Opinionomics | 9 May 2012

Must-read comment and analysis. Featuring exhortations to buy a house but not to buy a Death Star.

1. How the Chancellor made the right decision about the timing of austerity (Not the Treasury View)

Jonathan Portes looks back in time to understand the relationship between austerity and growth.

2. Greece, France and the future of the euro (BBC News)

The more that investors and policymakers think about the results in Greece and France, the more worried they are - for good reason, writes Stephanie Flanders.

3. Chart of the day: Let’s go buy a house! (Reuters)

Felix Salmon shows how Americans can now take advantage of long-term fixed financing to own a home for a monthly payment less than the cost of renting.

4. ‘Understood properly, the Death Star is not worth it.’ (Washington Post | Wonkblog)

Gregory Koger addresses the most important policy question of the millennium: Should we build a Death Star?

5. Germany’s reaction to the newly elected French President (Bruegel)

Philine Schuseil rounds up the German reaction to the election of Hollande.

The Death Star. We shouldn't build one, apparently.

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
Show Hide image

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.