Alexis Tsipras, outside the Hellenic Parliament. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Snap elections called for 25 January after Greek parliament fails to elect president

The Hellenic Parliament has failed to elect a successor to outgoing president Karolos Papoulias on its third attempt, leading to snap elections and uncertainly in the Eurozone for early 2015.

The Greek parliament has failed to elect a successor to outgoing president Karolos Papoulias on its third attempt, leading to snap elections being called for 25 January 2015. The government’s preferred candidate, former European Commissioner for the Environment, Stavros Dimas, fell 12 votes short of the 180-vote threshold required for his election to pass. Although the role of president is largely ceremonial, the vote points to huge divisions within the country in relation to austerity measures imposed by the European Union.

The dissolution of parliament will come as a huge boost to Alex Tsipras’s SYRIZA, the populist, anti-austerity party, who claimed “In a few days austerity bailouts will be a thing of the past” in a news conference this morning. His party was joined by an unlikely alliance of members within the Hellenic Parliament from the far-right Golden Dawn, the Communist party of Greece and Democratic Left party, in voting against Dimas, who was supported by the ruling New Democracy-PASOK coalition.

There has been stern reactions from across EU member states – many of whom consider Greece analogous to the political situation in Spain, where the newly-formed, left-wing insurgents Podemos hope to make great gains at the general elections to be held in December 2015 – with Tsipras and Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias publicly tweeting one another messages of support.

The threat of new negotiations over debt and spending has created instability within Eurozone markets, with leaders of EU member states urging the continuation of reforms. “Democracy cannot be blackmailed,” said Tsipras in response. The New Statesman will follow the Greek and Spain elections in the magazine and online throughout the coming year.

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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.