Why did Universal Music donate £10k to the Tory party?

Multinational media giant Vivendi has steered clear of taking political sides, until now.

The Sun had an interesting scoop yesterday. The Tory party sold a backstage pass to a Justin Bieber concert at a charity auction for £10,000. Tom Newton Dunn writes:

The meeting with Canadian Justin was sold to the highest bidder at an auction at the Tories’ annual Black and White Party to raise cash for future election campaigns…

Access to the star at his concert at London’s O2 on March 7 was donated by Universal Music UK, his record label in Britain.

But while the involvement of Bieber does make the story funnier, the real question is why Universal Music UK was making what is essentially a £10,000 in-kind-donation to the Tory Party.

Neither Mercury Records, the subsidiary of Universal Music UK which publishes Justin Bieber, nor Vivendi, the French media giant which owns Universal, were able to explain in time for publication why — or whether — the donation was made.

Corporate donations to political parties are legal and uncapped in the UK, but this would be the first time Mercury, Universal or Vivendi — whichever level of the organisation made the donation — had donated to the Conservatives since 2005 at least (when Search the Money's records begin). The company has a number of socially aware artists on its roster, including Kate Nash, K'naan and the Jam, none of whom are likely to be happy about learning that their concerts could become fundraisers for the Tories without their permission.

Bieber. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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.