are the Scottish Government’s GERS figures and why do they always cause a rammy? iStock

The Scottish Government published its latest Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) report on Wednesday morning.

Gers estimates the gap between the amount of money raised through taxation in Scotland and what is spent on public services.

Scotland’s public deficit in 2021/22 fell to £24bn – having hit £36bn the previous year due to the pandemic.

The publication is typically followed by furious debate as the figures are interpreted differently by those who believe in Scottish independence, and those who oppose it.

A brief history of Gers

Gers was first published in 1992 by then-Prime Minister John Major’s Conservative government.

Scotland Office ministers felt it would help them make a case against devolution, as they believed the figures proved the country relied on the UK Treasury.

Who produces the report now?

Since 1999, the figures have been produced by statisticians within the Scottish Government.

But Gers is a National Statistics publication, which means it is independently assessed and produced free of political interference. 

Why is there always a row?

Because they have become part of the debate over independence. Both sides will have different interpretations of what the figures mean.

The SNP’s Growth Commission accepted the figures as a starting point for how an independent Scotland’s finances might look. 

Those who support the union have used Gers to suggest Scotland can only afford its level of public spending because it is part of the UK. 

Do they tell us much about a future independent Scotland’s finances?

Not really. Gers figures illustrate the current health or weakness of Scotland’s public finances based on existing constitutional arrangements. 

But many see them as a starting point for a discussion about the affordability of public services if Scotland was to go it alone. 

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