Campbell aids Brown on inheritance tax

Former spin doctor sharpens Labour's attack on the Tories

We've known for some time that Alastair Campbell is informally advising Gordon Brown on political strategy and Andrew Rawnsley's Observer column today reveals one of his key contributions.

During the Queen's Speech debate, Brown delivered this unusually sharp attack on the Tories' reactionary plan to cut inheritance tax:

That must be the only tax change in history where the people proposing it -- the leader of the opposition and the shadow chancellor -- will know by name almost all of the potential beneficiaries.

Rawnsley reveals:

Some people have been wondering whether the Prime Minister has found himself a new jokesmith and who this person might be. I can solve that small mystery. It is Alastair Campbell. He is popping in to No 10 about once a week to help the Prime Minister.

It's remarkable that it's taken this long for Labour to hammer the Tories over inheritance tax. Campbell's political nous was clearly badly needed.

I only wonder: with Campbell back on the scene and Brown's union fixer Charlie Whelan still a forceful presence, will the next generation of spinners ever get a look-in?

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.