Is Christine Pratt a bully?

And what is the definition of bullying?

Thanks to Paul Waugh, I have just caught up with the musings of one Christine Pratt of the National Bullying Helpline and her extraordinary interview with the excellent Gary Gibbon of Channel 4 News, who had to point out to Pratt that there is now no such thing as the Deputy Prime Minister's Office, from where she claims to have received complaints in the past 18 months.

This woman, who must beyond any doubt be forced to resign, is clearly a crank and a flake, and not just because of her numerous ties to the Conservative Party. Who in their right mind would now call the helpline, knowing that at any time this strange woman might pop up on the airwaves to discuss that call? Her determination to "stand up" the Observer's allegations at the cost of the confidentiality of those who approach her organisation could at best be called publicity-seeking, and at worst be called politically motivated bullying.

But also, we need to define bullying here. I have long written about Gordon Brown's "dark side", and of how he and his key ally Ed Balls can bully colleagues, in the sense of undermining them to their own gain.

But in the sense of bullying as those outside the Westminster village know it -- in the playground and in the workplace -- is Brown really a bully? Does he take pleasure out of inflicting pain on people in his office? Does he relentlessly target "Garden Girls" in No 10 with cruel insults? Does he sneak up on staffers and flick their ears?

This is turning into a very dangerous row indeed, and the only certain outcome -- as with the MPs' expenses scandal -- is an unprecedentedly low turnout among a truly sickened electorate.

By the way, for an interesting take on this, and a warning to David Cameron against getting involved, see Peter Hitchens's blog today.

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James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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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.