Yulia Tymoshenko in 2009. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko released from prison

Ukrainian MPs have voted to oust President Yanukovych and hold early presidential elections on 25 May.

The Ukrainian opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, has been seen leaving prison in the eastern city of Kharkiv. The BBC reports that one of its correspondents saw Tymoshenko driven away in a car after leaving hospital:

 

Tymoshenko, who was Prime Minister of Ukraine in 2005 and then again from 2007 to 2010, was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 after she was found guilty of abuses of power relating to the activities of the Russian gas company Gazprom in her country. Her imprisonment was widely considered to be political revenge by President Yanukovych, her main rival. As the leader of Ukraine's largest opposition party, the All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland", Tymoshenko's release was one of a number of demands made by opposition activists and protestors.

In the Ukrainian parliament, 328 MPs have voted to impeach Yanukovych, and hold early elections on 25 May. The current whereabouts of the president are unknown, but his spokeswoman has said that he "does not accept" the decision to remove him from power.

Foreign secretary William Hague has indicated that the UK would support a new government in Ukraine. In a statement, he said:

Today I am in close touch with key partners over the extraordinary developments in Ukraine. Events in the last 24 hours show the will of Ukrainians to move towards a different future, and ensure that the voices of those who have protested courageously over several months are heard.

We will work closely with our EU partners in support of a new government in Ukraine, as and when that is formed. In the meantime it is important that Ukraine's political leaders respond to events calmly and with determination to harness the united efforts of all Ukrainians to work together for a successful future.

 

 

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.