Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. From Jessica Ennis to Joey Barton. Could a contrast be more ghastly?, Guardian

The Olympic spirit we've just rejoiced in makes the return of football's greed, cheating and racism all the more depressing, writes Geoffrey Wheatcroft.

2. A-level students must be told the whole truth about the value of a degree, Telegraph

Mis-selling of higher education is one of the least remarked upon scandals of our time, argues Fraser Nelson.

3. There should be no immunity for Assange from these allegations, Independent

Owen Jones writes that Ecuador is wrong to describe the charges against the WikiLeaks founder as 'laughable'.

4. Corporate cash power is holding the state hostage Financial Times (£)

John Plender exposes the shift in relations between the public and private sectors, and asks how to combat capture.

5. Cameron must cultivate his little acorns, Times (£)

Bring back the Pre-Coalition Dave of optimism and wonder to inspire us with graphene and Raspberry Pi, begs Peter Hoskin.

6. Girls deserve top marks for catching up so quickly, Telegraph

Three cheers – girls will be more successful than boys in the latest A-level results, writes Rachel Johnson.

7. There's still (a slim) hope for the eurozone yet, Independent

You wouldn't know it from the coverage over here, but the Eurozone crisis has actually eased quite a lot of late, Adrian Hamilton explains.

8. We must clean up our act on money laundering, Financial Times (£)

Following a spate of high-profile money laundering scandals, John Cassara asks what more we can do?

9. This is not some celeb balaclava bandwagon, Times (£)

Pussy Riot are bravely risking their freedom to take on a gangster state. We can’t stay silent, says Peter Gabriel.

10. Would you be happy to live like Tony Nicklinson?

The court had no choice but to rule against Nicklinson's right to die. The law must be changed to end such brutal suffering, argues Polly Toynbee.

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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.