Web Only: the best of the blogs

The five must-read blogs from today, including how not many people avoided the 50p tax.

1. Not many people avoided the 50p tax

Contrary to Osborne's rhetoric, the vast majority of high earners paid the required amount of tax, writes Kiran Stacey at FT Westminster.

2. Ed’s funding proposals: Nearly but not quite

Miliband's refusal to accept an “opt-in” option for affiliated union members has left the Tories a critical opening, writes Peter Watt at Labour Uncut.

3. Could Cameron catch a cold in the mayoral referendums?

The PM could be damaged if more than half of the cities vote "no" on 3 May, says Mike Smithson at PoliticalBetting.

4. Boris retains poll lead – but 78% believe he is Mayor for the rich

Voters agree with Ken's plan to cut fares but don’t believe it will happen, notes Mark Ferguson at Labour List.

5. David Gauke quietly benefits amid the Treasury's troubles

The Exchequer Secretary is now the man wheeled out to explain difficult or controversial bits of economic or tax policy, notes the Telegraph's James Kirkup.

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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.