The Times breaks its silence

The paper has so far kept a safe distance from the storm engulfing its sister title.

"There is no doubt but that journalists are now in their version of the MP's expenses scandal." These are the opening lines of an editorial in today's Times calling for a serious and thorough investigation into the News of the World hacking scandal.

Also owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International, The Times has thus far deafeningly quiet about the practices of those working for News of the World.

"Before today, The Times, which, like the News of the World, is owned by News International, has taken the view that it ought not to comment on the issue of phone hacking."

Other News International titles have similarly failed to provide full coverage of the story, such as yesterday's Sun, which hid references to NoW's entanglement with Milly Dowler in a tiny column on page 2.

Now The Times has broken its silence, and added its voice to the widespread condemnation of the NoW:

"But anyone who has serious faith in the public purpose of journalism has to record his or her dissent from the behaviour that has now been alleged. Anyone who believes in the nobility of the trade of reporting the truth, the better to inform the readers, and anyone who believes in the contribution of vibrant comment to a raucous and well-informed democracy, has to be clear when a line has been crossed."

It also called for a thorough investigation into the case, proclaiming that "over and above the internal inquiry that will be conducted at News International, this matter now requires the most rigorous possible police inquiry".

But the paper shied away from condemning its sister title outright, stressing the number of unanswered questions still to be addressed:

"There is much that we still need to know. Were journalists at the News of the World involved or just their consultant Glenn Mulcaire? Was Milly Dowler's phone actually hacked or is it simply the case that Mulcaire had obtained her number? Did the News of the World and Mulcaire do the same in the case of the Soham victims and, if so, when? And given the reports of phone hacking by other national newspapers, how much of this was exception and how much, across the industry, the rule?"

Emanuelle Degli Esposti is the editor and founder of The Arab Review, an online journal covering arts and culture in the Arab world. She also works as a freelance journalist specialising in the politics of the Middle East.

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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.