NICOLA Sturgeon has hit out at “Westminster mismanagement” of Scotland’s economy as the fallout continues over the £15 billion black hole in the country’s public finances.
The First Minister admitted that an independent Scotland would have faced “tough choices” over cuts to public spending and tax hikes if the country had voted to leave the UK two years ago.
But she criticised claims that SNP would become the party of austerity and have to embark on a programme of hospital and school closures.
“We’ve got a particular issue because of the fall in North Sea revenues,” she told the BBC Politics Show yesterday.
“I actually think it is not an indictment of the case for independence it is an indictment of Westminster mismanagement that unlike Norway we don’t have a massive oil fund to help us deal with that.”
Scotland would have formally declared full independence from the UK next week had Scots voted Yes in the referendum in September 2014. But as the milestone approaches, new figures last week revealed the impact of the oil and gas crash has seen Scotland’s annual deficit – the gap between taxes raised and public spending – increase to £15 bn. It is now proportionately twice as bad as the UK as a whole and the worst in the EU.
Scotland would face spending cuts of 14 per cent or tax rises of 16 per cent – or a combination of both – in order to balance the books.
Ms Sturgeon said: “We set a budget in a devolved Scotland every year. We make choices. Sometimes these are tough choices. If Scotland was independent, we would do that as well.”
She added: “We would be in the same position as many other countries, but we would be in a position where we have a fundamentally strong economy. I wish Scotland had voted Yes in 2014. It didn’t but if it had done we would have spent the past two years preparing for Scotland becoming independent.”
She added that Scotland may not have faced the £15 billion deficit unveiled in last year’s Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland (GERS) figures because negotiations with the UK over assets and liabilities, debt interest and share of defence spending would have change the picture.
But Ms Sturgeon insisted that the economy in in Scotland remains “fundamentally strong” with offshore activity on the rise.
She added: “Oil revenues are there and have contributed to the Treasury by over £300 billion.
“Our onshore revenues - and remember 90 per cent of Scotland’s economy comes from onshore activity - if you look at the five years
ahead they are predicted to grow by in the region of £14 billion.”