The Tories are the big winners from today

Tory gains and a No vote mean this is one of Cameron’s best days since becoming PM.

"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle," wrote George Orwell. Engrossed in the Lib Dem massacre and the SNP triumph, few have noticed one obvious truth: the Tories are the big winners from today.

As I write, the Conservatives have made a net gain of 37 seats and their share of the vote has held up – a truly remarkable result. The Tories had been predicted to lose 500-1,000 seats. In an interview outside Conservative Central Office, David Cameron has just promised that there will be "no celebrating, no congratulations" after the AV result tonight.

Yet the Tories have much to celebrate today. Despite the unpopularity of the (Tory-dominated) government's austerity measures and its NHS reforms, they have not suffered at the polls. Nay, they have gained. As the left always warned, the Lib Dems have acted as their human shields.

Until the final weeks of the referendum campaign, a No vote was never inevitable. Most polls before the campaign proper showed the two sides neck and neck. The turning point came when David Cameron, who initially planned to lie low during the referendum period, put himself at the centre of the No campaign. As Nick Clegg remarked, the Tory leader "threw the kitchen sink" at the referendum after realising the considerable damage that a Yes vote would do to his leadership.

Had the Yes campaign won, Cameron would have been branded a serial loser, the man who failed to win a majority against as unpopular a prime minister as Gordon Brown, who was then forced to offer a referendum on AV to the Lib Dems and who sacrificed first-past-the-post as a result. But today Cameron will enjoy one of his best days since becoming Prime Minister.

There is now a far greater chance of a Tory majority in 2015. The prospect of an emboldened Conservative Party fighting the next election under first-past-the-post, having redrawn the constituency boundaries in its favour, is not a happy one for Labour. Those who assume that Labour will return to power on a wave of anti-cuts discontent could not be more wrong. For Ed Miliband, the really hard work starts now.

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.