It's strange how some memes just take on a life of their own. This is especially true when it comes to GERS.
The current figures are so uncomfortable for many supporters of independence, who previously quoted them positively (like Pete Wishart or Angus Robertson), that they will hang on to any old rubbish to try to discredit them.
These "FACTS" - the word obviously has to be in capitals - range from the surreal: such as the mythical whisky export duty to the downright wrong such as GERS including the costs of the London Olympics.
Of late Kevin Hague, Fraser Whyte and myself have been picking each one apart. Here is my contribution which demonstrates that Wings Over Scotland plays fast and loose with the truth.
But there has been one meme, pushed by Stuart Campbell, that has been difficult to disprove. GERS is hampered by the inability of the Scottish Government to get accurate information about tax and spend in Scotland because the UK government refuses to give them access to it.
Wings' main followers don't need much promoting thereafter and off they go spreading the "FACT" to the world.
But it's quite a claim. The Scottish Government have been trying to get information from the UK government but they are actively "refusing" to give them access. You would think if that was the case then the Scottish Government would have said something about it?
Of course in the world of Freedom of Information we can actively find out if such a refusal actually exists. It would be a matter of record after all.
So I asked the question two weeks ago.
You can see a copy of the full letter here.
As ever it looks like #youcanttrustStu. There is no refusal to provide information which proves that Wings' claim was not a FACT but a LIE.
Yeah, but, no, but
Of course you can hear the Vicky Pollard excuses starting already as Stu attempts to back out of being caught red handed.
"Ha! The Yoons' own evidence backs up my point completely. See it says that the Scottish Government hasn't asked for information because it knew it would be refused."
But the trouble is that's not what Stuart's article says. He is explicit that there was an actual refusal rather than an anticipated one.
But let's humour him and examine Stuart's claim further. There is no refusal (implied or otherwise) by HMRC to provide access to important data. By law HMRC do not share individual tax data with anyone outside of HMRC, your individual tax return in the UK is confidential. But individual tax returns are entirely unnecessary for the purposes of GERS.
The Scottish Government has access to a vast database of aggregate income tax information as clearly stated in the GERS methodology document.
Like all areas of government, including the ONS and Parliament, income tax data and projections are derived from the HMRC survey of personal incomes (SPI) this is a vast dataset covering 650,000 individuals in the UK (including 1 in 10 of those on high incomes), so more than a good enough to provide highly accurate information.
This enables the Scottish Government (or anyone who wants to download and interrogate the data) to identify the overall level of income tax by residence due to Scotland.
This information enables the Scottish Government to calculate, to a high degree of accuracy, the income tax raised in Scotland whilst at the same time maintaining the covenant that individual tax records are kept private. Indeed the Scottish Government notes that it has a confidence level of +/-1% based on the SPI data.
The information is more than good enough for all other areas of government including the Treasury when it comes to devising UK government tax policy and it's good enough for the Scottish Government. Furthermore with the arrival of SRIT and the S tax code then from next year the Scottish Government will be able to move from 99% confidence to 100%.
Therefore there is no question of an explicit or implicit refusal of HMRC to provide the information needed by the Scottish Government to calculate GERS.
Stu Campbell just made this FACT up. Again.
Saying that it will be entertaining watching him try to wriggle out of this one.