Boris Johnson speaks at the Conservative conference in Manchester last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why Boris won't stand in Sir Peter Tapsell's seat

If the Mayor returns to parliament in 2015, he will need a London seat.

The coincidence of Peter Tapsell announcing that he's standing down at the next election with David Cameron encouraging Boris Johnson to run for parliament in 2015 (and a coincidence it is; Tapsell has been planning to stand down for months) has led some to suggest that the mayor could be in line to inherit his constituency. It was the Father of the House (Tapsell is 84) himself who started the rumour when Tory MPs overheard him telling David Cameron that he was "keeping his seat warm" for Johnson.

Tapsell, however, later confirmed to a Conservative parliamentary meeting that the remark was intended as a joke. And while Louth and Horncastle has many attractive features (not least a Tory majority of 13,871), it is too far from London for Johnson. If he chooses to serve in parliament while still in City Hall (as Ken Livingstone did when he remained MP for Brent East until 2001), he will need a seat in the capital to pull the juggling act off. And as Tapsell himself said, "My seat is a long way from the TV studios. Boris would want to be closer to them."

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.