Vince Cable warned us about Bob Diamond

The business secretary expressed reservations about the Barclays chief on his appointment two years ago.

Here are a couple of remarks from Vince Cable.

"We are worried about this combination of the casinos and the traditional banking."

"Mr Diamond illustrates in a particularly graphic way what happens when you have an extremely high paid head of an investment bank taking over one of these major international banks."

They don’t seem especially unusual over the last few days do they? The sort of thing you might expect any politician to be saying at the moment. And of course they echo a sentiment that I suspect is shared by many today.

Only Vince didn’t say them yesterday. Nor indeed this week. He said them almost two years ago, on Bob Diamond’s initial appointment.

I know I’m partisan. But this does seem especially prescient, does it not? And not the sort of thing you’d expect George Osborne to say, or indeed be capable of saying.

Nor is it the first time he has been so discerning. Nor indeed, is it the second. In fact, it’s a bit of a habit.

And when it’s combined with the courage to ask the awkward questions – well, it’s the sort of judgement you’d want in a Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Isn't it?

 

Should we have listened to Vince? Photograph: Getty Images

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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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.