Richard Littlejohn is right!

A sentence I never thought I'd write . . .

I have always believed Richard Littlejohn of the Mail to be one of this country's most prejudiced, narrow-minded and reactionary right-wing commentators: a writer who prefers to indulge the casual bigotry of his readers rather than confront them with facts, figures or reasoned arguments.

But not today. In his column, Littlejohn takes on Nick Griffin, the BNP and the BBC with a verve and gusto conspicuously absent from much of the commentary by the centrist, liberal and left-wing press. Littlejohn argues, for example, that:

. . . the BNP isn't a serious force at Westminster, nor is it likely to have any MPs after the next general election. So the BBC is under no obligation to give Griffin a platform.

We are told the programme offers an opportunity to expose the BNP. To whom?

The party trawls for support among white working-class voters, those the advertisers refer to as C2DEs.

How many of them do you imagine watch something as cerebral as Question Time?

"Oi, Doris. I never realised the BNP were racists. I'll be voting Lib Dem in future."

If they're hoping that Griffin will come across as the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, they are going to be sorely disappointed. He won't rise to the bait.

Littlejohn -- deep breath! -- is right. Griffin won't come across as a Hitler figure, or as a fascist or a nutter. He will, instead, calmly pontificate on the issues of the week (postal strike, anyone?) and will be applauded. And the BNP will move one step closer to the mainstream of British politics.

The more I think about this, the more I become convinced that Thursday night on BBC1 will be car crash TV. I only hope I'm proved wrong.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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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.