Lord Ashcroft will no longer sit in the House of Lords. Photo: Getty
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Pollster Lord Ashcroft retires from the House of Lords to pursue his other interests

The grand high Lord of polling will stop being a peer with immediate effect.

The star pollster of this election, Lord Ashcroft, is retiring from the House of Lords with immediate effect.

He has decided that his other pursuits are an obstacle to him devoting enough time to parliament. Yet retired peers are allowed to keep their title and use the House's facilities if they choose.

Here's the statement from his website:

Earlier this year Baroness D’Souza, the Lord Speaker, said that any Member of the House of Lords who can “no longer contribute meaningfully” should retire. She added that since the House has close to 800 members, “retirement at the right time should be seen as a condition of membership of the House of Lords – a duty as well as a right”.

I agree with the Speaker, and have concluded that my other activities do not permit me to devote the time that membership of the Lords properly requires.

Accordingly, I have today written to the Clerk of the Parliaments giving notice of my resignation from the House of Lords with immediate effect, pursuant to Section 1(1) of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014.

I will continue my involvement in politics through Lord Ashcroft Polls and my political publishing interests: Conservative Home, Biteback Publishing and Dods.

Westminster politicos will be relieved that he isn't stepping down from his best-loved pursuit: polling marginal seats. 

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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.