Morning call: pick of the comment

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

1. The plot was a flop but a revealing one none the less (Observer)

Andrew Rawnsley says that the first chapter of the long election campagn showed Conservative weakness on policy, while the delay in cabinet ministers coming out in support of Gordon Brown showed their anger with him.

2. Labour's implosion is bad news for us all (Sunday Telegraph)

The paper's leader recaps the failed coup plot, saying that a dying government is bad for the country -- not least the Conservatives, whose policies need to be tested in a proper campaign to gain true public support.

3. Be bold, Gordon Brown, and call an early election (Sunday Times)

The leading article says that calling an early election would show Brown to be a man of courage, expose the Tories as nervous and insecure, and save Labour from a decisive election defeat.

4. Putting wounded Brown out of his misery would be a disaster for the UK (Sunday Mirror)

Meanwhile, at the Mirror, the New Statesman editor, Jason Cowley, gives his verdict on last week, saying that there has never been a coherent plot against Brown.

5. Of course class still matters -- it influences everything that we do (Observer)

Nobody wants to believe that our society is still class-bound, says Will Hutton, but the only way to create a fairer society is to start talking about it. The media must not shut down discussion of private education as "irrelevant".

6. A proper purpose for Chilcot (Independent on Sunday)

The appearance of Alastair Campbell at the Iraq inquiry on Tuesday will be as much a trial for John Chilcot and his colleagues as for the star witness, argues the Indie leading article.

7. Banning the burqa unveils some nasty traits in us (Sunday Times)

India Knight rehearses the arguments for and against the French burqa ban. While there are rational arguments in its favour, the legislation uncomfortably appears to be aimed firmly at one (huge) section of society, based on one skin colour and one religion.

8. Health reform, the states and Medicaid (New York Times)

As part of a series examining the policy changes and politics behind the debate over health-care reform, the NYT editorial explores Medicaid and the deficits that states funding it face.

9. Wind is the revolution needed in this country (Independent on Sunday)

Renewable power is a great environmental and economic opportunity: it could put us out of carbon dependency and into green economic growth.

10. Save the pub or let it die? It's your shout (Sunday Times)

A crackdown on supermarkets advertising cheap alcohol, coupled with lower tax for weaker beer, could turn back the clock and draw people to more civilised drinking -- down the pub, says Charles Clover.

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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.