The recent GERS figures show, quite clearly, Scotland has a very significant financial problem in that public expenditure is significantly higher than income. This does not mean Scotland could not be a standalone country but it does mean we would start from a difficult place.

What has been remarkable has been to watch nationalist politicians, their media supporters and spinners try to deny this simple truth. Our very own Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, claims the GERS deficit shows why the current constitutional arrangements are unsustainable. Ms Forbes is a history graduate rather than an economist but in fact the GERS figures show precisely why we should hope the current constitutional arrangements are sustainable – which luckily they are if we remain part of the UK.

Equally disappointing was reading a piece by a journalist trying to rubbish the GERS figures because they contain estimated figures – all such analyses do but it does not undermine them. He then went on to say – I just laughed – that we couldn’t be responsible for 60 per cent of the whole UK deficit because we only have 8% of the population.

What all the nationalist dreamers want is access to “the fiscal levers”. These legendary devices, now in the hands of the evil empire – sorry our own UK Government – would apparently if put in the care of Nicola and her crew, allow Scotland’s financial position to be transformed.

What are these levers and what might they do?

The first is default. Just tell everybody who has given you money they are not getting it back. Unfortunately, this only makes things worse because the problem is not past debt but annual deficits. If you tell people they won’t get back what they lent you last year then they are most unlikely to give you more cash to deal with this year’s problem.

The second is inflation. Stoke it up and the burden of debt goes away after a bit. There is an insurmountable problem here, unfortunately, although you can have somewhat different rates of inflation within one currency area you need your own currency to get the inflationary fires really burning – and even the SNP say Scotland will not have its own currency for 10 years – quite a long time to sort the finances if you are waiting for a hip operation. Anyway the inflation option doesn’t actually work, the historic debt burden may reduce but larger problems emerge.

The third is everybody’s favourite – faster growth. Once we can do what we want we will have such clever policies that we grow faster and the deficit problems melt away. From despots to democrats every politician thinks they can do this and they are always wrong – there is no magic policy elixir. The SNP instinct to meddle, instruct and regulate has actually meant Scotland’s growth has lagged that of the UK – their plans would more probably make that worse rather than better.

The fourth is borrowing. Up to a point – investing in infrastructure for example makes sense but borrowing just to shore up a structural deficit does not. The UK Government is doing our borrowing for us – at much better interest rates than a separate Scotland could obtain. The Covid-19 pandemic is stretching borrowings to their sensible limit – the cure for a fire is not more petrol, we should do our children a favour and not consider this one.

The fifth is austerity. Cut spending – and it would have to be cut savagely – to make the position sustainable. Economically very difficult to do and politically in Scotland a non-starter. People want more spending not less.

The final lever is taxation. This one has the benefit of actually working – put up taxes and, at least for a bit, revenues do go up. The problem is they only go up for a bit. The crushing effect on economic activity, the exodus of talent and capital means high taxes are counterproductive. Some sensible tax changes are fine but grabbing too much of the incomes and assets of citizens just backfires.

The debate about Scotland’s future needs to start with honesty – if Scotland were to leave the UK the consequences for our economy and public services would be difficult and painful.

Guy Stenhouse is a Scottish financial sector veteran who wrote formerly as Pinstripe