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Watch: Stella Creasy trounces Austin Mitchell in a debate on the “feminisation of politics”

Austin Mitchell, who is stepping down as Labour MP for Great Grimsby at the next election, fails to defend his assertion that having more women in Parliament is a “worrying matter”.

Newsnight had Austin Mitchell on last night to defend his bizarre Mail on Sunday article, in which he attacked the Labour party’s “obsession” with all-women shortlists. Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow and a prominent campaigner on feminist issues, took him to task for his views, asking whether he really believed open selections are done on merit. (Only 23 per cent of MPs are women, barely more than one fifth. In case you needed reminding, women are just over half the population of the UK.)

Mitchell responded that it was “up to Conservatives and Liberals to seize the baton and have more women on their side. But let’s give it a rest for the time being, see if the barriers have been broken down enough”.

For some reason, the clip seems to have been removed from YouTube by Newsnight, but you can watch it here:

For reference, 16 per cent of Conservative and 13 per cent of Lib Dem MPs are women, compared with 33 per cent of Labour MPs. (See this report for further figures.) To date, the Labour party remains the only one to have used all-women shortlists, and the only party to have made significant progress in increasing equality in its parliamentary party.

Some more key quotations from the exchange:

Austin Mitchell: We're becoming more social workers than international statesmen.

Stella Creasy: What I recognise is the drip, drip, drip of discrimination and prejudice that women face in every single sphere of public life... 

AM: Oh Stella, don't hector me.

SC: Oh I'm sorry Austin, is the sound turned up? Because I promise you I'm not shouting. I'm just frustrated that yet again we're seeing women being put down in this way.

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SC: There are still now more men sat in parliament today than there have ever been women MPs... Tell me how many women is us doing our duty in a party that is designed to promote social justice, Austin? How many? Is there a particular number?

AM: Well, I mean, the proportion of women will be over 40 per cent if we were in power...

SC: Oh right, so about 40 per cent, so not parity, not equality, that's enough is it? We've got enough women have we?

AM: That's a good base to build on... I'm not suggesting we have a quota for old people.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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.