David Miliband steps down from Sunderland over Paolo Di Canio appointment

Former foreign secretary cites "past political statements" of the new manager, who in 2005 declared himself to be a fascist.

David Miliband, who resigned as a Labour MP this week, has stepped down from his role as vice-chairman of Sunderland after the football club appointed Paolo Di Canio as its new manager.

In a statement on his website, Miliband wrote:

“I wish Sunderland AFC all success in the future. It is a great institution that does a huge amount for the North East and I wish the team very well over the next vital seven games. However, in the light of the new manager’s past political statements, I think it right to step down.”

Di Canio is notorious for his "Roman salute" in 2005 to fans of his club, Lazio. The football writer Simon Kuper, nominating Di Canio for his "political football first XI", wrote in 2008:

Political symbols do mean something to Di Canio. When he said, "I am a professional footballer and my celebrations had nothing to do with political behaviour of any kind," it was a ludicrous statement. He is a very political man, if a weird and stupid one, who has thought a lot about fascism.

[His ghostwriter Gabriele] Marcotti says: "I think what appeals to Paolo about fascism is the authoritarian nature. He likes the idea of the strong man."Hence Di Canio's self-confessed "fascination" with Benito Mussolini.

A tattoo on his right biceps reads "Dux" - Latin for "leader" - in honour of the late fat clown. Of course, Di Canio combines his authoritarianism with an anti-authoritarianism that attracts him to the offensive gesture.

Di Canio was fined for his salute in 2005, and told the Italian news agency ANSA at the time, "I am a fascist, not a racist."

Paolo Di Canio. Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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.