Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. If trade unions don't fight the workers' corner - others will (Independent)

The political and media establishments treat unions as if they have no legitimate place in life, writes Owen Jones.

2. We are fighting Islamism from ignorance, as we did the cold war (Guardian)

The west wasted trillions in needless conflict with the USSR, says Simon Jenkins. Now we are being brainwashed into confrontation with Iran.

3. The 50p tax rate is a bomb that a brave Chancellor would defuse (Daily Telegraph)

A radical Budget from George Osborne will prevent an exodus of wealth from the UK, says Fraser Nelson.

4. Why reform of House of Lords is a botch (Financial Times)

Reform is likely to make the process of legislating more difficult and its quality even worse, warns Martin Wolf.

5. The no-fuss way to elect the House of Lords (Times) (£)

Here's how to make the Upper House more democratic without stuffing it full of third-rate party hacks, writes Philip Collins.

6. Tax credit cut will hit hardest those the Tories love to praise - working families (Guardian)

The government is hurting those trying to stay off the dole, while filling workplaces with free staff, writes Polly Toynbee. Voters should be shocked.

7. Is there really no alternative? Let Irish voters be the judge of that (Independent)

Solutions are being pushed on the basis of "no alternative", says Adrian Hamilton. Yet there are alternatives.

8. Pc David Rathband: where was the help he needed? (Daily Telegraph)

The support system is failing wounded police officers, writes Peter Stanford.

9. Even the lawyers oppose secret courts! (Daily Mail)

Ministers are attempting to undermine the treasured principle "that public justice should be dispensed in public", says a Daily Mail editorial.

10. UK must not sell off Wedgwood's legacy (Financial Times)

We must celebrate the Steve Jobs of his day, writes Richard Lambert.

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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.