Osborne’s Budget provides few reasons to be cheerful

Growth revised down. Unemployment, borrowing and inflation revised up.

Unless you're Jeremy Clarkson, it's hard to see the bright spot in today's Budget. The Office for Budget Responsibility now predicts lower growth, higher inflation, higher unemployment and a slower pace of deficit reduction than it did in June. Every significant economic indicator is going in the wrong direction.

Growth for 2011 has been revised down from 2.1 per cent to 1.7 per cent and growth for 2012 has been downgraded from 2.6 per cent to 2.5 per cent. Public-sector borrowing is now forecast to be £44.5bn higher across this parliament. And, as Will Straw points out, the OBR now predicts that unemployment will be higher than expected every year from now, starting with an increase of 40,000 in 2011 and another rise of 130,000 in 2012.

As expected, George Osborne announced that the personal allowance will be raised from £7,475 to more than £8,105 in April 2012. But this tax cut (worth £120 to all those earning less than £115,000) will be swallowed up by the coalition's "permanent" VAT rise, which will cost the average adult £310, and by the 1 per cent rise in National Insurance.

With an eye to the next quarterly growth figures, it's worth noting that the OBR is now predicting growth of 0.8 per cent for Q1 of this year. The forecasters were badly wrong last time, of course, but it looks like Osborne will avoid a double dip. Yet a recovery that was already set to be slower than those of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s will now be weaker still. The coalition's premature fiscal retrenchment has condemned Britain to years of anaemic growth.

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.