Taking a break . . .

The Staggers downs tools for the holidays

We'll be back on 29 December with more news, views, analysis and related trivia.

In the meantime, here are five posts worth revisiting:

1. Who wants a Tory babygro for Christmas? Look at the brilliant gifts you could have had.

2. Boris gets off the bus. If you're a Londoner, steel yourself for fare hikes next year.

3. US health-care reform by numbers. The historic health-care bill scraped through the Senate on Christmas Eve. If you fancy boning up on the facts behind the figures, look no further.

4. Time to see past the Steve Jobs delusion. Got anything from Apple under your tree? A controversial post on the evangelical dedication of Apple customers.

5. Claws out: five top "PM under attack" quotes. Perhaps not quite in the spirit of festive cheer and all that, but hey, it's a dog-eat-dog world out there.

And, of course, the pictorial wonder that is our Top 10 Politicians' Christmas cards.

 

Merry Christmas from the Staggers team!

 

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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.