Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Wisconsin is making the battle lines clear in America's hidden class war (Guardian)

The brazen choices of the Republican governor show the real ideology behind the attacks on unions, writes Gary Younge.

2. I can't support the coalition plan for the NHS (Times) (£)

We should oppose the government's untried and disruptive reorganisation of the health service, argues Shirley Williams.

3. Insecurity is fuel for the far right's hate (Guardian)

The political mainstream needs more convincing responses to the far right, says David Miliband.

4. AV was a last gasp from Gordon Brown's bunker – and it's a gigantic fraud (Daily Telegraph)

We would be mad to adopt an electoral system that is less fair than the one we already have, writes Boris Johnson.

5. How can we be so blindly stupid as to sell arms to despots then bleat about democracy? (Daily Mail)

We should never have sold weapons to the appalling Muammar al-Gaddafi, says Stephen Glover.

6. Nobody likes quotas, but they work (Independent)

Good intentions are all very well, but the progress they achieve is achingly slow, writes Mary Ann Sieghart.

7. Female quotas would target the wrong women (Financial Times)

Elsewhere, Lucy Kellaway says that the debate about women's representation shouldn't be about the boardroom at all.

8. The coalition has sneaked a coup on a sleeping public (Guardian)

The government is speeding ahead with its project to remodel British society without any regard for what it told voters last year, writes John Harris.

9. Our young Muslims must see what freedom means to Arabs (Independent)

The Arab spring should inspire the most sullen of our young British Muslims, says Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

10. No-fly zone will help stop Gaddafi's carnage (Financial Times)

Military options can't be excluded in extreme cases such as Libya, writes Gareth Evans.

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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.