Opinionomics | 14 May 2012

Must-read comment and analysis, featuring pasty-tax funded investment and much Eurocrisis.

1. As European Austerity Ends, So Could the Euro (Bloomberg View)

The euro currency is a malady that condemns at least a generation of Greeks, Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese and Irish to the economic infirmary, writes Peter Boone and Simon Johnson

2. The pasty tax could pay for a £30 billion infrastructure programme: four charts show why history will judge us harshly (Not the Treasury View)

Jonathan Portes writes that a £30bn infrastructure programme would cost just £150m a year, thanks to historically low gilt yields: that is the revenue raised by the pasty tax.

3. What history tells us about a potential Greek exit (Pragmatic Capitalism)

David Schawel asks what an exit from the euro would look like, and how it would be accomplished.

4. The recession deniers have gone strangely quiet this month (The Independent)

We are in the slowest recovery for a century, with no end in sight, writes David Blanchflower

5. World edges closer to deflationary slump as money contracts in China (Telegraph)

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard argues that more and more signifiers point to depression hitting not just the developed world but the BRICS as well - and China could be the first to go.

Greek President Carolos Papoulias holds a newspaper in his office in Athens. 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.