Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The PM will forever be saddled with Raisa (Telegraph)

Stories of horse-riding with Rebekah Brooks in Chipping Norton embed a deadly image of Cameron as part of a swaggering lofty elite, writes Matthew Norman.

2. We need a welfare state that secures Beveridges legacy (FT)

James Purnell, former Labour Work and Pensions Secretary, calls for rebalancing welfare provision in lean times with an emphasis on quality childcare.

3. Silence in the court (Guardian)

Leading article attacks government proposals to hold certain trials covering 'sensitive material' in secret.

4. Knives out for Boris (Daily Mail)

Sonia Purnell, biographer of Boris Johnson, catalogues some of the reasons why his campaign for re-election is proving tricky and why senior Tories are determined to thwart any other ambitions he might have.

5. Labour must bite the welfare bullet to catch the public mood (Independent)

The economics of welfare reform aren't working out so well for the government, but the politics are, says Andrew Grice.

6. Maybe they are scroungers, just don't say so (Times)

The Tories' are right to be instinctively hard-hearted towards people on benefits (and the generally destitute), but to be elected they have to pretend otherwise, Matthew Parris argues.

7. From Google Downwards our Digital masters must be watched (Guardian)

Westminster's power pales beside the titanic reach of the new online leviathans, writes Jonathan Freedland.

8. Our era needs to rediscover economic statesmanship (FT)

America is reneging on its historic obligations to help the world sort itself out in a time of crisis, writes Financial Times Editor Lionel Barber.

9. As recession bites is a new kind of Northern politics emerging? (Guardian)

Ian Jack hunts for a Socialist revival in Huddersfield.

10. Admit it, the NHS is a rotten way of doing things (Telegraph)

The nation thinks it loves the health service, but it is deluded. In fact, the NHS is a vast, selfish bureaucracy, writes Charles Moore.

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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.