David Cameron is expected to recall parliament over IS airstrikes. Photo: Getty
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Islamic State airstrikes: parliament could be recalled on Friday

David Cameron is moving the UK closer to military action in the Middle East.

The BBC is reporting that parliament is expected to be recalled on Friday to consider the UK’s role in airstrikes against Islamic State (also known as Isis).

David Cameron, who is in the US attending the United Nations General Assembly, is responding to the first anti-IS airstrikes by the US, which distracted attention from Labour’s conference yesterday.

Cameron told NBC news:

These people want to kill us. They've got us in their sights and we have to put together this coalition. . . to make sure that we ultimately destroy this evil organisation.

He insisted that, “you cannot opt out of” the fight against the militant group.

There are also reports that Iraq, while at the UN, will formally request that the UK joins France and the US in launching airstrikes against IS.

The Prime Minister is set to ask MPs on Friday to approve Britain’s action in the region against the extremist fighters. It was a little over a year ago that the PM lost a Commons vote on military intervention in Syria, and Ed Miliband said that parliament had spoken “for the people of Britain”. So now Labour’s position on IS is being very closely scrutinised. However, it appears that the Labour leader is likely to back Cameron’s plan for airstrikes. He told the BBC this morning that he is “open to the possibility” of supporting action:

How will I judge any proposal? Whether Britain can have an effect, whether we can succeed and whether it is legitimate and lawful. But I am open to the possibility.

Before I commit British combat troops I want to look at what the proposition is and the nature of that proposition.

This may seem harmonious so far, but a difficulty lies in the difference between intervening in Iraq and intervening in Syria. The government of the former is set to request that Cameron gets involved, but Syria – under the regime of Bashar al-Assad  is a whole other question.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at 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.