Miliband calls for criminal investigation into Barclays

"This cannot be a slap on the wrist," says Labour leader.

As I predicted he would, Ed Miliband has used his speech to Unite's conference to call for a criminal investigation into Barclays over its manipulation of interest rates. Here's the key quote:

[T]his cannot be about a slap on the wrist, a fine and the foregoing of bonuses.

To believe that is the end of the matter would be totally wrong.

When ordinary people break the law, they face charges, prosecution and punishment.

We need to know who knew what when, and criminal prosecutions should follow against those who broke the law.

The same should happen here.

The public who are paying the price for bankers’ irresponsibility will expect nothing less.

In response, Conservative MP Matthew Hancock, George Osborne's representative on earth, has accused Miliband of "jumping on the bandwagon", suggesting that Labour should apologise for its failure to regulate the City properly. We can expect Osborne to take a similar line when he delivers his Commons statement on Barclays at 12:15pm.

Elsewhere, Boris Johnson, who rarely misses an opportunity to burnish his populist credentials, has told BBC News that what happened Barclays was "almost certainly criminal" and that "there needs to be a proper investigation."

Labour leader Ed Miliband said a "slap on the wrist" was not enough for Barclays. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Scotland's huge deficit is an obstacle to independence

The country's borrowing level (9.5 per cent) is now double that of the UK. 

Ever since Brexit, and indeed before it, the possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum has loomed. But today's public spending figures are one reason why the SNP will proceed with caution. They show that Scotland's deficit has risen to £14.8bn (9.5 per cent of GDP) even when a geographic share of North Sea revenue is included. That is more than double the UK's borrowing level, which last year fell from 5 per cent of GDP to 4 per cent. 

The "oil bonus" that nationalists once boasted of has become almost non-existent. North Sea revenue last year fell from £1.8bn to a mere £60m. Total public sector revenue was £400 per person lower than for the UK, while expenditure was £1,200 higher.  

Nicola Sturgeon pre-empted the figures by warning of the cost to the Scottish economy of Brexit (which her government estimated at between £1.7bn and £11.2.bn a year by 2030). 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 considerable austerity. 

Nor would EU membership provide a panacea. Scotland would likely be forced to wait years to join owing to the scepticism of Spain and others facing their own secessionist movements. At present, two-thirds of the country's exports go to the UK, compared to just 15 per cent to other EU states.

The SNP will only demand a second referendum when it is convinced it can win. At present, that is far from certain. Though support for independence rose following the Brexit vote, a recent YouGov survey last month gave the No side a four-point lead (45-40). Until the nationalists enjoy sustained poll leads (as they have never done before), the SNP will avoid rejoining battle. Today's figures are a considerable obstacle to doing so. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.