Columnist of the week

Queenie, we love you

Her name is amazing. Her byline picture is extraordinary. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce...

Queenie Dhody! of the Mumbai Mirror.

The former Miss India has such range! Leaping from the 'personal loss' she felt when Michael Jackson died (she admits she never met him) to shopping tips in London (Topshop) she even spares a thought for the economically challenged. On a trip to Qatar:

The shops coming up are the highest end of luxury, be it a Ferrari or an Hermes showroom, and the villas by the sea are already sold out. It was great to see all this at a time, when the whole world is abandoning construction and laying off employees.

Now this is what we need from our columnists - a bit of hope amidst these dark days. I, personally, feel I will rest a little easier tonight knowing that Ferrari and Hermes are expanding. What comfort! If any politician needs some evidence of green shoots, this surely is it. I look forward to pictures of President Obama and Prime Minister Brown snipping red ribbons in front of Gucci boutiques and Lamborghini showrooms to show to the world that our economies are blossoming, the bankers are re-bonused, the hedge funds are flourishing, and 0.00001% of society is once again able to purchase an unlimited amount of luxury goods. Queenie, thank you for showing us the way.

 

 

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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.