NICOLA Sturgeon has been accused of running scared over the state of Scotland’s public finances after missing the publication of a key report for the first time as First Minister.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay is due to face questions from the media solo tomorrow about the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) figures for 2018-19.

The First Minister will be in Shetland campaigning for the SNP in a Holyrood byelection - her second visit in a week to the LibDems’ safest seat.

Always controversial, the GERS numbers show the scale of Scotland’s deficit, North Sea oil revenues, and public spending in Scotland relative to the rest of the UK.

READ MORE: GERS: Scotland's finances in first year of independence would have been worse than previously thought

Since becoming First Minister in November 2014, Ms Sturgeon has always answered questions alongside her finance secretary - Mr Mackay or John Swinney - at the event.

However, despite finding time to appear repeatedly at the Edinburgh Fringe and Edinburgh Book Festival this month, Ms Sturgeon will miss the GERS launch for SNP business.

Ms Sturgeon’s absence comes after she was able to fit a series of public appearances into her schedule for light entertainment.

On August 5 she appeared on the Edinburgh Fringe with LBC presenter Iain Dale.

On August 12 she was in London for an appearance on ITV’s Loose Women.

On August 15 she returned to the Fringe for an hour with journalist Graham Spiers.

Last night she chaired a session at the Book Festival with author Arundhati Roy.

Today she was back on the Fringe with comedian Matt Forde.

And on Sunday she is due to “facilitate a conversation with guests around the subject of finding and publishing new diverse voices” at another Book Festival event.

She has also made campaign trips to Shetland on July 27 and August 14. 

READ MORE: UK subsidy to Scotland soars after oil price slump

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."

Labour MSP James Kelly said: "Nicola Sturgeon is running scared from her own government’s statistics because she knows they will paint a bleak picture for life in an independent Scotland.

"Her plan to dump the pound and impose unprecedented levels of austerity with the Cuts Commission would create economic chaos.

"It’s no wonder she will be in hiding when tomorrows GERS figures are published."

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said: “The First Minister has gone to Shetland to campaign for Scottish independence, leaving her minister to defend the dire financial forecasts that the policy would bring.

“The First Minister has been up for the showbiz of the Edinburgh Festival all week yet runs as far as she can when faced with the dire economic forecasts her plans have created.”

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.”

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon downplays deficit reduction after independence

In March 2015, Ms Sturgeon launched GERS 2013-14 at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.

In March 2016, she launched GERS 2014-15 at a computer start-up business in Edinburgh.

In August 2016, she launched GERS 2015-16 at a leather factory in Dalmarnock, Glasgow.

In August 2017, she launched GERS 2016-17 at Edinburgh Bioquarter.

And in August 2018, she held a press briefing at Glasgow University for GERS 2017-18.

A spokesperson for the First Minister said: "This is desperate stuff from Scotland in Union and the Tories, who sound more shrill and rattled with every day that passes.

"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."

Scottish Greens co-leader and finance spokesperson Patrick Harvie said: “While the discussion around these figures usually focuses on whether Scotland has a notional deficit or not, what GERS has consistently shown us is that Scotland’s definition of success still lives or dies by profits from the oil industry - a volatile and dwindling resource, the pursuit of which is damaging our way of life.

“Given most of the powers and revenue from fossil fuels is still held by Westminster, GERS is not an accurate portrayal of what an independent Scotland would look like, certainly not the kind of progressive European country the Scottish Greens are campaigning for.

“Nevertheless, the climate emergency will not wait for independence, and there is much the Scottish Government could do now to stimulate the Scottish economy, create new jobs and transition from fossil fuels. That’s why we need a Scottish Green New Deal.”