Andy Burnham, a frontrunner for the Labour leadership, has faced criticism for his voting record on LGBT rights. Photo: Getty Images
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McKeever: Burnham supports LGBT rights and has the experience to win

Andy Burnham's record on LGBT issues has come under scrutiny - but, says former Labour candidate Kevin McKeever, he has no case to answer: and the experience to win, too. 

Let’s clear something up: Andy Burnham is a lifelong supporter of LGBT rights and that’s why, as an openly gay Labour activist and Parliamentary candidate, I’m proud to support his campaign for the party’s leadership.

Five years ago, he was one of the first frontbench politicians to call for equal marriage. He has never absented himself from a vote on LGBT issues and missed a single vote on adoption in 2002 only by being at the birth of his daughter.

In Government, he voted in favour of IVF for lesbian couples while supporting an amendment on the need to name biological parents. Recently, Andy has said "Modern families come in all shapes and sizes, and no one should sit in judgement of any family. What matters is that children are loved and secure, and grow up to be confident and happy adults. I've met children with a single parent, children with many step-parents and those with two mums or two dads, who are some the most loved and happy children I've known."

Last month, I stood for election for Labour in Northampton South. That crushing feeling we all experienced in the early hours of May 8 will stay with me forever. It was an emotional reminder of what happens when we engage in a collective deception that we are at one with the electorate.

In my seat, we always faced a tough task. It’s a sad demonstration of the scale of our loss that we were the only Tory-held marginal seat in the East Midlands to experience a swing from Conservative to Labour, but nowhere near enough to win.

We had lost an emotional connection with many of our traditional voters, who turned to Ukip for answers to the questions we refused to credibly answer and failed to resonate with those middle income families, critical to electoral success, who decided to stick with the Tories.

I have a deep respect for all the leadership candidates and I genuinely hope the coming weeks will see a comradely contest that strengthens the ultimate victor. But politics is about tough choices. That’s why after careful consideration I’m backing Andy Burnham to be Labour’s next leader. He has the experience and strength of character to unite our great party and lead us to victory in 2020.

Andy will take politics out of the Westminster bubble and into the country - speaking to voters we lost to Ukip as much as those critical voters in English marginals like Northampton South who opted to vote Conservative last month.

Kevin McKeever was Labour's candidate in Northampton South. 

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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.