In this week’s New Statesman: Christmas Special

Richard Dawkins on the King James Bible | Ricky Gervais interview | Russell Brand on WikiLeaks.

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This week's New Statesman is a Christmas special, with 100 pages of the finest writing to see you through the festive period. The highlights include Richard Dawkins on why, despite his atheism, he reveres the King James Bible, an interview with The xx, acclaimed winners of this year's Mercury Prize, and Russell Brand on why WikiLeaks shows our leaders to be "ham-fisted chumps". Elsewhere, Sophie Elmhirst talks to Ricky Gervais, who discusses fame, elitism, and why he's an atheist and dislikes religious people ("The burden of proof is on you! You started it!").

Also this week, in the Christmas Essay, Dominic Sandbrook profiles Oliver Cromwell and declares him "the greatest man in our history, warts and all", Arianna Huffington tells us why the Tea Party is here to stay and Samira Shackle and myself review the most turbulent political year in decades.

All this, plus our regular array of columnists and writers. Don't miss John Pilger on why Julian Assange deserves our protection, Mehdi Hasan on why the coalition is a Tory government in all but name, David Blanchflower on what Oxbridge can learn from the US and Laurie Penny on how Twitter has changed dissent for ever.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Scotland's huge deficit is an obstacle to independence

The country's borrowing level (9.5 per cent) is now double that of the UK. 

Ever since Brexit, and indeed before it, the possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum has loomed. But today's public spending figures are one reason why the SNP will proceed with caution. They show that Scotland's deficit has risen to £14.8bn (9.5 per cent of GDP) even when a geographic share of North Sea revenue is included. That is more than double the UK's borrowing level, which last year fell from 5 per cent of GDP to 4 per cent. 

The "oil bonus" that nationalists once boasted of has become almost non-existent. North Sea revenue last year fell from £1.8bn to a mere £60m. Total public sector revenue was £400 per person lower than for the UK, while expenditure was £1,200 higher.  

Nicola Sturgeon pre-empted the figures by warning of the cost to the Scottish economy of Brexit (which her government estimated at between £1.7bn and £11.2.bn a year by 2030). 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 considerable austerity. 

Nor would EU membership provide a panacea. Scotland would likely be forced to wait years to join owing to the scepticism of Spain and others facing their own secessionist movements. At present, two-thirds of the country's exports go to the UK, compared to just 15 per cent to other EU states.

The SNP will only demand a second referendum when it is convinced it can win. At present, that is far from certain. Though support for independence rose following the Brexit vote, a recent YouGov survey last month gave the No side a four-point lead (45-40). Until the nationalists enjoy sustained poll leads (as they have never done before), the SNP will avoid rejoining battle. Today's figures are a considerable obstacle to doing so. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.