George Osborne's Autumn Statement - live blog

Instant coverage and analysis as the Chancellor outlines plans to boost the economy, amid gloomy for

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1.37: The shadow chancellor has now finished his response. I'll be ending this live-blog now, thanks for joining us.

1.35: Balls says that Osborne failed to tell the House that unemployment is predicted to rise higher in 2012 and higher again in 2013. Hitting a weak spot, he says: "If we're all in this together, why are women and children always worst hit?"

1.30: Balls asks what it will take for Osborne to listen to the IMF and the OBR. He says that this is a "cobbled together package of growth measures" that does not address the fundamental problem. This is the third emergency growth package in a year.

Paul Mason tweets: "OBR says Osborne was going to miss his target without 30bn extra cuts, 15bn of which come from lower public sector pay".

Jonathan Freedland tweets: "If Gordon Brown had delivered this speech, the old George Osborne would have mocked him mercilessly".

1.27: He's moved on to Osborne's blame game, saying that while the eurozone crisis will impact the UK, Britain's recovery was choked off a year ago. He also refers to the infamous "snow" excuse. The coalition benches point at him and shout "you". A very raucous house today.

1.24: Balls points out that Osborne is failing on his own terms -- he will not eliminate the structural deficit by 2015 as promised. This was a concrete pledge, not a rolling target. We have suffered "all of the pain with none of the gain", says Balls.

1.20: "The Chancellor likes to say that you can't borrow your way out of a crisis, but can he confirm that this is not what he is doing?" An effective line from Balls, who points out that Osborne had predicted growth of 2.3 per cent for 2011, a figure which has now been cut to 0.9 per cent. He asks Osborne to confirm he will now borrow £158bn more than expected.

1.19: Ed Balls is now responding to Osborne's speech. He's going in hard with those dire figures from the OBR. "Plan A has failed, and it has failed colosally".

1.18: "Leadership for tough times, that's what we offer." Osborne ends on a strange sales pitch.

1.16: Measures to delay fuel price increase and to limit rail fare hikes are announced.

1.14: Osborne says that 40 per cent of two-year-olds, 260,000 children from the most disadvantaged homes, will get 15 hours of free childcare per week. But this only scratches the surface of the problem of parents priced out of work, which my colleague Rafael Behr blogged on yesterday.

1.12: Now we're onto measures to tackle youth unemployment. He says that the problem is primarily a lack of jobs. He also blames the failing education system and stresses that this problem was on the rise under Labour, too. Young people out of work for more than three months will be guaranteed work experience placements. This measure was announced by Nick Clegg last week (and dismissed by Labour as a copy of the Future Jobs Fund -- which the coalition scrapped).

1.09: The debate on the limits of public sector pay (1 per cent rise for two years, following a two year freeze) has already kicked off some debate. Nick Robinson says: "Benefits will increase by much more than wages. Protecting the poor or punishing those in work?", while Tom Bradby tweets: "MASSIVE hit for public sector workers....They have had a TWO year pay freeze already. Now another TWO years of 1% cap."

1.07: Health and safety and unfair dismissal are getting it. Osborne raises the spectre of those controversial no fault dismissal proposals currently under consultation. I've blogged on this topic before -- see here for some background.

1.05: Osborne's voice seems to be suffering. He's coughing a lot as he defends his green credentials (establishing the green investment bank) but says that we won't save the planet by shutting down heavy industry -- all we'll do is export jobs. This is a controversial measure -- how will this square with targets on carbon emissions? So much for the "greenest government" ever.

1.00: We're onto the cornerstone of this speech: the extra £5bn for infrastructure projects. George Eaton's blog explains why this U-turn is not the silver bullet the Chancellor is seeking:

At the time of the Lib Dem conference when some ministers were agitating for an extra £5bn of capital spending the Treasury simply replied: "we have our spending plans and we are sticking to them". If it's not Plan B (Osborne has not and will not change course on the deficit), it's still some way from Plan A.

But is it too little, too late? Almost certainly yes. The decision to fund the project through savings elsewhere means that there will be no net increase in demand, little new stimulus. With unemployment at 2.62m and growth almost non-existent, Osborne needed something special. This isn't it.

12.57: He reiterates his opposition to a financial transaction tax, currently being touted in Europe, saying that the UK has a permanent banking levy instead. He says he is rising this by 0.088 per cent, and says that the government response to the Vickers' Commission on banking regulation is coming soon.

12.55: Osborne says that the right to buy was one of the "greatest" social policies of recent times and he will reinstate commitment to it. The government will fund mortgages for first-time buyers.

12.53: The Chancellor has moved on to support for small businesses, pleding a major programme of credit easing, and a national loan guarantee scheme that will provide loans to firms with a turnover under £50m. He says no govermnent has ever attempted such ambitious measures.

12.50: The child element of the working tax credit will be uprated in line with inflation, but other elements will not. The consensus appears to be that this will hit the "squeezed middle" rather than the poorest -- working age benefits will be uprated by 5.2 per cent, in line with inflation.

He's also announced that the pensions credit for poorest elderly people will be uprated by £5.35, while the pension age increase (to 67) will come in earlier than expected, in 2026. He says that this will save £59bn and will not affect anyone for 15 years.

12.48: Osborne has said that the government will stick to its promise on ringfencing international aid -- but says that it will be "adjusted" to consider lower growth. As Will Straw tweets: "Lower growth means 0.7% of GDP is smaller than projected at spending review so Osborne effectively announcing cut to DfID's budget."

12.45: He is now dealing with tomorrow's planned strike, asking why the unions want to "damage the economy at a time like this and put jobs at risk".

12.42: Osborne says there is no need to adjust the overall figures set out in the Spending Review, saying that all measures announced today are fully costed from savings elsewhere.

12.37: We're now onto borrowing costs, which Osborne says are falling, although not at the rate expected. There is some tricksiness going on with the figures here. See my colleague George Eaton's earlier blog on this for an explanation. He says that if he hadn't cut spending, Britian would be in the middle of the "debt storm". In a valiant attempt to highlight the positives, Osborne says that we are the only major western country who have had their credit rating upgraded in the last 18 months.

12.35: He is now dealing with those miserable OBR predictions, and making an attempt to see the positives -- they did not predict a recession, and have downgraded predictions for other countries as well. He says that if Europe goes into recession, it will be difficult to avoid in the UK.

Osborne -- stressing repeatedly that the OBR is "independent" -- lists external factors it identifies for the dire state of the economy, including worlf inflation, unforeseen hikes in energy prices, and the unsustainable nature of the boom. It is difficult to know how long he'll be able to continue blaming the last government.

12.31: Osborne is speaking. He's started by talking about the debt crisis in Europe, saying that his role is to protect Britain and prove that it can live within its means.

12.12pm: Hello and welcome to the live-blog. I'll be bringing you live updates and analysis from 12.30, as George Osborne delivers his Autumn Statement.

There have been many, many leaks ahead of this statement -- to the extent that the Speaker, John Bercow, is reportedly planning to rebuke Osborne. Here's a summary of what we're expecting:

- Bleak economic forecasts. The OBR is sharply downgrading its forecast for growth, while unemployment is soaring and borrowing is set to rise.

- Perhaps to offset this dire set of figures, the Treasury has already trailed a series of measures. These include (but are by no means limited to):

  • An extra £5bn for infrastructure investment. This will be a key part of the statement, but as my colleague George Eaton argues, it is too little, too late.
  • Credit easing that could be worth up to £40bn
  • A new bank levy, which will ensure that the financial sector continues to provide £2.5bn to the Treasury
  • A £300m package to help small businesses, including extending the holiday on business rates for a further year
  • £1bn to tackle youth unemployment, providing at least 410,000 work places for 18-24 year olds.

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

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Winning Scottish independence will be even harder than before - but it may be the only choice

Independence campaigners will have to find answers on borders, currency and more. 

The Brexit mutiny has taken not just the UK economy and its relationship with Europe into uncharted waters. it has also imperilled the union between Scotland and England. From Sir John Major to the First Minister, both Unionists and Nationalists had warned of it. The outcome, though, has made this certain. The Leave vote in England and Wales contrasted with an overwhelming Remain vote north of the border.

That every region in Scotland voted to stay In was quite remarkable. Historically, fishing and industrial communities have blamed the European Union for their woes. That antagonism was probably reflected in lower turnout - an abstention rather than a rejection. 

The talk now is of a second referendum on independence. This is understandable given the current mood. Opinion polls in the Sunday Times and Sunday Post showed a Yes vote now at 52 per cent and 59 per cent respectively. Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests even arch No vote campaigners, from JK Rowling to the Daily Record, are considering the option.

The First Minister was therefore correct to say that a second referendum is now “back on the table”. Her core supporters expects no less. However, as with the economy and Europe, the constitutional relationship between Scotland and England is now in uncharted seas. Potential support for independence may be higher, but the challenges are arguably bigger than before. The difficulties are practical, political and geographic.

Of course the Little Englanders likely to take the helm may choose a velvet divorce. However, given their desire for the return of the Glories of Britannia that’s improbable. They’re as likely to wish to see Caledonia depart, as cede Gibraltar to Spain, even though that territory voted even more overwhelmingly In.

Ticking the legal boxes

Practically, there’s the obstacle of obtaining a legal and binding referendum. The past vote was based on the Edinburgh Agreement and legislation in Westminster and Holyrood. The First Minister has indicated the democratic arguments of the rights of the Scots. However, that’s unlikely to hold much sway. A right-wing centralist Spanish government has been willing to face down demands for autonomy in Catalonia. Would the newly-emboldened Great Britain be any different?

There are no doubt ways in which democratic public support can be sought. The Scottish Government may win backing in Holyrood from the Greens. However, consent for such action would need to be obtained from the Presiding Officer and the Lord Advocate, both of whom have a key role in legislation. These office holders have changed since the first referendum, where they were both more sympathetic and the legal basis clearer. 

Getting the EU on side

The political hurdles are, also, greater this time than before. Previously the arguments were over how and when Scotland could join the EU, although all accepted ultimately she could remain or become a member. This time the demand is that Scotland should remain and the rest of the UK can depart. But will that be possible? The political earthquake that erupted south of the Border has set tectonic plates shifting, not just in the British isles but across the European continent. The fear that a Brexit would empower dark forces in the EU may come to pass. Will the EU that the UK is about to leave be there for an independent Scotland to join? We cannot know, whatever European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker may be saying at the moment. The First Minister is right to start engaging with Europe directly. But events such as elections in France and the Netherlands are outwith her control. 

Moreover, currency was the Achilles heel in the last referendum, and hasn’t yet been addressed. George Osborne was adamant in his rejection of a currency union. The options this time round, whether a separate Scottish currency or joining the euro, have yet to be properly explored. A worsened financial situation in the 27 remaining EU members hampers the latter and the former remains politically problematic. 

The problem of borders

Geography is also an obstacle  that will be even harder to address now than before. Scotland can change its constitution, but it cannot alter its location on a shared island. In 2014, the independence argument was simply about changing the political union. Other unions, whether monarchy or social, would remain untouched. The island would remain seamless, without border posts. An independent Scotland, whether in or out of the EU, would almost certainly have to face these issues. That is a significant change from before, and the effect on public opinion unknown.

The risk that's worth it

Ultimately, the bar for a Yes vote may be higher, but the Scots may still be prepared to jump it. As with Ireland in 1920, facing any risk may be better than remaining in the British realm. Boris Johnson as Prime Minister would certainly encourage that. 

David Cameron's lack of sensitivity after the independence referendum fuelled the Scottish National Party surge. But perhaps this time, the new Government will be magnanimous towards Scotland and move to federalism. The Nordic Union offers an example to be explored. Left-wing commentators have called for a progressive alliance to remove the Tories and offer a multi-option referendum on Scotland’s constitution. But that is dependent on SNP and Labour being prepared to work together, and win the debate in England and Wales.

So, Indy Ref The Sequel is on the table. It won’t be the same as the first, and it will be more challenging. But, if there is no plausible alternative, Scots may consider it the only option.

Kenny MacAskill served as a Scottish National MSP between 2007 and 2016, and as Cabinet Secretary for Justice between 2007 and 2014.