Sketch: Miliband's "one nation"

How many nations?

Ed Miliband staged a smash and grab raid on the Tory Party last night leaving David Cameron checking whether he still had his trousers.

He certainly had the Prime Minister's shirt off his back as he announced a take-over bid for "one nation" politics and declared himself the new Disraeli.

Using a former Conservative Prime Minister as a role model was certainly a novel way of catching the attention of a post-lunch Labour Party conference but then so was the surprise appearance of Max Bygraves in the place of Mr Bean.

There had been some clues earlier in the week with the disappearance from the backdrop to the conference speakers of any mention of the Labour Party.Instead proceedings were dominated by the colour blue so beloved of the natural party of Government and a handily placed 20 foot photo of a Union Jack.

Just to add to the confusion delegates took some time out before lunch to give a standing ovation to a Tory peer Seb Coe who took time out from backing his mate Dave to thank Labour for their part in backing the Olympics.

And so it was suddenly natural that the Leader of the Labour Party should turn up declaring it was all for one and one for all.

The ease by which he to into is message might be explained by the confusion which followed his sudden appearance before the audience he adressed as friends--no comrades here,

Those used to gawky movements of the leader formerly known as Ed M  were thrown by the arrival of a self-confident jokester who dropped geek-speak and announced "I wanna tell you a story".

And what a story it was involving not spending 500 years under an oak tree which was an apparent reference to Dave and is a description now used twice in speeches  without meaning anything to its listeners.

It did involve references to his time at a North London comp and the further revelation that he was-and may still be-a fan of Dallas now, hopefully like Ed ,making a come-back on Channel 5.

We also learned that is three year old son Daniel had helped dad think out his speech by declaring he wanted dinosaurs in it--but none of those in the new Ed partyad no naughty cut-aways of post-prandial trade union chiefs.

But it was a self-confident Ed who had them chuckling in the aisles as he prowled the stage note-less and sans auto cue proudly flashing his patrician purple tie and waving his hands as if looking for a neck to stretch.

He made do instead with a pantomime performance involving the wicked witch of the west aka Michael Gove who will be delighted to have had his leadership ambitions aided by being roundly boo-ed by Ed's friends.

Having told them that Old Labour was out as well as New Labour Ed confirmed that the way ahead had been discovered by old Disraeli and then re-enforced in 1945 by Clement Attlee--to be fair another Labour leader not best known for his charisma.

With an eye on the clock if not the election he took a few minutes to promise tough times ahead even if Labour gets back in 2015-after all it was applause he was after.

And applause is whart he got. Disraeli took three hours to make his One Nation speech, fortified by two bottles of brandy said Ed as he took only one fortified only by water. (You can take Ed out of the geek…..)

Earlier in the day a opinion poll said that only one person in five believes he has what it takes to be an effective Prime Minister as against two in five for Dave.

After today he may just have stolen that as well.

Ed Miliband. Photograph: Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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.