Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. All the policies are in place, now it's time for delivery (Sunday Telegraph)

There is concern at the highest level of government that not enough seems to be changing for the better in the lives of ordinary citizens, writes Matthew D'Ancona.

2. We need a budget for jobs to stop a bombshell for the squeezed middle (PoliticsHome)

Ed Balls highlights cuts to tax credits and child benefit as measures that hurt working families on low incomes.

3. That's all folks - for reform at No 10 (Sunday Times)

Swing voters want "fairness". Downing Street risks interpreting that as a mandate to play safe and do nothing radical, argues Martin Ivens.

4. Is £50,000 enough to defuse the child benefit time bomb? (Mail on Sunday)

The plan to cut a key entitlement for higher rate tax payers is causing angst at the highest levels, reports James Forsyth.

5. We cannot afford to indulge this madness (Sunday Telegraph)

Cardinal Keith O'Brian, Britain's most senior Catholic cleric, launches a tirade against same-sex relationships as "harmful to mental and spiritual well-being."

6. What sort of Prime Minister does David Cameron really want to be? (Observer)

Andrew Rawnsley sees the competition between cautious and bold advisors reflecting an unresolved tension in the PM himself.

7. Were those huskies hugged in vain? (Independent on Sunday)

Leading article attacks the government's environmental record ...

8. Britain needs to shape an industrial strategy (Observer)

.... while the Observer calls for more vigorous activism to promote investment, innovation and long-term growth potential.

9. It's time to hold Ken Livingstone to account (Observer)
Nick Cohen finds a catalogue of reasons why even Labour voters should steer clear of the party's London mayoral candidate.

10. The wackiness has gone from Number 10 (Independent on Sunday)
The departure of Steve Hilton from David Cameron's side will fundamentally alter the centre of government, says John Rentoul.

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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.