Official figures show huge decline in North Sea revenue hit Scotland's finances

North Sea Credit: PA

It's more than 60 pages long, full of tables and statistics. It's known as GERS. And it's nothing to do with a certain football team.

If you want to know where stands old Scotia financially, go look in Government Expenditure & Revenue Scotland (GERS to its friends).

With politics often, and understandably, about emotions a few facts - well a lot of facts actually - can only be a Good Thing.

What do today's GERS figures, which relate to 2015-16, tell us? A lot. And much of it not good.

Scotland has a 'net fiscal balance', the difference between public sector investment and public sector revenue, of -£14.8 billion.

Just to be clear that's a negative number, a deficit to you and me, and it stands at 9.5% of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the size of the economy.

The deficit is up on last year when it stood at -£14.3bn, or 9.1% of GDP. The same figure for the UK is a £75.3bn deficit, but that is only 4% of UK GDP.

As a percentage of GDP, Scotland's deficit has gone up over the last three years, while the UK's has gone down.

The percentages are based on including Scotland share of North Sea revenues.

GERS also tells us that spending per person in Scotland is £12,800 a year.

The UK figure is £11,500, so £1,200 more per head is spent in Scotland than the UK as a whole.

That may not appear to add up but the figures are rounded, I am told.

Scottish public sector revenue was £53.7bn - which is £10,000 per person, and GERS tells is it is £400 per person lower than for the UK as a whole.

What is the cause of this state of affairs? The major reason is the catastrophic fall in revenue from the North Sea.

Only £60 million came from North Sea revenue for the year GERS covers, compared to £1.8bn in the previous period. Ouch. It was predicted after the oil price fall, but it still hurts.

OK, that's enough statistics. What about the politics.The SNP's opponents claim GERS shows the continued benefits of Scotland being part of one Union, even as the UK prepares to leave another

Secretary of State for Scotland and south of Scotland MP David Mundell said: “These figures show how being part of the UK protects living standards in Scotland.

“Scotland weathered a dramatic slump in oil revenues last year because we are part of a United Kingdom that has at its heart a system for pooling and sharing resources across the country as a whole."

Mr Mundell added: “It is important that continues and the financial deal between the UK and Scottish governments, struck last year as part of the transfer of new tax and welfare powers to Holyrood, means real security for Scotland.

“The fact public spending was £1,200 per head higher in Scotland than the UK as a whole also demonstrates that the United Kingdom, not the European Union, is the vital union for Scotland’s prosperity.”

No surprise that the SNP-run Scottish government disputes this.

Launching the report this morning First Minister Nicola Sturgeon did not shy away from the fact that the figures paint "a challenging picture for Scotland".

But she argued that the prospect of leaving the European Union showed that the UK was no longer a "safe harbour" for Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon added: “If we were to allow Scotland to be forced out of the EU against our democratic will, then we will see Scotland’s economy as a whole take a hit worth up to £11.2 billion pounds per year by 2030.

“It is coming down to a clear choice between economic recovery with a continued place in Europe and the single market – or economic retreat with Brexit.”

Note the phrase "up to £11.2bn". The SNP estimate was between £1.8 bn and £14.2bn. See yesterday's blog on this here.

Credit: PA

Ms Sturgeon also argues that we should see some positives from the figures with a growth of onshore revenue (i.e. non-North Sea) of £1.9bn, off-setting the decline in offshore revenues.

Though no sooner had the First Minister made this statement then it was dismissed as "a meaningless comparison" by some of her opponents.What then of the big constitutional question which continues to face Scotland, the possibility of another independence referendum which Ms Sturgeon says is "highly likely" in the wake of Brexit?

The SNP has always argued that GERS show a 'static' position - where we are now - and not where an independent Scotland would be when it had divided up the UK debt and assets, and taken a different fiscal road to that of the UK government.

Nevertheless, I asked the First Minister today if she would be happy to go into a second independence referendum on the back of these figures?She told me that for the moment she was looking to find a way of retaining the benefits of EU membership - as she sees it - for Scotland.But if she judged that protecting Scotland's interests required a second referendum, she would propose that.

She added: "That's an argument I will make when we get there, but we're not there yet."It's always tricky to speculate on what politicians think privately, but here goes.

It is not hard to believe that, with these figures painting a far from rosy picture of Scotland's current finances, the First Minister must be glad "we're not there yet".

Finally for those who love a good graph, and relish a nice table or two, the full GERS report can be foundhere. Enjoy!