Opinionomics | 25 April 2012

Must-read comment and analysis. Featuring austerity, double-dips, and space.

1. How Planetary Resources Can Make a Profit (Forbes)

Tim Worstall tackles the problem Planetary Resources has - once they bring down all that platinum, platinum stops being as valuable.

2. To bin or not to bin the FTT (Financial Times | alphaville)

Masa Serdarevic argues out that the UK not joining the FTT if the rest of Europe starts one would be terrible for the City.

3. Why Are Donations to Government So Small? (Library of Economics and Liberty)

Bryan Caplan argues that most people think "that there are better and more efficient ways of using their money to help other people than giving it to government."

4. The Chancellor must ignore this double-dip recession (Telegraph)

Jeremy Warner calls for Osborne to tie himself to the mast of the good ship Austerity.

5. People Are Finally Figuring Out: Austerity is Stupid (The Bonddad Blog)

And Hale Stewart points out that that would be a terrible idea.

Planetary Resources president and chief engineer, Chris Lewicki, talks about the Arkyd Seris I satellite, seen as a full-scale mockup. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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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.