Election 2010 Lookahead: Monday 19 April

The who, when and where of the campaign.

With another 17 days to go in this election campaign, here is what is happening today:

Labour

All Labour cabinet ministers have been recalled to London for an emergency Cobra meeting on the ongoing air chaos. That meeting aside, Health Secretary Andy Burnham is expected to address the Unison health conference (2pm).

Conservatives

The party unveils its manifesto for Scotland today. Meanwhile, Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague goes up against his counterparts Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Liberal Democrat spokesman Ed Davey in the first The Daily Politics election debates (BBC1, 2.15pm).

Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg hosts his party's morning press conference in London. Clegg is promising more investment in green jobs and technology.

The media

Radio 4's Today programme "empty chaired" senior Tories this morning after requests for an interview after a difficult weekend for the party were turned down. ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie was the stand-in. Later, New Statesman columnist Mike Smithson takes part in a Daily Politics Election Special (BBC2, 11.30am) to explain what the rise of the Lib Dems in the opinion polls (and the betting markets) means. And the repeat of Thursday night's Have I Got News For You (BBC2, 10pm) is worth a watch. Originally broadcast directly against the first leaders' debates, the jokes feel instantly out-dated.

Other parties

Not another party as such, but a campaign for a different kind of politics. Vote for Change is constructing a giant gallows from which an effigy of the Palace of Westminster will be hung. It is, you guessed it, all part of its campaign to achieve a hung parliament on 6 May.

Away from the campaign

Apparently it's International TV Turn-Off Week. Organised by "White Dot", the campaign against television has come at a bad time for Sky News which is hosting the second leaders' debate this Thursday (Sky News, 8pm). Assuming people take up the campaign's cause.

 

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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.