NICOLA Sturgeon has defended plans to publish a pro-independence alternative to official figures on Scotland’s deficit - but failed to say how much it would cost.

The Scottish Tories accused her of using taxpayers’ money to peddle “propaganda”.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay this week announced he would issue his own “economic case for independence” alongside the annual statistics on the country’s finances.

He said he felt “frustrated” by the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) data, as it only dealt with Scotland’s current place in the Union, not its potential outside it.

With GERS distrusted by many Nationalists, Mr Mackay said he would issue his rival report alongside the 2019/20 GERS this autumn as a “concession” to unhappy SNP members.

At First Minister’s Questions, Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “The 2014 Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence described the annual GERS report as, and I quote, ‘the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances’.

“Given that that is the Scottish Government’s view, why is the Finance Secretary now proposing an alternative set of propaganda figures to be published alongside?

“On what data will these alternative figures be based? And how much will this exercise in SNP spin cost the Scottish taxpayer?”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “GERS, which the Scottish Government publishes every year, sets out the situation not under an independent Scotland, but under Westminster government.

“So why would we set out different figures? So that we can show what we can do differently in Scotland, the different spending commitments that we could take.

“For example, spending more to grow our economy, spending more to protect the most vulnerable, and not spending money on new weapons of mass destruction on the River Clyde.

“These are the different choices we can make, and it’s one of the many reasons why the Tories are terrified of the prospect of giving Scotland the choice of independence, because they know Scotland will choose to become independent.”

Produced by Scottish Government statisticians, and usually published in August, the GERS figures show the gap between public spending and tax revenue in Scotland.

Last year, they said Scotland’s notional deficit of £12.6bn was a record six times as big as the UK’s at 7 per cent of Scottish GDP, against a UK deficit of just 1.1% of UK GDP.

The SNP’s own Growth Commission used the GERs figures as the basis for drawing up an economic blueprint for Scotland.

However the data is regarded as suspect if not misleading by many Yes supporters, as it used as a stick by Unionists to beat the independence movement.

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “This is an attempt by Derek Mackay to cook the books, and is a gross insult to the hard work of dedicated, impartial civil servants who produce the official figures.

“He may not like the harsh reality that Scotland’s economic position is better as part of the UK, but trying to undermine his own Government’s data is ridiculous.

“The facts are clear: the difference between how much Scotland contributes per head in taxes and receives back in public spending is nearly £2,000 per head.

“If Derek Mackay wants to be honest with voters he will explain how much money he would take away from schools and hospitals for the sake of a border with England.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The GERS publication explicitly states that it shows Scotland’s position within the UK and not as an independent nation.

“We will ensure people have the information they need to make informed choices over the future of the country.”