Why GERS figures may not be all they seem - and who we should listen to

Next time someone tells you Scotland has a £15billion deficit, throw three words at them: Professor Richard Murphy.

The influential professor of ­practice in international political economy at City University of London made his name exposing the way big companies avoid paying tax – and the ineffectiveness of governments in collecting tax.

He is a chartered accountant who has succeeded in sexing up his subject with his book The Joy of Tax.

This month he turned his ­attention to Scotland and in ­particular claims that the country has a £15billion deficit and is too poor to be an independent country.

The claim was absurd even before Professor Murphy challenged it this month. This is why:

1. The Scottish Government balance the books each year because the Government do not borrow – so it is entirely “notional” or paper-based, a guesstimate.

2. The figure refers to one year only – in many other years Scotland has run a surplus according to the same criteria, with our tax take per head consistently higher than the UK.

Even if you accept the deficit, it was run up under the UK system – the UK controls the main economic policy levers that affect Scotland, including most tax revenue.

Professor Murphy’s intervention goes much further than the above by questioning the official data on which the notional deficit is based.

It is show-stopping now that the Scottish Parliament is on the cusp of backing Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to implement her manifesto pledge to hold another referendum on ­independence should Scotland be pulled out the EU against our will.

Read the rest of my column here.

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