A progressive alliance: the numbers

Alliance could hope to count on the support of 330 MPs.

Following Gordon Brown's extraordinary, game-changing statement, here is a guide to how a progressive alliance could be constructed. Bear in mind that as Sinn Féin's five MPs refuse to take their Commons seats, a government needs 321 seats for a de facto majority in the House.

Progressive alliance

Labour: 258 seats

Liberal Democrats: 57 seats

Social Democratic Labour Party: 3 seats (Labour's Northern Irish sister party)

The Alliance Party: 1 seat (Lib Dems' Northern Irish sister party)

Plaid Cymru: 3 seats (currently in coalition with Labour in Wales)

Scottish National Party: 6 seats (the SNP negotiating team arrived in London last night and called for a "progressive" alternative to a Tory-Lib Dem pact)

Green Party: 1 seat (Caroline Lucas has ruled out joining a formal coalition, but maintains that she is "interested in talking about ways we might co-operate")

Independent: 1 seat (Sylvia Hermon regularly voted with Labour while an Ulster Unionist MP, and could be expected to back the government on key votes)

Total: 330 seats

Conservative alliance

Conservative Party: 307 seats (I add one seat, as the Tories are almost certain to win the delayed election in Thirsk and Malton)

Democratic Unionist Party: 8 seats (the DUP generally votes with the Tories and there has been talk of a deal for some time)

Total: 315 seats

Perhaps the clearest indicator we've had that a progressive alliance is increasingly likely is the statement issued by Nick Clegg this evening. He made it clear he was dissatisfied with the Tories' current offer:

[S]o far we have been unable to agree a comprehensive partnership agreement for a full parliament.

We need a government that lasts, which is why we believe, in the light of the state of talks with the Conservative Party, the only responsible thing to do is to open discussions with the Labour Party to secure a stable partnership agreement.

The possibility that Britain's progressive majority may finally receive adequate representation in government is more real than ever tonight.

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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.