Iain Duncan Smith looking sheepish. Photograph: Getty Images.
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IDS spends more on his unwatched YouTube channel than most people earn in a year

In the mood for watching some videos on benefits system reform? The DWP's got you covered.

The Department for Work and Pensions serves “over 20 million customers”, its YouTube channel boasts. Sadly, only 451 of these customers have bothered to subscribe to said channel, and even fewer have got round to watching most of its videos - like this, one, dealing with personal hygiene. It's had 12 at the time of writing:

Buzzfeed reports today that it a response to one of its Freedom of Information requests has revealed that in the nine months between April 2013 and January 2014, the DWP spent £31,064.52 on its channel, during which time 33 videos were made. That’s roughly £940 per video.

According to BuzzFeed, this 30 grand figure only covers the production costs, and doesn’t include the “small in-house team” that runs the channel from its offices.

(You’d think that for just under a grand you could hire some decent lights.)

We were curious to see if the DWP was particularly bad at attracting viewers, but it looks like a pretty poor performance across the board. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills beats it with more than 1,000 subscribers, but IDS still has one up on the Cabinet Office’s channel, which only has 139 subscribers. In the past year it's released 44 videos, the most popular of which is about government savings in the year 2011/2012. It has 874 views. Glory days.

Still, the government offices that have embraced the multimedia age are doing better than the Civil Service, which has a paltry 64 subscribers. But that’s still 30 more people than have watched the below video, sexily entitled: “DWP Social Justice: Working in partnership with government agencies and other organisations. pt.1”

BuzzFeed estimates that £31,000 is enough to get 75 young people onto the government's Help to Work scheme. Maybe some young talent might be useful in the DWP's social media department.

I'm a mole, innit.

Photo: Getty
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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.