Former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve leaves No.10 Downing Street earlier this year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Dominic Grieve warns Cameron that anti-terrorism plan would breach UK law

Former Tory attorney general says proposal to prevent British terror suspects from returning home would "offend basic principles of our own common law". 

After several days of coalition negotiations, David Cameron has just delivered his Commons statement on how the government plans to fill what he described as "the gaps" in Britain's anti-terrorism armoury. As expected, he announced that the police would given the "temporary power" to seize passports at the border (currently they can only be removed by the Home Office). But he also went further and promised to explore a new "targeted, discretionary power" to prevent British terrorist suspects from returning to the UK and to reintroduce "relocation powers", which the government earlier abolished. 

In response, in a largely supportive reply, Ed Miliband criticised Cameron for "the mistake" of scrapping Control Orders in 2011, which allowed the police to relocate suspects. It is worth noting, however, that even in their tougher form, the government's TPIMs (Terrorism Investigation and Prevention Measures) remain less draconian than the measures they replaced.  

But the most notable moment came when former Tory attorney general Dominic Grieve, who was sacked in the recent cabinet reshuffle, warned that Cameron's plan to prevent British nationals from returning would breach both international law and UK law. He said: 

I do share concerns that have been expressed that the suggestion British nationals, however horribly they may be alleged to have behaved, should be prevented from returning to this country. Not only does it offend principles of international law, it would actually offend basic principles of our own common law as well.

He added: "The best course is to bring these individuals to justice". In response, while agreeing that it was best to prosecute people where possible, Cameron insisted that the most important thing was to address the "gaps" in the government's powers. While earlier promising cross-party talks on the issue, he offered no indication of how he would overcome Grieve's objection. 

After his forced departure, owing to his strong support for the European Convention on Human Rights, the former attorney general is emerging as a fierce critic of Cameron's approach. He recently warned that allowing parliament to overrule the ECHR would be "not dissimilar from Putin using the Duma to ratify his annexation of the Crimea". With Cameron likely to make human rights reform one of the centrepieces of the Tory conference, Grieve will be a useful ally for Labour and the Lib Dems. 

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.