The Mayor, The Speaker, His Wife and The Bloggers

Across the web, not least at the <em>NS</em> online, the London Mayoral election is raising temperat

With just two months until the London mayoral election, the campaign trail is picking up pace in the blogosphere.

Earlier in the week, Mike Smithson at Political Betting called the election “by far and away the biggest political betting event in the UK this year is,” despite the lack of polls. But later that day Anthony Walls at UK Polling Report resists the bendy bus analogy to announce: “After waiting months for a proper poll on the London mayoral election, two come along at once.”

The first of the two polls Walls refers to shows Ken Livingstone 5% behind Boris Johnson, and Smithson senses a whiff of politicising with the release of the second. “My understanding is that Labour and Ken knew about the MORI poll almost as soon as it had been completed,” writes Smithson, “but it was deemed to be a deadly secret because of the closeness of the finding.”

The mayoral election also attracted a great deal of interest on these very pages, as NS political editor Martin Bright criticised prominent Lefties for signing a Compass letter in support of Livingstone. Anthony Barnett at Our Kingdom reveals the frank conversation he had with Bright over his decision to sign, while Oliver Kamm offers Bright his support.

Also this week, Commons speaker Michael Martin found himself the subject of the latest sleaze allegations. The Daily Pundit, with tongue firmly in cheek, asks: “What’s a working class Scot who didn’t go to Oxford and knows what a day’s work is when he sees it doing with friends? It’s a disgrace.”

While, The Remittance Man takes a different view: “Michael Martin’s working class origins are not the issue here. Both George Thomas and Betty Boothroyd have been from working class backgrounds and both served the Labour Party prior to election as speaker, yet both managed to perform their tasks with reasonable fairness and retain the respect of MPs of all parties and the public. Martin has singularly failed to do the same.”

It doesn’t make for great reading for Martin at Iain Dale’s blog. In a poll of 1,122 readers – of whom, somewhat tellingly, only 46% are Conservative supporters – 91% believe Martin should step down as speaker, and 82% rate his performance as either poor or dreadful. Betty Boothroyd comes out as the best speaker of the past 30 years, with 49% of votes; Martin comes in with just 1%.

David Osler also joins the debate: “It is unclear if Martin has technically done anything wrong in pocketing the money from such a generous scheme for a property on which there no mortgage; perhaps Peter Mandelson or Tessa Jowell - given their special expertise in the field of how to finance home purchase the New Labour way - could advise?

“But whatever the rulebook says, this action is morally equivalent to housing benefit fraud, without the ability to claim poverty as a mitigating circumstance.” So there.

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.