Is David Miliband set for a shadow cabinet return in 2014?

The former foreign secretary "is beginning to give serious thought" to a comeback.

When David Miliband was last asked whether he could join the Labour shadow cabinet before the next election, he replied: "You never know". Today's Times (£) suggests that the former foreign secretary, who guest-edited the NS last year, "is beginning to give serious thought to a return to the front line." The paper reports that "an emerging scenario would see him return to the Labour front bench next spring."

The return of the elder Miliband was originally seen as a means of shoring up support for Ed among the party's Blairites, but Miliband's recent political successes (the Budget, his "one nation" conference speech, the Corby by-election) mean this is no longer a factor. He would now be able to bring his brother back from a position of strength. The return of the former foreign secretary would add heft to a shadow cabinet that is short of big hitters. Since retiring to the backbenches, Miliband's interventions - on the economy, on the NHS, on multiculturalism and on the crisis of the European centre-left - have been among the most impressive from any Labour MP.

The question remains "what job would he do?" After Ed Balls revealed that Ed Miliband had refused to guarantee his position, the Times reminds us that the Labour leader has twice sounded out his brother about becoming shadow chancellor, once before appointing Alan Johnson and once before appointing Balls. However, it is hard to see Miliband moving Balls, whose stock remains high, before the next election. Having served as foreign secretary for three years, Miliband will have no desire to shadow William Hague (a brief Douglas Alexander has performed admirably in). More likely is his return in some election campaign role.

While the Tories now rightly recognise that they underestimated Ed Miliband, the return of David, whom many admire, would further unsettle them. For this reason, it is a weapon that Labour may well deploy in 2014.

David Miliband is considering a return to the Labour frontbench next spring. 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.