Fantasy Cabinets: who do we know will be shadow ministers?

Douglas Alexander for shadow foreign?

As part of this week's coverage of the Labour party conference, I'm tipping a few outsider-ish names to win election to the shadow cabinet next week. I'm not including the "usual suspects", but that ushers in the question who it is that will definitely be there.

It is widely believed that "all" of the five leadership contenders will be in, though I am told Diane Abbott will not stand and risk defeat. Given that there are no unelected appointments to the shadow cabinet, that means she is likely to remain on the back-benches criticising fromt he side-lines and pursuing her national media profile. But of course the losing Miliband, Ed Balls -- whether he is or isn't shadow chancellor -- and Andy Burnham can all expect senior roles.

So, too, can Yvette Cooper, described by MPs as "the darling of the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party]". She, though, may also have forfeited her role as shadow chancellor by backing Balls's position on the deficit. Harriet Harman is the only person other than the leader ensured a shadow cabinet role, thanks to her position as the elected deputy leader. She tells me in an interview for this week's magazine that she will "probably" take on a seperate portfolio as well. There are other certs, such as Jim Murphy.

But of course, the question of who gets which jobs depends on who is leader. Which brings me to my final name to watch: Douglas Alexander, tipped by Tony Blair in his book 'A Journey' as a potential future Labour leader. The articulate former international development secretary is at the heart of what I first termed "Next labour", and close to both Miliband brothers. He first met Ed Miliband -- with whom Alexander traveled to Bangladesh last year -- 20 years ago in David Miliband's kitchen, and having agonised over which to back opted for David and, with Murphy, is running the elder brother's campaign. If David Miliband wins, I would not be surprised if he took on the new leader's former role as shadow foreign secretary. If Ed Miliband wins however, that post would appear to be the only one he could appoint his brother to, as a continuation. That's if David sticks around.

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.