Tony Blair calls for regime change in Iran and Syria

"Regime change in Tehran would immediately make me more optimistic about the whole of the region."

It looks like Tony Blair is up to his old tricks. The former prime minister has given an interview to the Times (£) to mark the ten-year anniversary of the attacks of 11 September 2001, which kick-started the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he expresses no regret for the countless lives lost, or his responsibility for the shortsightedness that led Britain into a decade of apparently endless war. No, instead, he holds Iran accountable for continuing the wars and calls for regime change:

Regime change in Tehran would immediately make me significantly more optimistic about the whole of the region.

If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons capability, it would destabilise the region very, very badly.

They continue to support groups that are engaged with terrorism and the forces of reaction. In Iraq, one of the main problems has been the continued intervention of Iran and likewise in Afghanistan.

He also called on the international community to hasten the departure of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, saying:

He is not going to lead the programme of change in Syria now. He has shown he is not capable of reform. His position is untenable. There is no process of change that leaves him intact.

Blair, who is international peace envoy for the Middle East, emphasised that he was not calling for military action in Iran but, given his record, he might be better off not mentioning regime change at all.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for 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.