Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. George Osborne's strivers have a shock in store (Guardian)

The £10bn of extra welfare cuts will hit the strivers the Tories are courting as much as the targeted 'shirkers', says Gavin Kelly.

2. Andrew Mitchell must step down (Daily Telegraph)

The Chief Whip is a walking, talking embodiment of everything with which David Cameron would least like his party to be associated, says a Telegraph leader.

3. The harmful myth of the balanced budget (Financial Times)

Critics of austerity sell themselves short by merely calling for a deceleration in deficit reduction, says Samuel Brittan.

4. The US is buzzing, but it’s a Wasp-free zone (Times) (£)

In 1992 all four presidential candidates were White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, notes Ben Macintyre. That’s four more than this year.

5. Integration? The opposite is true in Jeremy Hunt's NHS (Guardian)

The latest healthcare buzzword means nothing, but growing privatisation is reported to be fragmenting services, writes Polly Toynbee.

6. What Doctors Don’t Tell You: There is something very wrong with our libel laws (Independent)

Our libel law protects the rich and the powerful, writes Simon Singh. It's time for a 21st century re-think.

7. Cameron’s toffs must convince the plebs they’re on their side (Daily Telegraph)

The Andrew Mitchell affair hides the fact that it is the Conservatives who are fighting class inequality, argues Fraser Nelson.

8. High-stakes choices for China’s leaders (Financial Times)

Changes at the top will shape the international order for decades, writes Philip Stephens.

9. Grubby deal that will harm British politics (Daily Mail)

The Prime Minister should think long and hard before allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote on Scottish independence, argues a Daily Mail editorial.

10. Gove's centralism is not so much socialist as Soviet (Guardian)

Instead of modernising, British schools stick with the same culture that saw a Nobel winner humiliated in class, 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.