Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The Lib Dems aren't going to rescue themselves by being timid (Observer)
They need to be seen as kinder than the Tories, safer with the economy than Labour and more radical than either, says Andrew Rawnsley

2. You'll be sorry as the wolves circle, Clegg (Sunday Times £)
Leaders are now suspiciously quick to resort to "sorry", says Martin Ivens

3. I don't believe Mitchell said the P-word (Sunday Telegraph)
The Chief Whip has a temper but it's not in him to use the word "pleb", say Matthew d'Ancona

4. The key pillars of our economy need reshaping, starting with finance (Observer)
The first in a three-part series, by Will Hutton

5. Can "three jobs" Laws really save the Lib Dems? (Daily Mail)
He is said to be working 20 hours a day, says James Forsyth

6. An EU referendum could be the crucial moment of David Cameron's career (Sunday Telegraph)
The outcome could mark Cameron as one of history's consequential Prime Ministers

7. Clegg's apology hands leadership to to Cable (Independent on Sunday)
The leader is stalked by his more popular rival, says John Rentoul

8. Mitchell must go, then we can discuss policing (Independent on Sunday)
The snobbish outburst of a cabinet minister shouldn't stop a debate about policing

9. Nick's sorry? Yeah, and the dog ate my homework (Daily Mail)
Clegg's hollow excuses have make him look like a man in a sorry state, says Viv Groskop

10. Troll away, vile trolls, you're doing us a service (Sunday Times £)
Free speech has no boundaries, says India Knight

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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.