Morning Call: pick of the comment

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

1. He who wields the banana can wear the crown (Times)

Charges of dithering will not stick, says David Aaronovitch. David Miliband's critics dislike his politics, not his refusal to challenge Gordon Brown.

2. Universities face meltdown -- and all of Britain will suffer (Guardian)

Michael Arthur and Wendy Piatt implore ministers to think again about Budget cuts that threaten to wreck a sector vital to our national prosperity.

3. Gordon Brown may have a team around him, but where are the policies? (Telegraph)

Aspiration versus austerity is the latest gambit, but what does it mean, asks Mary Riddell, and why have core Labour voters become such an unloved caste?

4. Mr Cameron's responsibility is to give us some detail (Independent)

The Tory leader's social plans are welcome, says the Indie's leading article, but not fully explained. He must convince the public that greater social cohesion can coexist with a smaller role for the state by outlining how he would do it.

5. Little by little, the blue seeps through Cameron's silky skin (Guardian)

Polly Toynbee is less convinced. Scratch the surface of the Tory leader's dreamy vision of good parenting, she says, and his true colours become that bit clearer.

6. Is Mr Cameron's naughty step a step too far? (Times)

Rachel Sylvester takes up the same theme, arguing that the Tory leader's traditional family policies will please his party, but risk harming his image as a force for change.

7. Bankruptcy could be good for America (Financial Times)

If the US keeps running huge deficits, sooner or later the country will start flirting with bankruptcy, says Gideon Rachman. This might be better sooner rather than later.

8. The Royal Institution must be saved (Telegraph)

Colin Blakemore looks back at the history of the Royal Institution, arguing that it would be a tragedy to lose this melting pot of science.

9. The Irish Family Robinson (Times)

Peace in Northern Ireland has been stuck on the question of devolved responsibilty for policing, says the leading article. The resignation of Peter Robinson makes progress more difficult still.

10. Greece looks set to go the way of Argentina (Financial Times)

Desmond Lachman discusses the currency crisis in Greece, and the lessons that Athens can learn from Buenos Aires.

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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.