Web Only: the best of the blogs

The five must-read blogs from today, on gay rights, older voters and Osborne's tax dodge.

1. Cameron fails to say he's for "gay or straight"

Over at Left Foot Forward, Shamik Das notes that despite the Tories briefing that David Cameron would declare that he was for "gay or straight" in his speech today, the line didn't make it in.

2. Will it be older voters that finally do for Mr Brown?

PoliticalBetting's Mike Smithson reports on a new poll that gives the Tories a 22 per cent lead among the over-55s.

3. Has Osborne kept open the "Geoffrey Howe dodge" on VAT?

The Tory shadow chancellor may have said that he has "no plans" to raise VAT but, says Sunder Katwala, history teaches us to be wary of Tory tax pledges.

4. What happens in wash-up -- and what will happen to the Digital Economy Bill?

Liberal Democrat Voice's Mark Pack looks at the bills that are likely to emerge intact from the "wash-up" period.

5. "The worst government in history"

The Public and Commercial Services union leader Mark Serwotka's description of the Labour government as "the worst in history" deserves a prize for "bone-headed madness", writes John Rentoul.

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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.