Nigel Farage speaks at UKIP's Spring Conference in Torquay earlier today. Photograph: Getty Images.
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UKIP tries to remove journalists from fringe meeting on sharia law

"How can you be both a Muslim and an English man?" asks activist at meeting the party tried to keep reporters out of.

UKIP has long prided itself on its commitment to "free speech" and open debate, but it seems the party isn't prepared to practice what it preaches. There was outrage among journalists at the party's Spring Conference today when officials attempted to remove them from a fringe meeting on sharia law. The Telegraph's Christopher Hope tweeted: "Ukip security has tried to remove the @Telegraph from a fringe meeting on Sharia law. I have refused to move. Outragous." Those journalists who had taken their seats were eventually told that they could stay ("if you behave") but others were reportedly turned away at the door. 

It doesn't require much imagination to guess why UKIP wanted to keep journalists out of the fringe meeting. A session on sharia law could well expose views of the kind that Nigel Farage insists are not tolerated, or even not present, in his party. Indeed, the first question was "How can you be both a Muslim and an English man?" 

Farage declared in his speech today: "We’ve had one or two bad people - we’ve got rid of them." But his officials' anxiousness suggests plenty of rotten apples remain. 

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.