Has Yvette Cooper ruled herself out of shadow chancellorship?

Shadow welfare secretary backs her husband Ed Balls on the deficit

Westminster rumour has it that Yvette Cooper, the shadow work and pensions secretary, is being lined up to be shadow chancellor. The logic is that Ed Balls has made it impossible to serve in that role, certainly under David Miliband, having said he disagrees with Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling -- and David Miliband -- on the need to halve the deficit in four years. Balls has stated:

I told Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling in 2009 that - whatever the media clamour at the time - even trying to halve the deficit in four years was a mistake.

Some say, too, that Ed Miliband, who has been more ambiguous about the deficit reduction plan, would anyway be reluctant to put Balls in such a senior position after the two men's relationship has suffered considerably during this campaign. Cooper is seen as a sensible choice because, insiders say, "you get some of Ed in there" without having Balls himself, while Cooper is an economics expert and former financial journalist in her own right.

But in a little-noticed interview on the BBC's Daily Politics today, Cooper backed her husband's position and not that of Darling and David Miliband. In Labour-land, that is significant because it means that on the logic of Balls being ruled out of the shadow chancellor job, Cooper now is out of the running too.

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.