10 pieces of bad news that Osborne left out of his Autumn Statement

The small print shows that the economy will shrink in the current quarter and that unemployment will rise next year.

As ever, you had to scour the small print to find the bad news that George Osborne chose to leave out of his Autumn Statement. So here, complete with references to the OBR document, are the ten stats that the Chancellor would rather you didn't know.

1. The economy is expected to shrink in the current quarter, with the OBR forecasting a contraction of 0.1 per cent. (p. 48 OBR document). It states that "headline GDP growth is likely to be negative in the final quarter of 2012 as the effect from the Olympics reverses." The day before the last set of growth figures were released, Cameron boasted that "the good news will keep coming". It's now clear that it won't.

2. Despite the government's promise to "make work pay", sixty per cent of the real-terms cut to benefits (they will rise by just 1 per cent for three years) will fall on working households. (Resolution Foundation) A working family on £20,000 with two children will lose £279 a year from next April.

3. The recent fall in unemployment is expected to be reversed as the jobless total rises from 2.5 million to 2.7 million next year. (p. 83 OBR document)

4. Were it not for the inclusion of the expected £3.5bn receipts from the 4G spectrum auction - which hasn't taken place yet - the deficit would be higher this year (£123.8bn) than last year (£121.4bn). (p. 5 OBR document).

5. The measures announced yesterday by Osborne are expected to increase GDP by just 0.1 per cent over the forecast period. (p. 51 OBR document). This was no Autumn Statement for growth.

6. Earnings are forecast to rise at a slower rate than inflation until the second quarter of 2014. (p. 86 OBR document). By then, the median full-time wage will be 7.4 per cent below its 2008 level.

7. Public sector job cuts will reach 1.1 million by 2018 (p. 83 OBR document), reducing government employment to its lowest level in post-war history.

8. An extra 400,000 people will be dragged into the 40p tax band by 2015-16, paying an extra £117 per year.

9. The government is expected to lose £16.5bn on its stakes in the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds, up from an estimate of £14.3bn in March. (p. 162 OBR document).

10. Osborne's decision to cut the top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p means the 8,000 people earning a million pounds or more will receive an average tax cut of £107,500 from next April.

George Osborne leaves number 11 Downing Street for the Treasury on December 5, 2012 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Winning Scottish independence will be even harder than before - but it may be the only choice

Independence campaigners will have to find answers on borders, currency and more. 

The Brexit mutiny has taken not just the UK economy and its relationship with Europe into uncharted waters. it has also imperilled the union between Scotland and England. From Sir John Major to the First Minister, both Unionists and Nationalists had warned of it. The outcome, though, has made this certain. The Leave vote in England and Wales contrasted with an overwhelming Remain vote north of the border.

That every region in Scotland voted to stay In was quite remarkable. Historically, fishing and industrial communities have blamed the European Union for their woes. That antagonism was probably reflected in lower turnout - an abstention rather than a rejection. 

The talk now is of a second referendum on independence. This is understandable given the current mood. Opinion polls in the Sunday Times and Sunday Post showed a Yes vote now at 52 per cent and 59 per cent respectively. Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests even arch No vote campaigners, from JK Rowling to the Daily Record, are considering the option.

The First Minister was therefore correct to say that a second referendum is now “back on the table”. Her core supporters expects no less. However, as with the economy and Europe, the constitutional relationship between Scotland and England is now in uncharted seas. Potential support for independence may be higher, but the challenges are arguably bigger than before. The difficulties are practical, political and geographic.

Of course the Little Englanders likely to take the helm may choose a velvet divorce. However, given their desire for the return of the Glories of Britannia that’s improbable. They’re as likely to wish to see Caledonia depart, as cede Gibraltar to Spain, even though that territory voted even more overwhelmingly In.

Ticking the legal boxes

Practically, there’s the obstacle of obtaining a legal and binding referendum. The past vote was based on the Edinburgh Agreement and legislation in Westminster and Holyrood. The First Minister has indicated the democratic arguments of the rights of the Scots. However, that’s unlikely to hold much sway. A right-wing centralist Spanish government has been willing to face down demands for autonomy in Catalonia. Would the newly-emboldened Great Britain be any different?

There are no doubt ways in which democratic public support can be sought. The Scottish Government may win backing in Holyrood from the Greens. However, consent for such action would need to be obtained from the Presiding Officer and the Lord Advocate, both of whom have a key role in legislation. These office holders have changed since the first referendum, where they were both more sympathetic and the legal basis clearer. 

Getting the EU on side

The political hurdles are, also, greater this time than before. Previously the arguments were over how and when Scotland could join the EU, although all accepted ultimately she could remain or become a member. This time the demand is that Scotland should remain and the rest of the UK can depart. But will that be possible? The political earthquake that erupted south of the Border has set tectonic plates shifting, not just in the British isles but across the European continent. The fear that a Brexit would empower dark forces in the EU may come to pass. Will the EU that the UK is about to leave be there for an independent Scotland to join? We cannot know, whatever European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker may be saying at the moment. The First Minister is right to start engaging with Europe directly. But events such as elections in France and the Netherlands are outwith her control. 

Moreover, currency was the Achilles heel in the last referendum, and hasn’t yet been addressed. George Osborne was adamant in his rejection of a currency union. The options this time round, whether a separate Scottish currency or joining the euro, have yet to be properly explored. A worsened financial situation in the 27 remaining EU members hampers the latter and the former remains politically problematic. 

The problem of borders

Geography is also an obstacle  that will be even harder to address now than before. Scotland can change its constitution, but it cannot alter its location on a shared island. In 2014, the independence argument was simply about changing the political union. Other unions, whether monarchy or social, would remain untouched. The island would remain seamless, without border posts. An independent Scotland, whether in or out of the EU, would almost certainly have to face these issues. That is a significant change from before, and the effect on public opinion unknown.

The risk that's worth it

Ultimately, the bar for a Yes vote may be higher, but the Scots may still be prepared to jump it. As with Ireland in 1920, facing any risk may be better than remaining in the British realm. Boris Johnson as Prime Minister would certainly encourage that. 

David Cameron's lack of sensitivity after the independence referendum fuelled the Scottish National Party surge. But perhaps this time, the new Government will be magnanimous towards Scotland and move to federalism. The Nordic Union offers an example to be explored. Left-wing commentators have called for a progressive alliance to remove the Tories and offer a multi-option referendum on Scotland’s constitution. But that is dependent on SNP and Labour being prepared to work together, and win the debate in England and Wales.

So, Indy Ref The Sequel is on the table. It won’t be the same as the first, and it will be more challenging. But, if there is no plausible alternative, Scots may consider it the only option.

Kenny MacAskill served as a Scottish National MSP between 2007 and 2016, and as Cabinet Secretary for Justice between 2007 and 2014.