CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning’s papers.

1. Radical? Hardly. But Cameron is so much more than Blair reincarnated (Guardian)

The Queen's Speech may cleanse only the most fouled stables in the Labour camp. However, says Simon Jenkins, David Cameron has proved an original political personality.

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2. A liberal but fragile legislative agenda (Independent)

The agenda unveiled yesterday is generally a liberal and progressive legislative programme, says the leading article. But it is the state of the wider economy that will make the political weather.

3. It's Lehman the sequel, with Merkel as Bush (Times)

The big lesson of the financial crisis was that no bank must be allowed to fail, says Anatole Kaletsky. The same now applies to Greece.

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4. The collapse of the euro would open the door to democracy (Daily Telegraph)

The European project has been shown to be economically and politically bankrupt, writes Simon Heffer. European economies are struggling because of bad and indulgent decisions by governments.

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5. The grasshoppers and the ants -- a modern fable (Financial Times)

Today's global economy is more complex than Aesop could have imagined, says Martin Wolf. What is the moral of this fable? If you want to accumulate enduring wealth, do not lend to grasshoppers.

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6. The new politics needs a realignment of the mind. It needs Caroline Lucas (Guardian)

David Marquand argues that tarted-up neoliberalism won't cut it. The great question of our time isn't the deficit, but halting the capitalist merry-go-round.

7. It's risky, but this time North Korea must pay (Times)

Seoul has abandoned hope of taming its neighbour with its "sunshine policy" of aid and economic co-operation, says Rosemary Righter. Now, its rhetoric and defences are hardening.

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8. Towards a new ethics of nature (Financial Times)

Paul Collier writes that natural assets are valuable, and vulnerable. Unfortunately, nature has been moralised before it has been analysed, but our obligation should be to pass on equivalent value for the assets we deplete.

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9. Labour's leadership candidates are all against the war now (Independent)

The comedian Mark Steel points out that there's an honourable tradition in the Labour Party of bravely standing against an unjust war -- as long as the war ended several years ago.

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10. The Caribbean's necessary conflict (Times)

The leading article maintains that Jamaica is right to attempt to extradite the alleged druglord Christopher Coke, but that won't solve the crisis. After a 40-year "war on drugs" that it has not won, the US should take more care to study the world's clear successes -- and failures.

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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.