In this week’s New Statesman: Melvyn Bragg guest-edit

Exclusive: Unseen Ted Hughes poem on Sylvia Plath’s death | Gore Vidal interview | New P D James sto

Emin

This week's New Statesman is a special issue guest-edited by our greatest polymath, Melvyn Bragg, who recruited Tracey Emin (interviewed inside) to design our front cover.

The issue includes a remarkable and previously unpublished poem by Ted Hughes, "Last letter", describing the days leading up to the suicide of his first wife, the poet Sylvia Plath. Its first line is: "What happened that night? Your final night." -- and the poem ends with the moment Hughes is informed of his wife's death.

Elsewhere, Melyvn speaks to that grand old man of American letters, Gore Vidal, who warns that his homeland is heading for dictatorship, and we feature an exclusive short story by P D James, "The Part-Time Job".

And there's more. David Puttnam argues that the Tories' decision to abolish the UK Film Council betrays their ignorance of history, we publish an exclusive new poem by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, and Marcus du Sautoy explains why maths holds the key to secets of the universe.

All this, plus Mehdi Hasan on why the cult of Cameron is fading, David Blanchflower on why it's too early for interest rates to rise and Alice Miles on why the coalition's child benefit cuts will create a less equal society.

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.