Politics and the law: on collision course?

The diplomatic storm over Tzipi Livni continues

 

William Hague, Harriet Harman and Bob Marshall-Andrews discuss the Tzipi Livni question at PMQs yesterday.

 

On Tuesday, I blogged about the diplomatic row triggered by a British court issuing an arrest warrant for the former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni. It rages on.

At PMQs yesterday (watch the video above), Bob Marshall-Andrews asked Harriet Harman whether she would support the power of the courts to issue proceedings against anyone where there is sufficient evidence. It was a clear reference to this case. Harman replied that she supports judicial independence.

But the plot thickens. The present law allows the courts to issue a warrant for a non-citizen who has allegedly committed a war crime in another country. Today it has been reported that this will change, with Gordon Brown said to be pushing for plans to build in "safeguards" in criminal cases against visiting foreign leaders. These "safeguards" will entail granting the attorney general full power of veto for suspected war criminals.

It might just be me, but does that sound like an encroachment on judicial independence?

It was also reported that Brown telephoned Livni to tell her that he "strongly opposed" the warrant, while the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, called Livni and his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, to apologise. A diplomatic nicety, perhaps, but the planned changes to the law -- which follow calls from Israeli politicians to, well, change the law -- signal a much more worrying collision of politics and justice.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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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.