20 February 2020

Scottish Labour has challenged new Finance Secretary Kate Forbes to ‘disown’ her colleague Michael Russell’s false claims about Scotland’s finances.

In a letter to Ms Forbes, Neil Bibby MSP – a member of Holyrood’s finance and constitution committee – has highlighted persistent attacks on the figures produced by the Scottish Government’s independent economists.

He said it is ‘intolerable’ that a campaign to deny the statistics because they are ‘politically inconvenient’ should be encouraged by Ministers.

The Government’s official GERS figures show that Scotland generates 8 per cent of the UK's taxes and benefits from 9.3 per cent of the UK's public spending, with the difference between how much Scotland contributes per head in taxes and receives back in public spending currently £1,968 per head.

But earlier this month, Constitution Secretary Mr Russell posted on Twitter: “Actually, this isn’t true. Scotland pays out more than it gets back.”

Mr Bibby’s letter states:

“Mr Russell has, I understand, failed to produce any evidence to back up his assertion.

“Can I simply ask if you are confident that Mr Russell’s tweet was honest and truthful?

“In doing so, I would remind you of the Ministerial code of conduct which states: ‘Ministers should ensure that their statements are consistent with collective Government policy’.”

It adds:

“The Scottish Government statisticians who seek to produce that vital service are subjected to constant denigration by supporters of your party for producing statistics which are politically inconvenient.

“It is intolerable that this campaign should be encouraged by Scottish Government ministers, including Mr Russell.

“I therefore ask you to make your position clear at an early date and thereby defend the reputation and integrity of the Scottish Government’s statisticians and the politically neutral work that they produce in the public interest.”

Neil Bibby, Labour MSP for West of Scotland and member of the finance committee, said:

“Mr Russell’s claims are false.

“Rather than accept the fact that Scotland is better off economically as part of the UK, he has tried to mislead voters with unsubstantiated claims in the hope that he wouldn’t be challenged.

“This does a huge disservice to the Scottish Government’s civil servants, and a disservice to our political discourse.

“I hope Kate Forbes will disown her colleague’s false claims.”
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