Cameron commits to TV debates in 2015

After being accused by Labour of "running scared", Cameron says "we should go on having" TV debates.

After David Cameron declared that the TV debates "took all the life" out of the 2010 election campaign, there was much debate about whether he was, in the words of Labour, "running scared". Cameron told a press gallery lunch: "I think we could learn from last time. I have got an open mind and there is still two and a half years to go before we have to really think about it." The debates are viewed by Conservative strategists as one reason for the party's failure to win a majority in 2010.

But asked by Sky News's Adam Boulton at this afternoon's press conference with Nick Clegg whether he was in favour of the debates, Cameron was less equivocal. "I'm in favour of them, I think they are good and I think we should go on having them, and I will play my part in trying to make that happen," he said. After those words it will be harder for Cameron to avoid the debates in 2015, but the phrase "trying to make them happen" does leave him with some wriggle room.

One question that will arise is whether Nigel Farage should be included in the debates. If UKIP continue to poll at their current level and perform well in the European elections in 2014 (potentially even winning them) and future by-elections, Farage will push for a place. But since all three of the main parties have a mutual interest in avoiding the inclusion of "none of the above" candidate, it is hard to see his wish being granted.

David Cameron said of the TV debates: "I think they're good, I think we should go on having them". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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.