THE Scottish Government has ditched plans to publish an "annual economic case for independence”, it has emerged.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said the idea, which was announced earlier this year, had been shelved because of the coronavirus and there were no plans to revive it.

Despite citing the pandemic as the reason for not producing a detailed economic case for independence, Ms Forbes also said the pandemic showed why Scotland should be independent to control its economy.

The Tories said that if the SNP's finance secretary couldn't produce an economic case for independence, there was no reason to believe there was one. 

The U-turn was confirmed as the annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) report showed Scotland’s notional deficit was 8.6 per cent of GDP in 2019/20, as public spending north of the border outstripped tax revenues by £15.1billion.

The GERS numbers were seized upon by Unionist parties to claim an independent Scotland would struggle with inherited debt and be forced into austerity measures to reduce it.

In January, Ms Forbes’s predecessor as Finance Secretary Derek Mackay announced he would publish an alternative set of figures alongside GERS in future.

He said he felt “frustrated” by GERS, 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 acknowledged his “economic case for independence” this autumn would be  a “concession” to unhappy SNP members.

Nicola Sturgeon defended the idea after it was branded amateurish propaganda and a waste of public money by her opponents. 

The First Minister told the Scottish Parliament: “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.”

However asked where the alternative GERS document was today, Ms Forbes said: “I spent the last few months trying to balance the budget to ensure that we’ve got a response to the pandemic, so that’s been my focus for the last months.”

Asked if she would revive the idea next year, Mr Forbes said: “I mean a year is a long time and who knows what will happen in the coming year.

“As I said earlier this year I’ve been primarily focussed on the pandemic which is not over and the legacy of which will continue to be felt in the coming months and that means my priority continues to be responding to the pandemic.”

Pressed on whether the economic case for independence had been abandoned, the Finance Secretary was again non-committal.

She said: “At the moment my focus is very much on balancing the books in order to ensure that we can support our economic recovery and our response to the health crisis and those crises are not over so that will continue to be the focus.”

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “There was never any need for this absurd idea of Derek Mackay’s and it’s no surprise that Kate Forbes has shunned her predecessor’s legacy.

“Nationalists have always disliked GERS figures as they highlight the increasingly disastrous economic case for an independent Scotland

“If even the SNP’s finance secretary can’t come up with an economic case for independence, how can they expect the Scottish people to believe there is one.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “It’s utterly ridiculous that the SNP won’t accept its own government’s official figures.

“There simply is no positive economic case for leaving the UK, which is why the SNP can’t manufacture one.

“It’s time for some honesty from the nationalists: as part of the UK we benefit from extra money to invest in our hospitals and schools.”

Mr Mackay made his commitment in an interview with Holyrood magazine.

He he said that although GERS was produced by “impartial” statisticians, it was a national estimate of the “current constitutional position”.

He had therefore made “the concession” to SNP members to “publish an equivalent analysis of what we could do with independence as we published the GERS figures”.

He said that would allow him to say, “‘OK, here’s the analysis of where people think we are right now as part of this system and here’s an even better picture of what we think we can do with the powers of independence’.”

He went on: “I will publish that assessment next time we publish the GERS figures because I’m so convinced with the economic argument of Scotland. 

“I think it needs the exposure it deserves, rather than the usual knockabout that Scotland’s too poor, too wee to be independent, we’ve absolutely got what it takes.

“We’ll start it off on the basis of what we have right now and then say what the opportunities would be if we were to, say, grow particular sectors or make particular decisions.

“That will be my annual economic case for independence and hopefully, I won’t have to make them for too much longer because we will be independent.”