CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning’s papers.

1. These leaks could deal a fatal blow to global trust (Independent)

Real damage can be caused when personal trust, honour or national security is involved, warns Hilary Synnott.

2. WikiLeaks: Open secrets (Guardian)

The US cables leak is a historian's dream and a diplomat's nightmare, says a Guardian editorial.

3. The City's masters need to stay above the fray (Financial Times)

To become identified with one political party would be fatal to the Bank of England's reputation, says Alistair Darling.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

4. The prize of freedom (Times) (£)

China has reacted with predictable fury to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, says a Times leader. He should be allowed to pick up his award in person.

5. England is best placed to spread the gospel of football (Daily Telegraph)

Tonight's Panorama investigation into Fifa must not be allowed to scupper Britain's World Cup bid, says Boris Johnson.

6. Stop talking and start taxing carbon (Financial Times)

With or without an effective climate change policy, Americans will eventually have to pay more in taxes, writes Clive Crook.

7. Promoting happiness and cutting welfare: what a devious combination (Guardian)

David Cameron's happiness initiative is premised on the illusion of choice, says Madeleine Bunting.

8. This happiness index is a cynical attempt to control our minds (Daily Mail)

Elsewhere, Melanie Phillips agrees that the happiness index is part of a sinister effort to manipulate the public.

9. To see how fascism can be throttled, look at Barking (Guardian)

The Battle for Barking teaches us what really motivates people to join or vote for the BNP, says Jackie Ashley.

10. Let us not doom Cancún to failure before it even begins (Independent)

Options other than a legally binding global agreement deserve exploring, says an Independent editorial.

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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.