In this week’s New Statesman: the big choice

Behind Cameron’s “Big Society” | Philip Pullman interview | On the trail of the BNP.

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With the election campaign now in full swing, this week's New Statesman analyses the race so far and looks forward to the big moments to come.

In the Politics Column, Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre argue that David Cameron's "big society" rhetoric cannot disguise the fact that the Tories' plans would usher in a new era of privatisation and market rule.

Elsewhere, ahead of the first televised leaders' debate tonight, Dominic Sandbrook says that Brown, Cameron and Clegg should learn from Ronald Reagan's demolition of Jimmy Carter in 1980.

And to prepare you for tonight's event, we've selected the top ten moments from political debates around the world. Head to newstatesman.com to revisit Sarah Palin's clash with Joe Biden, Nicolas Sarkozy's battle with Ségolène Royal and Barack Obama's debate with John McCain.

Meanwhile, back in the magazine, Daniel Trilling reports on the election campaign from Barking, where the BNP threatens to win its first seat in parliament.

In the columns, James Purnell explains why India should be more like Google, Andrew Stephen looks at who Obama will pick to fill the latest Supreme Court vacancy, and David Blanchflower shows that George Osborne's "efficiency savings" just don't add up.

And don't miss our interview with the acclaimed author Philip Pullman as well as Ryan Gilbey's review of Roman Polanski's new film, The Ghost.

The issue is on sale now, or you can subscribe through the website.

Join us for the first TV leaders' debate tonight.

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.