The Scottish version of Groundhog Day

It’s GERS Day, Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland, the Scottish version of Groundhog Day. It’s the day when a certain anti-independence blogger goes around on social media showing off his graphs. It’s the day when the BBC misleads the public by telling us that the Scottish Government has a deficit of £13.4 billion, when in fact much of the deficit that we’re told we have is due to spending decisions made on Scotland’s behalf by a Westminster government which resolutely keeps a vice like grip on most of the levers of taxation and allocates us a share of spending on stuff we don’t want, which borrows and allocates us a share of its debt. It’s the day when a series of British nationalist politicians pop up in the media to gloat about how poor they’ve made Scotland, like that was a good thing.

It’s GERS day. It’s the day when the rest of us should declare a national public holiday and bugger off to a beach in Largs, in the rain. Cos poking out your eyeballs with a rusty knitting needle while sitting on pebbles in the cold and the wet as the tide comes up the Firth of Clyde and threatens to drown you is infinitely more productive than arguing on social media about the GERS figures with opponents of independence who think that the figures are Holy Writ and questioning them makes you a heretic.

Wee point here, the GERS figures are not science. You can’t equate questioning them with questioning climate change. They are estimates of economic activity which are based upon the financial policies of the British government. It has been well documented that they are decidedly political in their conception. Unlike science.  GERS was designed by Ian Lang when he was the Conservative Scottish Secretary of State back in the 1990s as a political tool to be used against those arguing for greater Scottish self-government, a role they have continued to fulfil ever since.

So instead, in this blog post, I’ll just leave you with a few wee things to ponder. Like this quote from the British nationalists’ favourite Scottish economic think tank, that one that sounds like a knitwear college in Pitlochry and a leading provider of rusty knitting needles. Yes, it’s the Fraser of Allander Institute. Here’s what they had to say about GERS.

If the very purpose of independence is to take different choices about the type of economy and society that we live in, then a set of accounts based upon the world today will tell us little about the long-term finances of an independent Scotland.

Here’s some other proper economists, Jim and Margaret Cuthbert, who also cautioned against using the GERS figures to make predictions or claims about the economic performance of an independent Scotland as is so beloved of our media and anti-independence commentariat. They say,

The temptation … is for users to take the results of this type of analysis [ie GERS] and then to generalise the implications, either through time, or to different possible constitutional arrangements. Such a generalisation however, should not be attempted without examining how robust the results are likely to be in the face of changing circumstances. In particular, how robust are the conclusions of GERS likely to be in the face of major constitutional change.

It seems to us that the results of a GERS type analysis are highly conditional on specific constitutional arrangement, and are therefore unlikely to be generalisable in the face of constitutional change.

Here’s the key fact to bear in mind about GERS.  At best, flawed and political as they are, they give some indication about where Scotland’s economy is starting from.  They tell us nothing at all about where the economy of an independent Scotland can go.

What the GERS figures do reflect is the mess that successive British governments have created of Scotland’s finances. At best, the GERS report tells us where we’re starting from as a part of the UK. If that starting point is poor, that’s not an argument against independence. Instead it’s an argument that we need to get out of the mess.

You could ask some of your favourite anti-independence campaigners what their plan for getting out of the mess is. Where’s their Growth Plan report, where’s their equivalent of the How to Start a New Country book. You’ll be waiting for a long time for a reply, because the only thing that they have to say is that independence is baaaaad. All they can suggest is that Scotland continues to be reliant on the kindness and generosity of Conservative governments which we haven’t voted for, which is rather like expecting the eunuchs in the court of the Chinese Emperor to start a sperm bank.

Then there’s the peculiar fact that Scotland, according to the GERS figures, has a notional deficit of £13.4 billion annually, whereas according to the most recent equivalent figures for Wales and Northern Ireland that I can find, Wales has an annual deficit of £14.7 billion (source ), while Northern Ireland has an annual deficit of £9.85 billion. ( This page gives the figure per head of population, which can be multiplied by the 1.811 million population of Northern Ireland to give the total annual deficit.)

This means that the three of the four parts of the UK which aren’t England are collectively responsible for £37.95 billion of a UK annual deficit which according to the Office for National Statistics is £46.9 billion. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland together contain a population of 10.3 million, as compared to the UK population of 66.5 million. England on the other hand, with a population of 56.2 million, is apparently responsible for the rest of the deficit, a mere £8.95 billion. Which means that according to the published figures, 15.5% of the UK population is supposedly responsible for 80.9% of the deficit.

There are only two possible explanations for this, either the economic and financial decisions of successive UK governments have over the decades reduced the Celtic parts of the UK to penury.  As far as Scotland is concerned they have left us reliant on handouts and subsidies despite the massive economic potential that Scotland possesses. This is not an argument making the case for the good government of the UK, and for the life of me I will never understand why opponents of independence believe it to be their best argument against Scottish independence.  Stay with us Scotland! We’ve screwed you up and pauperised you!  It’s not a great slogan.  Or alternatively the figures are not giving us an accurate picture of what’s really happening. You decide.

Neither I nor your average anti-independence blogger are actually economists, but only one of us pretends to be one. So finally, I’ll just leave you with the words of a proper economist, someone who does actually know about these things.

Many thanks to Phantom Power for the video.

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36 comments on “The Scottish version of Groundhog Day

  1. Andy Anderson says:

    Thank you for this clear reminder Paul.

    All I can contribute is the Scotland has had positive trade balance for 21 years now and that the public finances has balanced every year since 1999.

  2. See my comments on previous article.
    They never tire of telling us that Scotland is shite, do they.
    Why have they not left?
    Because they are being paid indecent amounts of money by the Brit Nat Iron Heel Establishment to betray their own country. ‘The Shape of futures past’.

  3. […] Wee Ginger Dug The Scottish version of Groundhog Day It’s GERS Day, Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland, the Scottish version of […]

  4. Just watched Richard Murphy’s contribution to Phantom Power’s excellent RoaD to Yes series.
    Hire him immediately, NS.
    He has scant regard for GERS, and like many of us now believes that Scotland must have its own currency, and Central Bank.
    This should be shown on mainstream TV.
    How much would it cost us to get it broadcast?
    Powerful inspiring take on ‘heart and mind’ Independence.

  5. Jason Smoothpiece says:

    You ain’t getting that on mainstream anything mate doesn’t matter how much dosh you raise.

    The people at the centre who advise HM Government would erupt in a cloud of flatulence on hearing such nonsense.

    You must know that articles of this nature cant be broadcast because of ……things.

    • A twenty minute ‘information’ item. An Advert for Independence?
      I know, Jason, ‘things’ would veto it.
      But then again, ‘things’ ain’t wot they used to be.

    • Tol says:

      @Jason Smoothpiece

      Its almost time to start a universal campaign of GERS derision.

      Westminster and their media arm will never give YES time to construct cogent arguments…so its time to use comedy to cut to the quick. The entire project is based on a fallacy of such stupid proportions its like Westminster purposely gift wrapped it for derision.

      Its time to stop playing to their tune. Arguing politely won’t weaponise YES’s position when it will be swamped by a10 second unionist sound bite. Its time to stop taking this joke of a document seriously. We need to make anyone who tries to back their argument with GERS look like and idiot.

      Its time for YES to start throwing some serious shade.

  6. In 2005 David Camoren stated he would not stand in the way of handing full fiscal autonomy to the Scottish Government if the idea was supported by the SCOTTISH CONSERVATIVE Party! I take it they didn’t. Wikipedia.

  7. as if on cue Douglas Fraser, Toodle Oo The Noo, and Mundell trotted out the same yearly mince about GERS and how Scotland is too poor and there’s a lot more public spending Up Here than in the rest of the UK and isn’t it great that the English are willing to subsidise us like this.
    They’ve hardly unpacked their suitcases and put away their Bermuda Shorts and they are back on the same Scotland is shiter and too poor merry go round.
    They tell their audience of thousands average age 61 that GERS is the Scottish Government’s own figures, and that there won’t be a second Indyref any time soon; that we cuddly silver haired man on the NNC told them so, so it must be right.
    The Man from the Think Tank which sounds likea woollen mill,the Fraser of Allander Institute spoke as the BBC asked him to speak, with nary a hint that GERS is a WM con and riddled with lies and ‘Scotland too poor’ propaganda..

    As I suggested, there was Corbyn and Leonard sitting having tea and shortbread with some asylum seekers. Great photo op. but no interview.

    Fear not, Jezza, they wouldn’t have asked you about Brexit. They are ‘on message’. Keep the citizens of Scotland in the dark. Lie to them.

    Of course he wasn’t interviewed about Volvo’s and 98% of Scottish Engineering Companies urgent concerns that Brexit will be a commercial and financial disaster.

    Corbyn came across exactly how he is perceived: a silver haired old man nodding off in a community hall somewhere.
    This man will lead England out of Europe?
    No, my sides!.

    BBC Stockade at Pacific Quay: The Last Helicopter out of Viet Scotland.

    What is the point of a career in Scottish journalism or broadcasting these days?
    Are they there to protect the rich and the privileged, and subject their fellow citizens to a constant stream of lies, threats and misdirection? Is that what journalism now. A mouthpiece for the Invader?.
    How do they face their children over the dinner table?

  8. Macart says:

    Neatly done. 🙂

    • Just browsed Herald Britland online.
      What a tawdry wee Ranjers Sellick Orange Order Scotland is shite rag it has become.
      Can’t be long now until the next round of downsizing.
      I took this ‘paper for over 50 years, man and boy.
      I wouldn’t wipe yours with it now, Sam.

      • Macart says:

        Steady on. 😮

        Don’t let it get to you Jack. I was a regular Graun and Herald reader for yonks masel’. Gave them all the big E mid indyref. Still kept up with Ian Bell’s work until he passed right enough.His intelligence and writing were rightly held in high esteem. More than those attributes though. He had heart. He’ll be greatly missed.

        Today? I scarcely glance in the direction of a news stand and mainly because they lack that final quality. They lack heart. There’s no caring in them. They are what they are. A means to an end front to back. Owned by those who at best, see only a bottom line. At worst? Well? Know your title by its political and ideological impact. If you willingly spread fear, hatred and intimidation, then that’s the readership you’ll attract. The fear filled and the hateful.(shrugs)

        Courage to challenge and intelligence are fine things in a journalist or author, but without heart and the ability to care? Then you’re a mercenary with a pen.

        • Sam, Ian Bell’s passing was a watershed.
          What a scribe he was.
          I do not buy ‘papers these days, apart from the National when it’s available.
          There is no ‘heart’ in journalism these days.
          Most of the input from hacks Up Here is cut and paste press releases from the Blue Red and Yellow Unionist PR units.

          Steven Gerrard and Brendan Rogers must be the most photographed football managers in history.
          Pulp fiction for the bigot.

          Yet yesterday across the Central Belt, the Herald, Record, and Scotsman flooded the land with too poor/ subsidy junkies leads on that other GERS, the fictional propaganda Right Wing Scotland is Shite yearly exercise dreamed up by Lord Ian Lang and John Major in the 90’s, designed to undermine Scotland and lie about the state of out great country’s wealth.

          Douglas Fraser and Brian Taylor know this, yet there they were at Teatime last night doing their Iron Heel Oligarchy’s bidding, using this fiction as fact, Winston Smith style.

          They enrage and disgust me in equal measure.

          Today we are to get the first of 80 Blue Tory Brit Nat Contingency Plans in anticipation of the inevitable now, England and Wales leaving the EU with No Deal.
          I say, ‘England and Wales’ because I cannot imagine that the Scottish Government would lead the Scottish people meekly into the wilderness on England’s coat tails.

          We can’t survive on a sandwich of empty promises and baseless assurances that ‘There Will Always Be An England, We’ve Survived Worse’ nonsense flooding the airwaves today.

          I have bought my last Yoon ‘Paper.
          Like gas lamplighters,they are yesterday’s news.

  9. tintochiel says:

    “This means that the three of the four parts of the UK which aren’t England are collectively responsible for £37.95 billion of a UK annual deficit which according to the Office for National Statistics is £46.9 billion. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland together contain a population of 10.3 million, as compared to the UK population of 66.5 million. England on the other hand, with a population of 56.2 million, is apparently responsible for the rest of the deficit, a mere £8.95 billion. Which means that according to the published figures, 15.5% of the UK population is supposedly responsible for 80.9% of the deficit.”

    I think that’s probably one of the best examples of the GERS figures being completely unbelievable, Paul.

    I hope that by the time this nonsense comes around again we’re on our way to independence.

    • Cubby says:

      I am always astonished that some Scottish independence supporters get dragged into an implicit assumption that there is a deficit and discuss the details etc etc. This is just giving credence to GERS that it does not deserve. It is just more Britnat propaganda.

      • diabloandco says:

        I think you are missing the point Cubby . many will accept the official line bleated out in the ‘unbiased ‘ BBBC and STV et al.

        Many need a simple explanation on why it is a load of ordure heaped on this awfy , stupid, poverty stricken , bigoted wee country of ours.

        Goodness knows why folk choose to live here eh?

        Thank goodness for the Paul’s , Stu’s , Sam’s , Jack’s and many more who shred the mumblings of the media and promote a better understanding with accuracy and humour.

        • Cubby says:

          Diabloandco. I think I have not explained my point clearly enough. I agree that there needs to be a simple debunking of GERS explanation. What I mean is that it does not require an acceptance that there is a £13.5 deficit or any deficit or comments to the effect that things are better because it is going down from £15 billion.

  10. Macart says:

    *Blush* Ta Dorothy.

    There are, of course, many ways to approach GERS and always, ALWAYS, from the knowledge that it is a flawed snapshot and a political tool of central government.

    There are those in the indy movement who prefer to use the SGs route of using key indicators within GERS to show steady financial improvement. They know the thing is flawed but that there are nuggets which can be of use. These folk though tend to be yer real numbers types and they can sift through the dross for those pearls. They can argue the content fluently because they understand the economics, the flaws, the advantages and the opportunities. That’s their thang.

    How and ever, most of the rest of us, and I’d reckon that’s the majority of the pro indy movement, aren’t economists or accountants. We can’t argue the toss over balance sheets, Gini coefficients, GDPs, transfers or deficits. Our tack is and has to be, more direct. If you’re not an economist (and I’m certainly not), then simply point out the obvious flaws of GERS and leave it at that.

    Many roads folks. Leave the number crunching arguments to those who can and for those of us who can’t? Take a lie down at this time of year and watch the Britnats have a bit of a froth. 🙂

  11. annraynet says:

    What a great article and comments. Love the eunuchs and sperm bank analogy, brilliant!
    The statistics that show the other countries in this ‘precious union’ have a collective higher deficit than England are very interesting and could be used to demonstrate how daft they are.

  12. Macart says:

    THIS is worth watching.

  13. awkwardboy says:

    There is no fundamental difference between attributes we consider to be strengths and those we consider to be weaknesses. It is only a trick of perspective or circumstance, for example commitment is often seen as a strength while stubbornness is viewed as a weakness but they are fundamentally the same, likewise with attention to detail (positive) and pedantry (negative). The only ways to differentiate the positive strength from the negative weakness are perspective or circumstance.
    The Britnats have taken a weakness (GERS) and shifted the perspective to use it as a strength.
    There is nothing to stop us applying the same tactic to make our perceived weaknesses into strengths and their perceived strengths into weaknesses.

  14. Grafter says:

    Unseen and never mentioned by our MSM, Scotland’s oil continues to be drained away for the benefit of the wealthy few. In Aberdeen I look across the road and see a bus displaying a forthcoming attraction which we should all be paying attention to instead of all this too difficult independence nonsense. Go home and immerse yourself in the return of The Great British Bake Off it says and don”t rock the boat for everything is fine in the grand colonial scheme of things.

    • Grafter,
      ‘panem et circenses’ bread and circuses.
      When the Roman Empire was in decline and Roman citizens got fed up of taxes to fund foreign wars piss poor government, and the proles got a bit fed up of their unelected leaders stabbing each other in the back and setting fire to Rome, the Establishment gave them ‘bread and circuses to divert their attention from the mess the Elite were making, appealing to their base instincts, like throwing Christians to the Lions, and hiring Kirk Douglas to bare his teeth in the Circus Maximus.
      Fast forward two thousand years.
      Boris’ degree from Oxford is in ‘The Classics’; Latin and Greek.
      The Mandarins who run Whitehall has more than its fair share of Ancient Romans.
      Indeed if memory serves, Sir Humphrey from Yes Prime Minister had a First in Classics from Oxford.
      These men, and it is still men, run the dying Empire.
      They also now run the BBC’ Hence the unbelievably banal fare on offer across the Channels.
      ‘Great British Blackhead Squeezing’ would be commissioned if the Powers That Be thought that they might get an audience.
      Give the Proles what they want, include ‘Great British’, or ‘Celebrity’ in the title, and they won’t notice when we bomb children, cut benefits to the infirm, poor, or elderly.
      It is as old as Juvenal. (q.v., if you must.)
      Sellick/Ranjurs/ Orange Walks/ bread and circuses.
      Citizens get stabbed on the way to a football match, but who cares?
      Scotland is being dragged out of Europe, but who cares.
      Well, several million Scots do.
      But can I live without Doctor Who?
      Can you live without the ‘Great British Cooking Gardening DIY-ing Railway Journeys Talent Show Fell Walking’ world of sub reality?
      You bet your feckin’ life you can.
      Rant over.

  15. Wasn’t so long ago that Government Ministers including David Davis and other Brexiters such as Rees Mogg and Ian Duncan Smith, were shouting from the rooftops that all UK Government economic reports were inaccurate. That, was when the Government’s own economic assessment reports, were starting to predict the financial and economic collapse of the UK economy over Brexit.
    When it comes to Scotland it’s a different story. UK Government economic reports are then, the most accurate in the history of all economic reports.
    Moreover, Scotland is given it’s % share of the costs of UK projects in the GERS figures. English projects such as the eye watering £56 billion and counting HS2, New London super sewers £4.2 billion, London crossrail £15 billion, Westminster refurbishment £7 billion, Hinckley Point £20 billion Now, we have Brexit costs to add in. £2 billion a week said the Cameron Government. One notices that there are very few voices raised against these expensive English projects. Contrast that with the howels of outrage over the “vanity project” of the Queensferry Crossing.
    So Scotland will be paying dearly for Brexit, in more ways than one, although we have twice voted to stay in the EU. These costs are all thrown into the mix, with a few zeros added onto the end, to make the GERS figures look as damaging and as bad as possible.
    Aren’t we just better together?

    • Btw. Whatever the fake figure of the GERS deficit is, Scotland should say that the rent to cover Trident per year, in an Indy Scotland, will be the same. One would see that figure fall to zero, in rapid quick time.
      Also remember, that Scotland is self sufficient in renewable energy for electricity. Not one penny shows up in GERS. Of course goes without saying that oil, whisky, gas and fish are not taken into account in a Scottish only context.
      In other words. England are fcuked without us.

  16. susan says:

    The negative State propaganda just goes on and on… Scotland we love you

  17. Robert Langlands says:

    Thanks for the link to Richard Murphy’s video, he really talks good sense.

  18. Marconatrix says:

    What a really excellent video!

    An ‘expert’ who really knows and understands his stuff, yet can explain it in simple straightforward terms. (There again the second point probably follows from the first!)

    And who despite being ‘English’ (of Irish stock?) and based south of the Border, nevertheless can speak up for Scotland’s ability and right to be independent.

    An economist with a heart — lol! What a joy to listen to.
    Many thanks for the link! 🙂

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