GERS for nationalists must be a bit like Ash Wednesday for Catholics: a sombre reminder of the hard realities. Scotland gets a very good fiscal deal by sharing resources with the rest of Britain, and on its own, separated from the UK, simply couldn't afford today's level of public services. It’s interesting to watch nationalist ministers do increasingly ludicrous contortions to pretend the numbers say anything else.
We've all got so used to hearing the numbers that it's easy to forget how big they are. Scotland has about £2,000 per head more in public spending than in England, mostly thanks to the Barnett formula, and slightly higher needs for some welfare benefits. It also has lower tax revenues, and so Scotland has a very big public sector deficit.
Even after oil revenues - which have gone up a bit in these numbers - Scotland’s deficit is proportionally twice the UK's. No independent Scotland could sustain that, but the UK can support it. In the five years to 2021, 18% of the UK's borrowing was for the benefit of Scotland, which has 8% of the population, maybe better not tell people in England
The uptick in oil revenues, was as oil prices climbed, but let us hope that they don't go any further up, as the effect on household budgets of soaring energy prices is already unsustainable.
There was a worrying drop in income tax, due to weak growth in the Scottish economy. Over the last decade the UK's economic performance has been poor, but Scotland's has been even worse. Somebody needs to fix that, or tax income will keep going down, and public services will suffer.
Today, the big contributor to the Scottish deficit is high public spending. Which many will welcome. Holyrood's budget is 25-30% more than equivalent services in England. Northern Mayors and NHS managers would give their eyes and teeth for 25% more.
The big question is not what GERS says about independence, that's pretty clear, but why don't we have 25% better public services than England? Some of the difference goes on making services free, for those who could afford them as well as those who can’t. Some now goes on increasing devolved Social Security benefits; good news for many but can't be spent on anything else. GERS also reveals we spend much more than English levels on PFI deals.
What we don't have is 25% more hospitals, doctors, nurses, schools or teachers or police officers. And I'm trying not to talk about Ferries.
Every year, politicians argue about GERS and independence. When you claim it tells us nothing about independence, of course that’s rubbish, but GERS certainly does tell us a lot about today's tax and public spending. GERS demands that we ask instead what we get for all that money, and how we can grow the economy to get more of it.