The quiet man turns up the volume

Iain Duncan Smith warns that he will resign if forced to vote against his eurosceptic views again.

In this week's NS politics column, Conservative MP Jesse Norman insists that Tory MPs remain "remarkably united, not divided, over the EU issue". But everything we're hearing suggests that the reverse is true. Iain Duncan Smith is reported to have had "an extraordinary stand-up row" with chief whip Patrick McLoughlin, warning him that he will resign if he is ever forced to vote against his eurosceptic principles again. "If you ever put me in this position again, that's it," he said.

The truth is that the Tories are as divided over Europe as ever, it's just the nature of the division that has changed. The divide used to be between the europhiles (Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke, Chris Patten, Ian Gilmour, Geoffrey Howe et al) and the eurosceptics (everybody else) but it's now between the eurosceptics and the eurofanatics.

There is no easy way to heal this division. Duncan Smith was reportedly "extremely unimpressed" with Cameron's handling of the issue but it's hard to see how a one-line whip or a free vote would have helped matters. Indeed, without a three-line whip, the rebellion would likely have been even larger. As Lord Ashcroft noted yesterday:

Others have blamed "party management", as though imposing only a one-line whip and allowing many more Tory MPs to cast an apparently cost-free vote for the referendum motion would not have created even bigger problems (and led to just as many complaints about "party management", no doubt from the same people).

ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie has suggested that a referendum on EU membership is the only way of "bringing closure" to the decades-long split in the party. But would the eurosceptics really go quietly if the vote went against them? After all, despite a 67 per cent vote in favour of EEC membership in the 1975 referendum, Labour still called for withdrawal in its 1983 manifesto.

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.