Morning Call: pick of the comment

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

1. If the Tories have a secret plan for power, they're keeping it quiet (Daily Telegraph)

Despite their boasts about being prepared for government, says Benedict Brogan, there are some anxious faces in the party's high command.

2. The fault line in Haiti runs straight to France (Times)

Ben Macintyre says that the destruction by the earthquake has been aggravated, not by a pact with the devil, but by the crippling legacy of imperialism. He looks back at Haiti's colonised history.

3. If Britain wants change that counts, there's an election it can vote in today (Guardian)

Timothy Garton Ash says that ideological differences between the parties are hugely exaggerated. What matters most is to transform the system. He writes about political reform and the Power 2010 campaign.

4. We have learnt the wrong lessons from Iraq (Financial Times)

Fresh from his appearance at the Chilcot inquiry, Alastair Campbell says that the government must improve strategic communication, as winning the war in Afghanistan requires maintaining public support.

5. This is a terrible reverse, but don't write off Obama (Independent)

There is discontent about the US economy, says Matthew Norman, but it is expected to improve dramatically by 2012, and Barack Obama foresaw this backlash before his election.

6. Lessons of a Mass revolt (Guardian)

Harold Evans agrees that although many voters oppose health reform, Obama's rejection in Massachusetts is mainly because millions are still out of work.

7. Bank of England independence is a cause of immense frustration for Gordon Brown (Daily Telegraph)

Mervyn King's latest criticism of the handling of the recession was a body blow to the PM, says Edmund Conway.

8. Family values have the Tories in a twist (Independent)

A mighty roar calls for our governments to praise the family. Steve Richards doesn't see how or why they should -- it is time for a debate about the limits and scope of government.

9. Review the sell-off of great British companies (Financial Times)

Will Hutton and Phillip Blond question the dominant logic of the past 30 years that mergers are good for the companies involved, for the economy and for consumers, and they call for British assets to be protected.

10. Memo to medics: it's about emotions as well as tumours (Guardian)

Zoe Williams looks at the latest disagreement among breast cancer experts, which shines a light into the grey areas of the NHS's screening programme.

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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.