UK border control. Photo: Wikimedia
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Race and immigration the most important issue, say voters

A new poll reveals that race and immigration is now seen as a more significant challenge than the economy.

Race and immigration is now seen as the most important issue facing Britain, according to the latest poll by The Economist/Ipsos.

It is the first time in almost six years that the controversial subject has topped the chart for the biggest challenges facing the UK. Almost two-fifths (39 per cent) of the public cited race and immigration as a top issue.

At the beginning of the year, it was voted joint first with the economy by voters as the most significant challenge. Now the economy has fallen into second place in the rankings of the public concern.

The poll reflects growing optimism about the continued recovery, signalled by a drop in unemployment this month to just 6.6 per cent, the lowest rate since 2009.

Only a third of respondents now mention the economy as the most important issue facing Brtiain, down from 68 per cent in 2011.

The fears surrounding race and immigration are likely to play to the favour of Ukip, the anti-EU party that wants severe controls placed on immigration, in the run up to next May’s general election.

The age and regional demographics in which Ukip has proven popular cohere with those singled out as most likely to rank race and immigration as the top challenge facing the UK.

The poll revealed that the people more likely to mention the issue include those aged 55+ (47 per cent) and those who live in the South East of England outside of London (55 per cent), compared with those aged 18-34 and those who live in the capital (both 28 per cent).

Among the others issues cited as important, almost three in ten (28 per cent) of voters mentioned unemployment and 24 per cent mentioned the NHS.

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.


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.