Coogan claims he was the victim of Andy Coulson "sting"

Actor tells Leveson inquiry that News of the World used "sting" operation to reveal details of affai

"It's not the Steve and Hugh show," said Steve Coogan as he finished giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry, explaining that "somebody has to represent all those other people who haven't the stomach to be here." He rightly pointed out that he had never claimed to be a "paragon of virtue" or a "model of morality" and that fame was merely a "by-product" of his profession.

His appearance, although not as newsworthy as that of Hugh Grant, still produced one revelation in the form of an alleged News of the World sting against him. Coogan claimed that he was warned by former NoW showbiz editor Rav Singh in 2002 that a woman in Andy Coulson's office (Coulson was then deputy editor of the paper) was about to phone him in an attempt to entice him into revealing intimate details about his private life.

He told the inquiry:

Rav Singh, who I have counted as a casual friend, a friend of a friend, called me and said I was about to be the subject of a sting, I was about to receive a phone call, there was a girl in Andy Coulson's office who was going to speak to me on the phone; the phone call would be recorded; she would try to entice me into talking about intimate details about her and my life.

I was told by Rav Singh that Andy Coulson would be listening to the call and I would have to obfuscate when I had that phone call without betraying the fact I knew I was being set up so to I didn't land him [Rav Singh] in it

Coogan went on to allege that his confidence was subsequently betrayed by Singh, who he said orchestrated a successful sting against him in 2004. In a phone conversation that he said was secretly recorded by the NoW, Singh told Coogan, whose marriage was breaking down due to an affair, that he would leave out the "more lurid" details of the story if Coogan confirmed "certain aspects" of it. When Coogan did so, Singh gave him his word that the "more embarrassing part" would not appear.

Soon afterwards, Coogan claimed his manager received a phone call from Andy Coulson "saying that they'd recorded the whole phone call and they were going to put everything in the newspaper". He told the inquiry:

Rav Singh giving me his word was just a ruse to get me to speak on the phone so they could record me - at the time I was in some distress - to record the whole phone call so they could cover themselves.

He added that the alleged sting was "not a malicious personal vendetta but a dispassionate sociopathic act". Were such acts performed during Coulson's editorship it would be further evidence of the sordid operation he presided over.

Coulson is yet to respond to the allegations.

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.