The National:

SO, we have another GERS statement, and with it the collective disbelief that this statement continues to be published in 2021. GERS is, of course, the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland statement, with a title conveniently arranged to match the commonly used name of Scotland’s main Unionist football team, as if it’s political bias was not already apparent. 

I have already explored some of the failings of GERS in an article earlier this month. I have also produced a video on why GERS is based on fundamentally flawed accounting.

Nothing about the current statement and the inevitable small changes made in its production this year changes any of my fundamental concerns about this report. In particular GERS is now, as it was designed to be, a fundamentally flawed perspective on the finances of some fictional government in Scotland. That point is particularly important. 

GERS does not reflect the actions of the Scottish Government in Holyrood, after all. Much of the income recorded in it has nothing to do with the Scottish Government, which never sees it. And nor come to that does Holyrood have control of much of the spend that GERS supposedly records. Instead that spend is incurred by Westminster - which - and let's be honest about this - has no real clue if the benefit is for Scotland or not. The figure is just apportioned to Scotland as if that is the case, whether that can ever be justified. 

So what GERS represents is some weird amalgam of income and expenditure, which as I have perviously noted are not accounted for on the same basis. What is more, the amalgam makes no sense because there is no one who is responsible for either all that income or all that expenditure, let alone the interaction between them. So, whether or not the figures are correct - and there are good reasons to doubt that in the case of the data from Westminster - publishing them tells us nothing useful because there is no one who is responsible for managing the outcomes that GERS supposedly reports. You could not come up with a better definition of meaningless accounting data than that. 

READ MORE: GERS Day: What is the annual report and why is everyone talking about it?

What is certain is that the Scottish Government is not responsible for the claimed Scottish deficit: It cannot manage income and expenditure that is not devolved to it. And, as a matter of fact the Scottish Government balances its budget. In that case the only obvious conclusion to draw is that the Scottish deficit must be the sole responsibility of the Westminster government. 

So, the question to ask is why in that case is this a Scottish Government report? And if Westminster is responsible for much of the GERS data - which is the case for all the information that creates a reported deficit in Scotland - then why isn't it the UK Government’s name on the report? 

If the UK Government did accept responsibility for the report it would have to accept responsibility for the utterly implausible claim that so much of the UK Government deficit can be attributable to so few people in Scotland. 

And it too would be responsible for suggesting why that deficit has continued for so long and why Scotland has not, to use its jargon, been "levelled up". What GERS actually shows, after all, is a dismal record of Westminster rule of Scotland. 

Come to that, Westminster would also have to explain why it wants to retain Scotland when GERS suggests it is such a burden on the rest of the UK, because what GERS would, if it was a Westminster government report, do is provide English nationalist reason for supporting Scottish independence

READ MORE: GERS Day: Independence 'essential’ as notional deficit expected to rise

Alternatively, of course, if GERS was a Westminster report the data might be changed. Most importantly, figures for Scottish rents and profits - which are simply not known with any accuracy but which together contribute more than 40% of Scottish GDP - might be properly recorded. And, if that proper recording took place then proper tax due on that very large part of the national income of Scotland might also be paid in Scotland, which I am certain is not the case at present. And don’t underestimate the significance of this: Large parts of those profits and rents might be recorded in England at present, which is where the tax will be paid in that case. No wonder Scotland looks so badly off in that case. Westminster would, if it had to report this data, try to get that right. 

In that case what really interests me is why this document continues to be published by the Scottish Government. It’s not as if it has to produce it, after all. It does not actually refer to its own activities. Despite that, it appears to endorse it, which is not something I would choose to do. 

More than that though, I am not sure why a serious counter-attack on this Unionist nonsense is not being mounted by the SNP government. It’s not as if the evidence of Westminster’s shenanigans is in short supply. GERS itself supplies much of it - and the Scottish Government should be saying so. But the devolution settlement - which is deliberately designed to undermine almost any attempt the Scottish Government takes to control its revenues - also ensures that Scottish economic autonomy is always undermined by Westminster.

These are big issues. GERS is a con-trick intended to make Scotland look bad. But so too is the devolution settlement on finance, most especially when any attempt that Scotland makes to raise its own revenues results in that money largely being clawed  back by Westminster by reducing the block grant, leaving Scotland more highly taxed but no better off, with England getting a Scottish subsidy instead. It is this that a Scottish government dedicated to independence should be saying. I am genuinely baffled as to why it is not.