Miliband's phone confiscated after texts to Cable

Labour leader's phone taken away by aides and replaced by one with a new number.

After perhaps one too many text exchanges with Vince Cable, Ed Miliband has reportedly had his phone confiscated by aides. Today's Times (£) reports that Labour tribalist Dennis Skinner and Ken Livingstone challenged Miliband over his conversations with Cable at a preconference meeting of the NEC, to which he replied that his phone had "recently been taken away by his aides". It has apparently been replaced by one with a phone number that has been given to "a much smaller number of people". Thus, politics continues in its mission to put The Thick Of It's writers out of a job.

It's not the first time Miliband has been parted from his phone. In his interview with the New Statesman earlier this month, the Labour leader revealed that he left his phone at home during his holiday in Greece. "It was such a relief and a liberation not having a phone," he said. If someone needed to contact him, they were told to ring his wife, Justine, "which of course they were reluctant to do".

Ed Miliband told Labour's NEC that his phone had "recently been taken away by his aides". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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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.