Ed Miliband addresses an audience at 'The Backstage Centre' on May 27, 2014 in Purfleet. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Will there be a Labour reshuffle?

Some MPs are urging Miliband to follow Cameron's example and refresh his team.

Details have started to leak out about the long-planned Conservative reshuffle with employment minister Esther McVey and Treasury minister Nicky Morgan in line for promotion and Andrew Lansley (the frontrunner to become Britain's EU commissioner), George Young and Ken Clarke expected to depart. The changes are likely to be made next week following the Newark by-election and the D-Day commemorations in France.

But surprisingly few have asked whether Ed Miliband will also take the chance to refresh his team. As I've previously reported, some MPs are urging him to do so after briefing that some shadow cabinet ministers are not pulling their weight (to which they replied that they felt "shut out" from the election campaign). One recently told me: "I think Ed has been having to do too much of the heavy lifting on his own for some time. He should be getting more support from his shadow cabinet, more of them should be doing more to make the running and help push the Tories back." A Labour spokesman told me last week that it would be "inappropriate to comment" on the prospect of a reshuffle, which suggests that the option is on the table.

Yet while many in Labour can name MPs they would like to see promoted (Alan Johnson and shadow childcare minister Lucy Powell, Miliband's former deputy chief of staff, are two popular choices), they find it harder to name those who they think should make way. Miliband has already publicly guaranteed Ed Balls his job as shadow chancellor (the post that attracts most media speculation) and will be reluctant to move those who recieved new briefs just last October (there is widespread agreement at Westminster that Cameron's decision to avoid perpetual resuffles has been wise). But don't be surprised if he takes what is likely the final chance before the general election to change his line-up.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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.