Grant Shapps is... Michael Green

Photo emerges of new Tory chairman wearing a "Michael Green" name badge at a Las Vegas conference.

Will the real Grant Shapps please stand up?

It is already known that the new Tory party chairman founded an internet company under the alias "Michael Green", and that several of the company's sites - now owned by family members - have been blacklisted by Google. We also already know that Shapps wrote a book, How to Bounce Back from Recession, under the name Michael Green.

But today we got a glimpse into quite how seriously Shapps took his alter ego, as a photo emerged of him at a conference in Las Vegas, wearing a name tag reading "Michael Green".

The Guardian, which broke the story, reports:

In 2004 Shapps, then the Tory candidate for the Hertfordshire seat, was passing himself off as Green and began to appear at web marketing conferences – speaking at a $2,797-a-ticket convention in Las Vegas's New York New York Hotel and Casino, whose facade is a lifesize replica of 12 Manhattan skyscrapers including a 529-foot-tall copy of the Empire State building. It was here that Shapps was pictured as Green.

The photo was taken by Rosalind Gardner at the Joint Venture summit, organised by Richard Roop, and it can be found here

Here's a screenshot:

Michael Green. Photo: Getty Images
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.