Labour challenges Cameron on his Bullingdon past

The party questions Cameron's claim that he never saw a restaurant smashed up.

As I predicted, David Cameron's flawed defence of his Bullingdon Club past has left him politically exposed. Labour has issued a press release challenging Cameron's questionable claim that he never saw a restaurant smashed up, and urging him to "take responsibility" for what he dismisses as youthful indiscretions.

Here's the full statement from Labour MP John Mann:

David Cameron has questions to answer after his claim today that he did not witness people throwing things through windows or smashing up restaurants during his days as a Bullingdon Club member.

This is very different to what other people remember.

He needs to start admitting what he did and start taking responsibility for what he shrugs off as youthful indiscretions.

If we are to get more responsibility throughout our society following the riots then the Prime Minister should set an example.

No doubt some will dismiss this as more "toff-bashing" from Labour. But unlike Cameron's expensive schooling, the party regards this as legitimate political territory. The key point, they say, is that Cameron chose to join the Bullingdon Club. It provides Ed Miliband, who was more likely to be found reading Fabian pamphlets than smashing restaurant windows, with another opportunity to restate his call for responsibility at the top and the bottom of the society.

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.