Web Only: the best of the blogs

The five must-read blogs from today, on Murdoch and the Times, female politicians and fake poll card

1. Would Gordon Brown do a Michael Howard and stay on even if he loses?

The FT's Jim Pickard says that if Gordon Brown loses, he may chose to stay until the autumn and help ease Ed Balls into the Labour leadership.

2. News Int-erference: Murdoch tightens grip on Times

At Left Foot Forward, Will Straw quotes a News International executive who reports on increasing political interference with the Times by James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks.

3. UK election: Women Going Backwards

At OurKingdom, Laurie Penny says that female politicians have been more marginalised than ever during the election. The one hope is that Caroline Lucas will win in Brighton Pavilion.

4. Tories definitely don't have the economist vote sewn up

At Liberal Conspiracy, Left Outside quotes big guns from the American blogosphere expressing their shock that the FT and Economist have come out for the Tories.

5. Labour in legal hot water over poll cards

Liberal Democrat Voice's Mark Pack reports that Labour may face a legal challenge after appearing to send fake poll cards to voters.

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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.