A poll bounce for the Tories

Latest YouGov poll puts the Tories on 39 per cent, just a point behind Labour.

The latest daily YouGov poll is the most striking for some time. It puts the Conservatives on 39 per cent, just a point behind Labour on 40 per cent. It's the narrowest Labour lead that YouGov has recorded since January and further evidence of a Tory recovery. The party's lead, which stood at nine points on 22 August has gradually eroded over the past week to seven points, five points, three points and now just one point.

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Latest poll (YouGov/Sun): Labour majority of 10

There are various possible explanations for this. The Tories may have benefited from Cameron's robust response to the riots (polls showed that the public favoured disproportionate sentences) and the rebels' victory in Libya may also have aided their cause (public support for the intervention rose as a result). The parliamentary recess also means that there have been fewer of the "bad news" stories that seemed to plague the government earlier this year.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

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Labour majority of 58

All the usual caveats apply, of course. The poll could be an outlier and we'll have a better idea of the state of play when the next YouGov poll is published tonight. But it certainly sets things up nicely for the conference season.

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.