Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Like Tammy Wynette, Lib Dems must stand by their man (Guardian)

Coalition has been tough for the party and for Nick Clegg, yet his brave choices deserve our continued support, says Menzies Campbell.

2. British foreign policy should be realist (Financial Times)

Emotion draws the country across the Atlantic but hard calculation pulls it back to Europe, writes Philip Stephens.

3. Nick Clegg still has time to make a gracious exit as Liberal Democrat leader - with head held high (Independent)

The Lib Dem leader has made too many unforced errors for his own good, writes Mary Ann Sieghart.

4. Forget Mr Has-Been. The prize is power (Times) (£)

The future for the Lib Dems can only be as the third party of government, not as a left-wing alternative to Labour, says Philip Collins.

5. James Murdoch: a fit and proper pasting (Guardian)

Ofcom did not mince its words in damning a hereditary magnate who "repeatedly fell short of the conduct expected of him", says a Guardian editorial.

6. Our politics is bursting with life – it’s the parties that are dying (Daily Telegraph)

There is no shortage of support for the right causes, but our leaders do not address them, writes Fraser Nelson.

7. Puzzle of falling UK labour productivity (Financial Times)

Labour hoarding, substitution of labour for capital and failings in finance are only part of the answer, says Martin Wolf.

8. Hospital death rates we can't ignore (Independent)

This is a level of risk that would be alarming in the developing world, never mind 21st-century Britain, says an Independent leader.

9. Planning free-for-all is a blueprint for discord (Daily Mail)

To deny homeowners the right to object to dramatic changes is the exact opposite of the localism the Tories claim to preach, says a Daily Mail editorial.

10. History as fantasy is no substitute for rigorous truth (Guardian)

Whether it's Richard III's corpse, Jesus's wife or King Arthur's castle, to be seduced by myth is to flirt with fanaticism, writes Simon Jenkins.

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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.