One gaffe too many for Warsi?

Tory chairman under pressure after lashing out at party’s right wing.

After a bad night for the Conservatives, the Tory chairman, Sayeeda Warsi, has further antagonised party activists with her comments this morning. In an interview on the Today programme, she said:

As far as the right wing of our party are concerned, I would say this to them: We had many, many MPs turning up. We had some who made much comment about the fact that we weren't fighting a strong enough campaign but, interestingly, didn't turn up to campaign. I would say to those who are critical, unless you were here, unless you were out delivering and unless you were out knocking on doors, you really don't have a right to complain about us not being vigorous enough.

It was always going to be difficult for Warsi to put a positive gloss on the result. If she concedes that the party ran a half-hearted campaign, Tory MPs can legitimately attack the leadership for going easy on the Lib Dems. If she maintains that the party ran a strong campaign, the Tories' poor performance is even less excusable.

But it's her decision to single out the "right wing" of the party for criticism that has angered the grass roots and party officials today. The Spectator's James Forsyth quotes a Tory press adviser as saying: "You can't put her on the radio. She's just a disaster waiting to happen."

As the press adviser suggests, this is far from Warsi's first gaffe. Last year, in an interview with my colleague Mehdi Hasan, she made the remarkable claim that electoral fraud within "the Asian community" cost the Tories three seats at the general election. But her complaint appeared less credible after she refused to name the seats in question. On another occasion, Warsi bizarrely suggested that she didn't want to see more Muslim MPs because "Muslims that go to parliament don't have any morals or principles".

Even before today, Warsi was far from adored by Tory activists, many of whom resent being lectured by an unelected peer. Her position doesn't appear to be under threat but it's safe to say the party will think twice before fielding Warsi on a bad news day again.

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.