George Osborne delivers a speech at the Point Hotel on February 13, 2014 in Edinburgh. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Westminster's pledge to deny Scotland the pound has been vindicated

The act was denounced as "bullying" at the time, but Salmond's struggles prove it was the right choice. 

When the triumvirate of George Osborne, Ed Balls and Danny Alexander pledged earlier this year to veto a currency union with an independent Scotland many questioned their judgement. Such "bullying" tactics, it was said, would backfire and only encourage the Scots to vote for separation. For a period, as the polls narrowed, it appeared the critics were right. 

But the events of the last few days have vindicated Westminster's stance. It was the currency question, more than any other, that had Alex Salmond on the ropes in his debate with Alistair Darling on Tuesday and he has not regained his poise since. With all three of the main parties adamant that there will be no currency union, Salmond is torn between insisting they are bluffing (they aren't) and declaring that Scotland would continue to use the pound regardless (just as Panama and Ecuador use the dollar). 

"It is Scotland's pound. It doesn't belong to George Osborne, it doesn't belong to Ed Balls. It's Scotland's pound and we are keeping it," he said at First Minister's questions yesterday. It is what this would entail that means voters are stubbornly refusing to change sides (the Yes campaign continues to trail by a double-digit margin). Scotland would be left with no central bank, no lender of last resort (the role currently filled by the Bank of England) and no control over its interest rates. 

As Ed Miliband said in Scotland today: "On Tuesday night Alex Salmond didn’t have an answer on the pound. The currency that Scotland uses is crucial for Scotland’s future. Nobody claiming to be a social democrat who cares about Scottish pensioners, Scottish families and Scottish businesses should dare take this risk without a currency plan. If you care about social justice in our country, you can't leave the economics to guesswork. 

"That’s why businesses and families are demanding answers on the currency. Those at the top can move their money across the border and keep the pound. We know that the people who would stand to lose most from making this decision, are those who have the least. It would be working people, small businesses across Scotland who would be left to deal with the consequences of no Plan B."

In desperation, Salmond continues to threaten to default on his country's share of the UK's national debt if the government vetoes a currency union. But any default would render Scotland an economic pariah, destroying its creditworthiness at a single stroke and preventing it from raising the funds it needs on the international money markets. 

For all this, it is hard to see how Salmond could have handled the issue better. The alternatives of a new currency and the euro are even less attractive to voters than his "crossed fingers" approach. But that is only further proof of why it's wrong to raise the question of independence in the first place. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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