The Lib Dems have enabled Labour and the Tories to pursue core vote strategies

Safe in the knowledge that Clegg will seek another coalition, the target for Labour and the Tories, in many ways, is just to beat the other party.

So according to George Eaton (who is my editor, so I’ll be careful what I say here), Labour leads polling on living standards, the Tories lead on the economy, and "the party that triumphs in 2015 will be that which seeks to address its weaknesses, rather than merely playing to its strengths". Funnily enough – it ain't necessarily so.
 
Now of course, as has been made abundantly clear by both the Labour and the Tories at their conferences, they want to win the next general election with an absolute majority. This is an easier hurdle for Labour to clear than the Tories, given the constituency boundaries, but both are clearly still dreaming of an end to the period of coalition government.
 
But they also know the trend is against them, with combined support for the two main parties falling consistently since the 1950s. Now, while it is the Lib Dems who have benefited most from this trend away from the two big parties, the current polling for the party hasn’t especially benefited Labour and the Tories, thanks mainly to the rise of UKIP.
 
This goes some way to explaining why both parties appear to be adopting core strategies to appeal to their traditional supporter base. This is, in many ways, the Reagan approach to campaigning – secure your base first, then build out from there. Both hope that, come 2015, they will have built up enough to deliver the majority they crave; but they also know they have a a fail-safe: the Lib Dems.
 
Therefore, in many ways, the target for Labour and the Tories is just to beat the other party, as provided they are the largest party – and the Lib Dem incumbency factor delivers the seats expected – that will be enough to get them over the line. It’s a bit like that joke about what to do if you’re being chased by a grizzly bear – either run very fast, or trip your friend.
 
This also explains why both parties are producing enough common ground policies for potential coalition negotiations as well as a few red lines.
 
Neither party will ever say publicly that they are 'expecting' to form a coalition. But shoring up their core support probably means that’s where they’ll end up. For currently it seems people are convinced one party stands for a stronger economy, the other for a fairer society If only there was a party that promised both….
 
Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference
Nick Clegg speaks at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow last month. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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.