The barbarism of Ahmadinejad’s Iran

What is it these fanatics fear about their women?

In my column in the Sunday Mirror today -- as well as a little bit of politics, as Ben Elton used to say -- I write about the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. She is the unfortunate woman who has been convicted of adultery and condemned to death by stoning by the Iranian state.

She has already received 99 lashes of the whip from a regime that delights in cruelty, human rights abuses and wilful provocation -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad disqualified himself from being taken seriously as a world leader after he said in 2005 that Israel was a "disgraceful blot" and should be "wiped off the face of the earth". Since then, he has done all he can to live down to expectations.

There has been international outrage at the treatment by the Iranian state of Ms Ashtiani, and it looked at one point as if she would be offered asylum in Brazil. But Ahmadinejad, like Robert Mugabe, likes nothing more than to defy reasonable expectation, and now, in a disturbing twist in events, Ms Ashtiania has allegedly confessed on national television to murdering her husband as well. This is months after she expressed her innocence of all charges.

The whole thing has the sinister feel of an old-style Soviet show trial. Only China executes more people each year than Iran. Unless something can be done for her, it looks as if the tragic Ms Ashtiani will still be executed. Her death would be yet another symbol of the powerlessness and mistreatment of women in Islamic theocracies.

What is it these fanatics fear about their women? Their superiority, perhaps?

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

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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.