Cameron jokes about "mental health lobby" after describing Miliband's plans as "nuts"

The PM digs himself a deeper hole on The Andrew Marr Show.

After rather unwisely describing Ed Miliband's plan to raise corporation tax from 20% to 21% as "nuts" in his interview in the Sunday Telegraph, David Cameron dug himself a deeper hole on The Andrew Marr Show this morning.

After again referring to the policy as "nuts" ("Land Rover makes money around the world. Miliband want to put up their taxes. That's nuts."), while carefully omitting to note that Miliband has pledged to use the revenue to cut tax rates for small businesses, Cameron quipped:

I don't want to get into a huge argument with the mental health lobby.

It seems, then, that the PM regards those mental health sufferers who may rightly be offended by his comments as just another "lobby". And, ironically, by stating that he doesn't want to get into "a huge argument" he has almost certainly guaranteed that there will now be one.

Elsewhere today, the Independent on Sunday reports that Eric Pickles told a survivor of alleged child abuse to "adjust your medication" when she accused him of ignoring her. Pickles has defended himself on the basis that "It was never my intention to insult Teresa Cooper. I was giving her a frank piece of advice in private." But as Alastair Campbell commented this morning, "Cameron calls opponents 'nuts', Pickles tells abuse victim to 'adjust your medication.' And they wonder why people think they don't get it."

David Cameron answers a question during a joint news conference with Italy's Prime Minister Enrico Letta in 10 Downing Street on July 17, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.