Why the Tories' pregnancy error is alarming

The party's dystopian view of Britain -- exposed.

One of the early lessons of the pre-election campaign is that statistics aren't the Conservatives' strong point. At the beginning of the month, Chris Grayling was caught out when he manipulated statistics in order to falsely claim that violent crime had increased hugely over the past decade.

Now, a new attack document from the party, Labour's Two Nations, claims that in the ten most deprived parts of the country, "54 per cent [of teenage girls] are likely to fall pregnant before the age of 18".

In fact, the figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families show that, in the areas concerned, 54.32 out of every 1,000 women aged 15-17 fell pregnant, which gives us a figure of 5.4 per cent, not 54 per cent.

This was clearly more cock-up than conspiracy: someone at CCHQ left a decimal point out. But what's more extraordinary is that no one sounded the alarm and pointed out that, regardless of your maths ability, 54 per cent is not a plausible finding. That the figure was repeated three times makes this failure even more remarkable.

Labour can justifiably claim that the error reflects the Tories' dystopian and distorted view of British society.

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George Eaton is political editor of 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.