THERE'S nothing unfair about higher public spending in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has said at the launch of the latest GERS figures.

Scotland, she added, had more than paid its way over the years.

Professor Richard Murphy: Why you can't rely on GERS figures to judge Scotland's financial state

The GERS figures revealed that Scotland is in a better place than it was last year, though the notional deficit – the difference between what the country spends and what the county raises – is a whopping £13.4 billion, or 7.9% of GDP.

However, that’s down from 8.9% last year.

Scotland's finances were given a billion-pound-boost by an increase in Scottish North Sea revenue, up from £266 million in 2016/17 to £1327m in 2017/18.

Meanwhile, onshore tax take increased by £2bn, taking total revenue to £60bn.

The First Minister insisted the country’s economy was going in the right direction.

“The publication of GERS this morning comes against the backdrop of a run of positive economic statistics for Scotland which shows that our economy, as the oil sector has recovered, is, overall, in a state of recovery,” she said.

The SNP leader pointed to revised GDP figures showing growth in Scotland at 0.4%, double the rate in the same quarter for the whole of the UK. She also said there was high employment, increased productivity and strong export statistics.

“All of that paints a positive picture, a more positive picture than we’ve seen in the Scottish economy in the last few years,” Sturgeon added. “This is an improving picture, a very strongly improving picture.”

On the prospects of the economy of an independent Scotland, the First Minister said GERS was a “snapshot” of Scotland’s finances in a “current time and under current constitutional and governance arrangements”.

She also pointed out that the latest figures were more positive than those used by her party’s Growth Commission in their blueprint for independence.

The National: Andrew Wilson's Growth Commission report fallen into the trap of obsessing over economic growth at all costs. Photograph: Gordon Terris

Growth Commission author Andrew Wilson with a copy of the report

The Growth Commission had used the IFS and Scottish Trends projections to assume an independent Scotland in 2021 would start with a deficit of 6.7% or 6.3%.

But both of those predictions were based on a 2017/18 deficit of either 8.5% or 8.3%, not the 7.9% which the deficit actually is.

On average, Scotland’s public sector expenditure was £13,530 per person, which is £1576 per person greater than the UK average.

The amount raised in tax in Scotland, is the equivalent of £11,052 per person, which is about £306 per person lower than the UK average.

Asked if she thought people south of the Border would see higher public spending in Scotland as unfair, Sturgeon said it would be wrong to suggest that Scots were being subsidised by English taxpayers.

“If you look over the piece and the contribution of Scottish tax revenues onshore and offshore to the UK treasury over a period of years I think probably you would have to conclude it is perhaps more than fair.

“I don’t think there is anything unfair in terms of Scotland’s contribution. From a Scottish perspective our contribution to UK finance’s we’ve more than paid our way.”

Scottish Secretary David Mundell described the level of Scotland's deficit compared with the UK figure as "concerning".

He said the figures "also confirm that being part of a strong United Kingdom, the fifth largest economy in the world, is worth nearly £1900 for every single person in Scotland, which supports vital public services".

"Simply put, Scotland contributed 8% of UK tax and received more than 9% of UK spending for the benefit of families across the country," he added.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: "People across Scotland are sick and tired of austerity - and these figures show that the SNP's plans for independence would mean unprecedented levels of austerity for Scotland."

Scottish LibDem Leader Willie Rennie said: "Whichever way you look at it, under nationalist plans all the good things we all want to do in Scotland would be under threat because of funding cuts."