IT'S that time of year again. The annual GERS report is out and the same actors are playing the same roles making the same points.

I guess I share some of the blame in the attention that GERS has been getting in recent years. In 2016 I published a paper – Beyond GERS – which looked at the things that would need to change for someone to take the figures that are in that report and map them on to an independent Scotland. Things like the economic impact of moving the reserved civil service in London, who are doing work for or “on behalf of” Scotland but are not based here, are not paying income tax here and are not consuming goods and services here.

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It turns out that the effect of Scotland hosting a substantial part of its government outside of its country is worth something like £2.5 billion per year in economic activity and around £1.3bn per year in tax revenue.

Move forward a couple of years and now no serious commentator claims that GERS as it stands can be used to make statements about the finances of an independent Scotland unless it is modified to account for such changes.

But as a set of accounts for Scotland, the region of the UK, I’m content to use GERS as it is. Maybe improvements can and should still be made, but this is true for all statistical publications and the team behind the report do the best they can within their remit.

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So what does this year’s publication tell us about Scotland, the region?

It shows a deeply divided, deeply unequal UK that is failing to serve all of its people.

Scotland’s notional deficit, though smaller than previous years, is much higher than the UK’s and there’s a very strong case to be made that says that this is due not to the poor performance of the devolved government as some would claim but due to the increasing concentration of economic activity in London and the South East. The UK is, by a vast margin, the most regionally unequal country in the EU.

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Evidence for this has been shown directly in recent reports which estimate “GERS-like” statistics for each of the UK regions and show that only London and the SE are “surplus regions” of the UK. Everywhere else, even places where the SNP are not in government, are in deficit.

Within GERS, we can see the impact by looking at the notional per capita share of tax revenue in Scotland compared to the UK. Scotland’s 8.2% of the UK’s population produces, for instance, 9.2% of the UK’s non-domestic rates and 9.7% of the UK’s alcohol duties (we drink and smoke too much but that’s a story of long-term deprivation best told another time), but Scotland only brings in 6.9% of the UK’s income tax, 7.0% of corporation tax and 5.9% of the UK’s inheritance tax. High income and wealth is concentrated elsewhere.

To show the impact of this, we could recalculate Scotland’s revenue “as-if” each tax brought in a population share of the whole of the UK. If we do this, we find that Scotland’s accounts bring in £2.8 billion less than would be expected if the UK’s economic activity was equally spread – this figure has risen sharply in the past few years.

Some will claim that this is a good thing. That this is “pooling and sharing” in action. But, again, the UK is the least equal country in the EU and that spread is growing. It is not a healthy country that “pools” all of its economy into its capital (along with the investment and infrastructure spending that encourages even more pooling) and then “shares” handouts to the regions left without that investment. It’s an outright poisonous political culture that tells those regions that they should be happy with their handouts.

Scotland needs a healthier debate about its finances and its fiscal policy. Narrow talk about “the deficit” and “pooling and sharing” fail to capture what is really going on in the UK. The country’s economy is clearly not working for all of us and if there’s no prospect of that changing within the UK then Scotland should think again about the possibilities in front of it where we could work to shape a better economy that builds Scotland for ourselves.

Dr Craig Dalzell is head of policy and research at Common Weal