The Dissolution Honours

Four former defence ministers and Floella Benjamin are elevated to the House of Lords.

And through the round window, it's Lady Floella Benjamin. The actress and TV presenter, best known for her 14-year stint on the children's programme Playschool, has been honoured in the Dissolution Honours List for her work campaigning on education issues.

Benjamin is the founder of Touching Success, a charity that aims to link children with role models, and was a member of the Liberal Democrats' commission on primary education. She will sit in the House of Lords as a Lib Dem peer.

A few names had leaked out this morning, but the full list is now up on the Downing Street website. There are to be 55 new peers in all.

The list includes some predictable entries -- for instance, John Prescott and Michael Howard. (Incidentally, it is worth asking how his elevation to the Lords might affect Prescott's availability to make an effective party treasurer.)

Other former frontbenchers moving to the Lords include the former defence secretaries John Reid, Des Browne and John Hutton, the former chief secretary to the Treasury Paul Boateng and the former Northern Ireland first minister Ian Paisley.

Quentin Davies, another former minister of defence who crossed the floor from the Tories, will become a Labour peer. The former Metropolitan Police commisioner Sir Ian Blair, who was ousted shortly after Boris Johnson became Mayor of London, becomes a crossbench peer.

There are a few slightly more controversial political appointments, such as Michael Spicer, who until stepping down at the election chaired the 1922 Committee, and Sue Nye, the gatekeeper Gordon Brown blamed for his "Bigotgate" run-in with Gillian Duffy during the campaign in Rochdale. Anna Healy, a former adviser to Harriet Harman and wife of Jon Cruddas, also becomes a Labour peer.

The unions have their customary representation, with Margaret Wheeler of Unison and John Monks of the European TUC making an appearance. Single-issue campaigners, too, are present, with Helen Newlove, a campaigner against drink-related violence, and Deborah Stedman-Scott, chief executive of the employment charity Tomorrow's People, both becoming Tory peers.

But the prizes for the wackiest appointments most defintely go to Benjamin and Shireen Ritchie, grass-roots Tory campaigner and stepmother of Guy Ritchie, who was once interviewed in the Daily Mail about her love life as part of an article on "passionate pensioners".

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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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.