David Cameron and George Osborne during a Q&A session at the construction company Skanska in Rickmansworth today. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Tories are planning a defensive election strategy - and that's bad news for Labour

With little chance of winning an overall majority, the Conservatives are focused on remaining the largest single party. 

The news that the Tories have selected just 34 candidates in the 50 most marginal seats (compared to 48 for Labour) has led to renewed questions over the party's commitment to achieving a majority at the general election. It's worth noting, as ConservativeHome's Mark Wallace does, that the Tories have selected candidates in all 40 of their target seats (which are not the same as those with the smallest Labour or Lib Dem majority), but there is no doubt that the party has adopted a more defensive approach. 

The initial 40:40 strategy (aimed at winning 40 new seats and retaining the party's 40 most vulnerable) has been abandoned in favour of a 48:40 strategy weighted towards existing constituencies. It is these seats that the party is also focusing financial resources on

Some in Labour might be tempted to respond by deriding the party's lack of ambition but the Tories' reorientation could be bad news for the opposition. Aware that they have little hope of achieving an overall majority, owing to the rise of Ukip and the electoral bias towards Labour, the Conservatives are rightly focusing on the far more achievable goal of remaining the largest party in a hung parliament. By raising the local profile of its new MPs, the party hopes that it will benefit from the traditional first-time incumbency bonus (in 2010, it performed best in those seats it won in 2005), the factor that many Conservatives believe will tilt the election in their favour. 

As for Labour, it remains formally committed to targeting 106 seats but one source recently told me that the figure (adopted when Tom Watson was general election coordinator) was not "set in stone", suggesting only that the party was committed to seeking a majority (106 gains would give Labour a majority of 78). The greater the evidence of the Tories' defensive approach becomes, the more likely it is that Labour will dampen its ambitions too. 

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.