DO you want the good news or the bad news? The good news is Scotland’s public finances have shown improvement over the last year, with the picture on oil and gas looking particularly promising. In 2017/18, the revenue from North Sea oil and gas was £1.3 billion – one billion more than the year before – and, after several years in which the industry in Scotland has been battered by a constant supply of bad news, these figures are very welcome indeed.

Now for the bad news. The Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland figures (GERS) also show that the Scottish deficit in 2017/18 was £13.4bn or 7.9 per cent of GDP – four times the deficit of the UK. However, even that eye-watering figure contains a chink of good news as the deficit as a percentage of GDP has dropped from 8.9%. In other words, the economic iceberg of the deficit has melted just a little bit.

Pretty much everyone recognises these annual figures as a sound source of news on the current state of the public finances. But, as usual, both sides of the independence debate have pounced on them and sought to get their side of the story out there first.

In one corner is Nicola Sturgeon who is saying the GERS report shows the economy is on the right trajectory but suggesting, too, that it could be different if the Scottish Government had more than its present powers. She also sought to emphasise the effect that Brexit is having on the economy, saying that it was a real and present danger.

In the other corner we have the opposition parties emphasising the so-called Union dividend which means Scotland’s expenditure per person is £1,576 per person higher than the UK average. Their argument is that, if Scotland were independent, that spending would have to be cut drastically, leading to what the Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard called unprecedented levels of austerity for Scotland.

However, we should be wary of both sides. Yes, GERS provides a pretty accurate picture of where the economy is in 2018 but we should also understand its limits. The concept of the Union dividend is real, and genuinely means that spending per person is higher in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK (and for good reasons too: public services are often harder and more expensive to deliver in large parts of the Scottish hinterland).

But the GERS figures are not a cast-iron argument for the Union – or for independence for that matter – for the simple reason that they proceed on the basis of the present constitutional arrangements and, obviously, an independent Scotland could make different choices that might lead to other economic outcomes. The figures may be a solid assessment of where we are at present but they tell us very little about the long-term finances – good or bad – of an independent Scotland. That battles goes on.