Berlusconi not to run in 2013 election

The beleaguered Italian prime minister has said he will step down as leader.

In an interview published today in the Italian newspaper, La Reppublica, Silvio Berlusconi has announced that he will not be running in Italy's upcoming elections.

Asked if he would be putting himself forward as a candidate for election, he replied: "Absolutely not".

"I would like to leave now, really, but I won't," he said.

In his place, he named his justice minister and head of his People of Freedom (PdL) party, Angelino Alfano, as his potential successor.

"The candidate for premier on the centre right will be Alfano. If I could, I would give it up now... in any case I won't be the candidate for prime ministr in the next election... at 77 I can't still be the president of the council".

He offered his full support to Alfano, saying he was "the only [politician] who doesn't play games".

The 74-year old media-mogul and effective tyrant has suffered several political drawbacks in recent months, including an unprecedented defeat in regional elections on 31 May and in four referendum votes on 13 June. Abroad, his image has long been sullied by a long list of salacious allegations, and he is currently being investigated on corruption charges and for allegedly paying an under-age prostitute for sex.

"When will you stop attacking me?" He whined to the newspaper. "Try to be a little more balanced. If you can."

But news of his departure, however welcome, should be taken with a healthy degree of scepticism. After all, he is not a politician best known for his command of the truth.

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.