Nicola Sturgeon has come under fire for "dodging scrutiny" after it emerged she is set to miss the annual publication of Scotland's public finances.
Instead, Finance Secretary Derek Mackay will set out the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) tomorrow, while the First Minister campaigns in Shetland ahead of next week's by-election. The figures set out the "black hole" between spending on public services like schools and hospitals and the taxes raised to fund them.
It is the first time Ms Sturgeon has not been present for the launch of the figures since becoming First Minister - and comes after she made her fourth Edinburgh festival Fringe appearance yesterday.
The figures unveiled a £13.4 billion deficit last year, which is proportionately four times worse than the UK.
Scottish Conservative chief whip Maurice Golden said: “The publication of GERS figures is one of the most important governmental events of the year.
“Nicola Sturgeon has found plenty of time this summer for the Fringe and other celebrity circuits.
“Yet when critical issues such as the wellbeing of Scotland’s finances is to be revealed, she goes into hiding.
“Perhaps she’s fearful that these statistics will expose even more holes in her plan for Scottish separation.”
The figures prompt an row every year about the economics of Scottish independence, with pro-unionists claiming they show Scotland would face a far higher deficit than it does as part of the UK. Nationalists insist they only show the situation within the UK and Scotland would be free to make difference economic choices under independence.
Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “Nicola Sturgeon cannot dodge scrutiny of these official government figures.
“She must face up to the economic reality of an independent Scotland.
“That means answering questions on what public services she would cut and how much she would raise taxes by if Scotland leaves the UK.”
But a spokesman for the first Minister dismissed the opposition claims.
“This is desperate stuff from Scotland in Union and the Tories, who sound more shrill and rattled with every day that passes," he said.
“That’s because they know the tide is turning and they are losing the argument.
“Scotland has a strong economy, which is threatened by the Tories’ shambolic Brexit plans and the looming danger of a disastrous No-deal outcome.”