A night at the Spectator's parliamentarian of the year awards

Osborne and Alexander could become Britain's most promising comedy double act.

To the Royal Hospital Gardens in Chelsea last night for the dinner to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Spectator's parliamentarian of the year awards (though there was some dispute over whether it was in fact the 25th anniversary; former Spectator editor Charles Moore claimed it was not). The venue was a cavernous, dimly-lit marquee, with the obligatory soft rock music accompanying the announcement of each winner and illuminated stars affixed to the ceiling - it had the feel less of a grand country house party than the wedding of a self-made Essex car dealer's favourite daughter but with the furniture hired from Ikea. "This tent is so lavish," said Nick Clegg, winner of politician of the year, "that it deserves Vince Cable's mansion tax." Meanwhile, the rain beat down on the canvas roof.

My favourite line of what was a splendid evening was from Danny Alexander. He and George Osborne received the award for "odd couple"; Alexander was wearing his Highland tartan, with a tastefully cut kilt. With Osborne at his side, he began thus: "It's obvious who's wearing the trousers in this relationship." An old joke, but nicely appropriate on this occasion. To which Osborne quipped, in reference to the topsy-turvy world of coalition politics, that "he's rolling back the state and I'm defending the Euro!" These two have the potential to become Britain's most promising comedy double act.

David Cameron, cautiously wearing a lounge suit rather than the requested black tie, was guest of honour and gave out the awards. He spoke with his usual fluency, teasing his new-found love Nick Clegg over his considerable personal wealth - and the many mansions in the family. Cameron referred to himself as a "middle-class boy from Berkshire".

Although he was suffering from flu, Spectator editor Fraser Nelson was on hand to introduce each of the award-winners - as Andrew Neil reminded us in his opening address "these are parliamentary not political awards" -- and the list of winners was spread across the parties, with even a gong for Caroline Lucas.

Peter Hoskin has all the details over at the Coffee House.

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.