Did the Lib Dems know about Huhne's points swap?

Newly-released emails show that Vicky Pryce claimed to have told Vince Cable and others about the incident.

Did senior Lib Dems know that Vicky Pryce accepted speeding points on Chris Huhne's behalf? That's the suggestion from a series of fascinating emails released from the trial following Pryce's conviction. 

In an email dated 9 April 2011, Huhne's former wife told the Sunday Times's Isabel Oakeshott: 

Actually I had told Vince [Cable] and Rachel [his wife] about points before when the three of us were having supper about a month ago – they were horrified at the time but VC has probably forgotten it by now. He was v tired that night.

Nine days later, she informed Oakeshott:

Having lunch with Miriam c tmr. Should I hint at anything? I told Vince there is something hanging over him [Huhne] and he wanted to tell Clegg.

On 26 April 2011, Oakeshott asked Pryce:

To what extent is Clegg aware that something is hanging over Huhne (you mentioned it to Miriam, didn't you?)

Pryce replied:

Yes, I have told VC [Vince Cable], Miriam C, MOak [Lord Oakeshott] … and a few other Lib Dem Lords and others working close to NC [Nick Clegg]. 

Unsurprisingly, the Lib Dems have been quick to deny any suggestion of a cover-up. A party spokesman said: "Vince, Matthew and Miriam are all clear that the allegation about driving points was not raised with them."

In addition, a spokesman for Cable said: "Vince and Rachel have no recollection of the issue of points being raised with them over the course of dinner with Vicky Price on 28 January 2011.

They have consulted their personal records which confirm that the issue first came to their attention in May 2011 when the story broke in the press."

Miriam González Durántez said: "I have never ever been told by Vicky or anybody else about the traffic points story. I got to know about this when everybody else did."

And Lord Oakeshott, a close ally of Cable and a third cousin of Isabel Oakeshott, said: "Vicky must have been under great pressure but I am sure she never raised a question of points with me". 

But were they aware of "indirect" and "non-specific" concerns? That's the question that will be asked. 

Vicky Pryce, ex-wife of Chris Huhne, arrives at Southwark Crown Court on March 7, 2013 in London. 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.