Despite its name, Gers Day is not an annual celebration of the Ibrox side that makes up one half of Glasgow’s notorious Old Firm. If only it were that uncontentious. In fact, Gers stands for ‘Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland’, the Scottish government’s yearly report on public finances. In a normal country, the publication of 76 pages of data tables and accountancy prose would go largely unremarked upon, so naturally in Scotland we have to turn it into another front in the independence wars. Because we really have nothing better to do.
This year’s figures, like last year’s, reflect the unprecedented Treasury interventions during the Covid pandemic. However, they paint an otherwise familiar picture. Scotland’s notional deficit stands at £23.7 billion or 12.3 per cent of GDP, double the UK’s fiscal shortfall of 6.1 per cent. Public spending in Scotland is now £1,963 higher per head than the UK average. The ‘Union dividend’ — the value of higher expenditure in Scotland set against its lower tax revenues — comes out at £2,184 per capita. In raw fiscal terms, Scotland continues to get more out of the UK than it puts in and an independent Scotland would be confronted with a public finance balance sheet that would necessitate either economy-slugging tax rises or services-devastating spending cuts.
The debate on these fiscal realities plays out every year but goes nowhere. For one, a large section of grassroots Scottish nationalists and even some elected SNP politicians are Gers Truthers. That is, they do not believe the Gers report is an accurate representation of Scotland’s public finances, which they say are much more robust but being covered up by sinister forces, with the Treasury typically fingered as the culprit. You might think the fact that Gers reports are researched, compiled and published by the SNP-run Scottish government somewhat undermines this theory, but then you’re probably in on it, too.