Is there a Blairite plot to make Chuka Umunna Labour leader?
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Is the Blairite group Progress plotting to back Chuka Umunna in a leadership bid?

Pressure group plot.

In this week's New Statesman, out this Friday, our Commons Confidential columnist Kevin Maguire hears tell in Westminster of a gathering Blairite plot to put the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, in the running for the Labour leadership. Maguire learns that the necessary funds are already being arranged:

Milibandites point an accusing finger at Labour’s Progress tendency for destabilising tales of plots and supposed letters demanding the head of Ed. John Woodcock, the MP for Barrow and Furness and a former frontbencher who chairs the Blairite faction, was accused by the wobbly one’s praetorian guard of stirring the pot. The intended beneficiary, according to a well-placed snout, is the business-friendly Chuka Umunna, under the spell of Peter Mandelson. Big money is apparently lined up behind an Umunna leadership bid, whenever it comes, with the Progress sugar daddy Lord Sainsbury ready to open a fat chequebook that has been kept shut to Labour since Ed Milibrother beat David. Just because Mil the Younger is now paranoid, that doesn’t mean he isn’t aware of who is out to get him.

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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.