Liz Kendall wants to deliver "a true Low Pay Commission, not just a Minimum Wage Commission". Photo: Getty
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Labour leadership hopeful Liz Kendall has pledged a "Living Wage society" – but what does it mean?

The Labour leadership candidate wants to extend the Low Pay Commission's legal remit.

Liz Kendall announced her most concrete policy commitment this week, in her campaign to be Labour leader.

Talking about her general pitch and background to a room full of female Labour activists and politicians, she ended the event with her idea to create a "Living Wage society".

Her pledge, if she were to become Labour leader, and then Prime Minister, is to extend the legal remit of the Low Pay Commission to include working "with employers, unions and civil society to identify practical, non-statutory ways to move wages towards the living wage, sector by sector".

At the moment, the Commission's key remit is to set the legal national minimum wage. Kendall would like to add pushing for the living wage as part of its responsibilities.

“That's why today I’m pledging to move Britain to a living wage society," she told the audience. "And that one of the first areas I will take action on as Labour leader is the scandal of low pay in social care.”

Her focus on decent pay for care workers is central to her drive to challenge the low pay that has made workers' lives so difficult, particularly since the recession.

But what does this mean?

Kendall is dismissed by her detractors as "Blairism reheated", and championed by her backers as "the candidate who can win". The Blairite label has stuck to her ever since she became a prominent name in British politics.

"I'm a bit worried about her rhetoric," one Labour health source tells me. "The free schools, the defence spending, the points-based immigration system. She needs to counter-balance all that."

So is Kendall's focus on low pay an attempt to show her leftier, softer side? The Kendall team denies this, highlighting how pay for care workers has always been an interest of hers, considering her role as shadow minister for care and older people, and point to her long-held interest in trying to combat the proliferation of low-paid jobs in general.

"I can see why people would want to put this in a box," says one insider, "but I know this is something she's passionate about".

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.