US community organiser Arnie Graf.
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Labour has "programme of work" ready for Arnie Graf

Party denies community organiser has been fired and says he will be back in the UK as soon as possible.

In recent weeks reports have suggested that Arnie Graf, the US community organiser, who was brought in by Ed Miliband to revolutionise Labour's campaigning, has been sacked by the party. When questioned on the subject on The Andrew Marr Show, Douglas Alexander, Labour's general election co-ordinator, who was accused by many of firing Graf, replied that "the work that he started is being taken forward", a response that failed to assuage fears among candidates and activists that he would not be returning.

David Cameron pounced on the story at PMQs last week when he quipped: "People around the right hon. Gentleman are fighting like ferrets in a sack. Their top adviser—get this, Mr Speaker—is called Arnie and he has gone to America, but unlike Arnie he has said 'I’m not coming back.'"

But a party source told me today that there was a "programme of work" ready for Graf and that he would be back in the UK as soon as possible. The source also emphatically rejected claims that Alexander or Spencer Livermore, Labour's general election campaign director, had sought to oust him.

That's good news for the many party candidates who have benefited from his mentoring. When I interviewed Ed Miliband last month he told me: The really interesting thing about Arnie is, if you go round and talk to our organisers and our candidates, they are the people who’ve had the most exposure to him and who are the most positive about the role he’s playing. They say ‘he opened my eyes to doing politics in a different way’, to reaching out to people, to the way we make policy, to the way we engage people, to not just being seven people in a drizzle, but expanding our base, all of that. I think he’s got a very important role to play and I think he’s a great influence."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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.