When a £7.6 billion deficit in Scotland means that each Scot is £824 “better off”

Lesley Brennan

17 May 2013

If you want to spin bad news about financial figures such as a deficit , there is another term that is in general use today.

A deficit becomes a “negative surplus”.

Scotland’s Finance Minister John Swinney has gone further and has his own spin term for a deficit which he calls “ a relative surplus ” for Scotland.

Mr. Swinney's “relative surplus” is derived from a deficit of £7.6 billion, Scotland’s net fiscal balance  for 2011-12, equivalent to 5 per cent of Scotland’s Gross Domestic Product.

The “relative surplus” is equivalent to  £824 per head of population which Mr Swinney spins as meaning that each Scot being “£824 better off “ that year than the UK overall.

However, this assertion that each Scot is £824 “better off” is not based on Scotland being in surplus.

It is based on Scotland being in deficit, in the red to the tune of £7.6 billion , and the deficit has been re-branded or re-badged as a “relative surplus”

Scotland is still in the red, but no so much in the red proportionately as the  UK overall .

There has been no flow of money into the pockets of Scots to make them “better off” as a result of this “relative surplus”.

And to add to Mr Swinney’s misfortune, in a few years, the relative positions of Scotland and the UK are forecast to change places.

In his leaked private paper, he states :

“ However in 2016-17 Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts suggest that Scotland would have a marginally net larger deficit than the UK.”

So these are the two John Swinneys.

The public Mr. Swinney who makes the journey to Scotland becoming an independent country sound as effortless as it is for Scotland to become, in Alex Salmond’s wish, “the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy”

The private Mr. Swinney who admits that Scotland is forecast to have “ a marginally larger net fiscal deficit than the UK” by 2016-17 and who accepts that  there is “ a high degree of uncertainty around future North Sea revenues reflecting considerable volatility in  production and oil prices”.

Mr. Swinney has attempted to introduce mirror-image economics into the campaign for an independent Scotland where a deficit becomes a surplus.

If his intention was to boost the case for the pro-independence case , then he has not succeeded.

The pro-UK “No “ campaign continues to have a lock on a large lead in the polls.

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Lesley Brennan : Cold Water Poured Over Alex Salmond’s oil boom claim

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