Oscar Pistorius arriving at court. Photo: Getty
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Oscar Pistorius found guilty of culpable homicide

The South African athlete has been cleared of premeditated and second-degree murder.

Oscar Pistorius has been found guilty of culpable homicide. He was yesterday cleared of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled that the prosecution had not provided sufficient evidence for a conviction of pre-meditated murder. Steenkamp was shot three times at Pistorius’s home in Pretoria on Valentine’s Day 2013.

“The evidence failed to prove the accused had intention [to kill],” said Masipa. “The accused had the intention to shoot at the person behind the door, not to kill.”

She also stated that a “reasonable person” would not have fired the shots, and that Pistorius had acted “too hastily and used excessive force. In the circumstances, it is clear his conduct was negligent”.

The athlete was also found guilty on one firearms charge (that of negligently handling a firearm that went off in a restaurant), but acquitted on two others. He could face up to 15 years in prison from the culpable homicide charge. However, there is no minimum sentence for this offence.

Update 12 September, 12:09pm:

The judge has granted Oscar Pistorius bail until his sentencing on 13 October, meaning that he can walk out of the court with his family today.

It also looks likely that he will be permitted to resume his athletic career. Craig Spence, director of media and communications for the International Paralympic Committee, has told BBC Radio 5 Live:

Oscar’s done a great deal for the Paralympic movement. He’s been an inspiration to millions, but obviously his priority now is to see [what] the judge decides. And then if he wishes to resume his athletics career then we wouldn’t step in his way – we would allow him to compete again in the future.”

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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.