Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves speaks at the Labour conference in 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Another boost for Burnham as he wins Rachel Reeves's support

The Labour leadership frontrunner adds to his big tent of backers with the endorsement of the shadow work and pensions secretary. 

After the departure of Chuka Umunna from the Labour leadership race, Andy Burnham has moved quickly to cement his status as the frontrunner. Yesterday he announced a politically diverse group of supporters: shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher (who will manage his campaign), shadow justice secretary Charlie Falconer, shadow Welsh secretary Owen Smith and shadow health minister Luciana Berger. On the Andrew Marr Show this morning, he revealed another significant backer: Rachel Reeves. The shadow work and pensions secretary was going to endorse her friend and fellow 2010er Umunna but his withdrawal has led her to endorse Burnham. His announcement that she will lead his campaign's economic work all but confirmed that the economist will become shadow chancellor if he wins. 

The support of so many of his colleagues is no guarantee of victory under Labour's new one-member-one-vote system (which means MPs' votes are no longer worth more than those of activists). But it has given Burnham crucial early momentum. Asked on the Marr Show whether he was "the union candidate" (he is set to win the backing of Unite), he replied: "I'm the unifying candidate". The ideological breadth of his supporters has helped to reinforce that message. The chaotic fallout from the election (in nine days Labour has lost its leader, its Scottish leader, its shadow chancellor, its shadow foreign secretary and a leadership candidate) means that members may well follow course and rally around Burnham as the safe choice. 

The shadow health secretary's main challenger is Liz Kendall, who is likely to attract many of Umunna's former supporters. The extended length of the contest (which concludes on 12 September) will allow her to raise her profile among members. But at a time when Labour has appeared incapable of running a whelk stall, her relative lack of experience (she was elected in 2010 and has not shadowed a secretary of state) may prove too great an obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Scotland's huge deficit is an obstacle to independence

The country's borrowing level (9.5 per cent) is now double that of the UK. 

Ever since Brexit, and indeed before it, the possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum has loomed. But today's public spending figures are one reason why the SNP will proceed with caution. They show that Scotland's deficit has risen to £14.8bn (9.5 per cent of GDP) even when a geographic share of North Sea revenue is included. That is more than double the UK's borrowing level, which last year fell from 5 per cent of GDP to 4 per cent. 

The "oil bonus" that nationalists once boasted of has become almost non-existent. North Sea revenue last year fell from £1.8bn to a mere £60m. Total public sector revenue was £400 per person lower than for the UK, while expenditure was £1,200 higher.  

Nicola Sturgeon pre-empted the figures by warning of the cost to the Scottish economy of Brexit (which her government estimated at between £1.7bn and £11.2.bn a year by 2030). 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 considerable austerity. 

Nor would EU membership provide a panacea. Scotland would likely be forced to wait years to join owing to the scepticism of Spain and others facing their own secessionist movements. At present, two-thirds of the country's exports go to the UK, compared to just 15 per cent to other EU states.

The SNP will only demand a second referendum when it is convinced it can win. At present, that is far from certain. Though support for independence rose following the Brexit vote, a recent YouGov survey last month gave the No side a four-point lead (45-40). Until the nationalists enjoy sustained poll leads (as they have never done before), the SNP will avoid rejoining battle. Today's figures are a considerable obstacle to doing so. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.