Green Party leader Natalie Bennett.
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Green Party membership on course to overtake Ukip's

The party's membership has doubled since September to 40,879, just 635 behind Farage's party. 

As the Greens continue to press their case for inclusion in the TV debates (with the self-interested aid of David Cameron), it's worth noting a potential landmark for the party: their membership could soon exceed that of Ukip. The latest figures, compiled by Adam Ramsay of OurKingdom, put the Greens' total membership at 40,879, just 635 behind Ukip (whom the broadcasters have, of course, invited to the debates). He calculates that "at the current rate of growth, the Greens will overtake Ukip within a week, and be ahead of the Lib Dems before polling day ". The party's membership has more than doubled since September when it stood at 20,000.

By contrast, Ukip's growth rate has slowed, with the party gaining just 2,514 members since June. The most recent figure for the Lib Dems puts membership at 44,576, a year-on-year rise but still well down on its 2010 level of 65,038. The greatest success story is the SNP, which now boasts 92,000 members (making it the third-largest party), an increase of 66,358 since the independence referendum. The party will now likely pass the 100,000 mark before the general election. And while the SNP will likely be excluded from any debates on the grounds that it is not a UK-wide party, it's worth noting that it is likely to hold more seats than Ukip after the election (it currently has six and hopes to increase that to at least 20) and possibly even more than the Lib Dems. 

Here are the membership figures in full:

Labour: 190,000 

Conservatives: 149,800 (224,000 including wider party). 

SNP: 92,000

Lib Dems: 44,576

Ukip: 41,514

Greens: 40,879

Plaid Cymru: 8,000

National Health Action Party: 4,691

English Democrats: 2,500

Left Unity: 2,000

Britain First: 800

BNP: 500

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.