It's not just the eurozone that could push the UK back into recession

The NIESR predicts a 70% chance of recession if the eurozone crisis is not solved -- and a 50% chanc

Most of this morning's papers reported on the latest study from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR). The figure they've chosen to lead on is that the UK has a 70 per cent chance of recession if policymakers fail to resolve the eurozone crisis. What gained less attention was the prediction that there is around a 50 per cent chance of a recession even if the crisis is successfully resolved.

Interestingly, the focus on the eurozone plays into the government's new emphasis on global factors in the UK's sluggish growth. When confronted with growth of just 0.5 per cent in the last 12 months at PMQs yesterday, Cameron responded that any growth was good amid the "global storm in the world economy". This is an important shift, given that in opposition Cameron slammed Gordon Brown for making the same argument, and that the coalition has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the role of the banking crash in creating the deficit, instead blaming Labour's spending.

The NIESR warned that the economy was in for the slowest recovery in 100 years, and that UK fiscal policy was "too tight" in the short-term. While the eurozone crisis is a concern, the fact that there is a 50 per cent chance of falling back into recession regardless shows that the problem is not just global, but that our leaders are not dealing with it in the right way. If global factors created the crisis, George Osborne's aggressive deficit reduction strategy has ensured we will not be the first out of it.

 

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.