THE SNP’s deputy leader has been accused of paving the way for “austerity on steroids” in an independent Scotland.

Keith Brown insisted Scotland’s deficit could be cut from 7 per cent of GDP – which is seven times higher than the rest of the UK and the highest in Europe – to just 3% in “less than three years” following independence.

But Scottish labour said this would mean greater spending cuts than under Conservative chancellor George Osborne.

And the Tories argued such a move would mean finding savings of more than £7 billion a year.

The latest Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) figures show Scotland’s notional deficit – the gap between what it earns and spends – stands at £12.6bn.

Writing in The National, Mr Brown said this showed Scotland "is already standing in good stead" with regards to the Growth Commission, the SNP's blueprint for independence. 

He added that "revenue has exceeded £60bn for the first time, our notional deficit has fallen and we’re already ahead of where the GC projected we’d be two years from now – in 2021/22".

He continued: “Following the Growth Commission model, Scotland’s starting deficit would be reduced by a further 1.5% by reducing spending on reserved matters such as defence and debt. This year, the deficit fell by 1%.

“So, on that trajectory, it would take less than three years to get Scotland to the Growth Commission target of 3% – something which was predicted to happen gradually over the course of 10 years.”

Mr Brown said "austerity is not, and has never been, the answer for Scotland".

However, the Tories said achieving such a saving would mean tax rises and school, hospital and infrastructure cuts to the tune of £7.2 billion.

Donald Cameron MSP said: “These claims could be laughed off were it not for the fact they’ve been made by the deputy leader of Scotland’s governing party.

“Presumably this means it’s now SNP policy to seek ongoing tax hikes worth more than £7 billion, or cutting public services by an equivalent amount.

“Put simply, that means devastating cuts to schools, hospitals, councils and infrastructure - at the same time as hiking personal taxes for millions of ordinary working Scots.

“Neither is an acceptable option, which is why the nationalists must take the threat of another independence referendum off the table.

“No-one thought the SNP could get more fanciful and deluded than its infamous and derided White Paper. But Keith Brown is now doing exactly that.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said the SNP is proposing “austerity on steroids”.

She said: “The reality of this would be devastating cuts to already-stretched public services such as schools and hospitals.

“But this isn’t a choice we have to make. By remaining in the UK we can continue with the pooling and sharing of resources that will protect public services to the tune of nearly £2,000 per person.

“This is also a candid admission that an independent Scotland would be outside the EU for at least three years, as the requirement for member states is to have a deficit below 3 per cent.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “It is now clear that the SNP’s plan for independence would mean deeper and faster cuts to Scotland’s public services.

“The SNP’s plan to leave the UK is based on a prospectus of shock austerity on Scotland twinned with ditching the pound for a separate currency.

“All of Scotland’s public services, including our NHS, would be in the SNP’s firing line to meet such draconian fiscal targets.

“The people of Scotland now have a clear choice between austerity and cuts with the SNP and the Tories, or £70 billion worth of new investment with a Labour government.

“Under Labour, the wealthiest will pay more to fund our NHS, schools and local services. And we will continue to benefit from the Barnett Formula and the pooling and sharing of resources across the UK.

“Only Labour will invest in our people, our communities and industries, and shift the balance of power so that our economy and society work in the interests of the many, not the few.”