Ed was right to say the war was wrong

Labour's old guard are mad if they still think Iraq was the right thing to do.

Are the British media mad, in the profound sense of having so lost their grip on reality they think they are right and the entire rest of the world is out of step?

At the beginning of September I published an essay on the New Statesman website explaining that David Miliband's admission that the Iraq war was a mistake in fact reproduced the deceits behind the decision to invade, and that in effect he still supported the strategic catastrophe Barack Obama eloquently predicted before the war took place. I was more right than I realised. He really does still support the decision.

All Ed did was say that it was clearly wrong. He stated the obvious. This should be the headline.

The British military agree, the whole of Washington agrees, Europe and the Middle East agree, Al-Qaeda agrees that it did them the world of good. No intelligent analyst still thinks it was a wise, well-calculated decision. The public marched against the invasion and proved to be wiser and more far-sighted.

But still a rump of Labour's old guard and the lump of the BBC, the Murdoch press and Tory cheerleaders stick to the line that it was an honourable decision. John le Carre said that America was mad at the time. They are still mad. I'm sorry, but if it makes David furious it is because he is furious with himself.

Anthony Barnett is co-founder of openDemocracy and co-edits its British blog, OurKingdom.

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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.