Ed Miliband addresses Scottish Labour conference. (Image: Getty)
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Ed Miliband confirms he will attend the leaders' debates

Ed Miliband has given David Cameron both barrels as he aims to keep the pressure on the Prime Minister.

Ed Miliband has confirmed he will attend the televised debates. In his speech to the Scottish Labour party, Miliband poured scorn on David Cameron's attempts to get out of the debates:

“This is what David Cameron used to say about TV election debates:

That they were essential to our democracy.

That every country apart from Mongolia had them.

That he wasn’t going to have any feeble excuses to get out of debates.

And now he is doing everything he can to stop them.

And it is on the issue of leadership debates that David Cameron’s duplicity has caught up with him.

He says this election is all about leadership, all about the choice between him and me, and when it comes to a debate between him and me, he’s running scared.

He’s running away.

I say to David Cameron:

You can refuse to face the public, but you can’t deny your record.

You can try to chicken out of the debates, but don’t ever again claim that you provide strong leadership,

You can try to escape the people’s debates, but you can’t escape the people’s verdict.

Today the Labour Party has written to the broadcasters.

Saying with or without David Cameron, I will be at the debates.

And every day up to these debates he will be asked: what are you hiding from?

When all people will see is an empty chair, his claims of leadership will be exposed as empty.”

As I blogged yesterday, Labour's tails are up and they feel that the debates row will strengthen Miliband whatever the outcome. But Nick Clegg is likely to be rebuffed in his attempts to replace David Cameron in the head-to-head. As a senior Labour source told me yesterday: "That debate is between the people who have a chance of becoming Prime Minister at the next election."

Letter from Douglas Alexander, Chair of General Election Strategy, to Sue Inglish, chair of the Broadcasters’ Liaison Group:

 

Dear Sue,

 

We have followed with interest your exchange of letters over the last 48 hours with the Conservative Party, and in particular your reiteration that it is the intention of the broadcasters to stage Leaders Election Debates live on television on the 2nd, 16th and 30th April.

 

We believe these debates represent a huge opportunity to engage millions of voters in the election campaign and they are a rare opportunity for the public to see the leaders of the main political engaging directly on the big issues facing Britain.

 

I am therefore today writing on behalf of the Labour party to confirm that Ed Miliband will take up your offer to participate in all three of the proposed debates.

Like you, we hope that David Cameron and the Conservative party will take this opportunity to conclude that these debates are in the public interest and that not showing up will not just be damaging to the Conservative party but to our democracy as well.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Photo: Getty
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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.