Margaret Hodge has stepped down as chair of the Public Accounts Committee. Photo: Getty Images
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New select committee chairs for the 2010-5 Parliament announced

The 26 new Select Committee chairs have been announced. Maverick Labour MP Frank Field is chair of Work and Pensions, Sarah Wollaston is chair of Health, while Stephen Twigg has been elected head of the International Development select committee, which will trigger a mini-reshuffle of Labour's shadow justice team. Meg Hillier replaces Margaret Hodge as chair of the Public Accounts Committee.

Backbench Business Ian Mearns
Business, Innovation & Skills Iain Wright

Communities & Local Government Clive Betts
Culture, Media & Sport Jesse Norman
Defence Julian Lewis
Education Neil Carmichael
Environmental Audit Huw Irranca-Davies

Energy & Climate Change Angus Brendan MacNeil
Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Neil Parish
Foreign Affairs Crispin Blunt
Health Sarah Wollaston
Home Affairs Keith Vaz
International Development Stephen Twigg
Justice  Robert Neill

Northern Ireland Affairs Mr Laurence Robertson
Petitions Helen Jones

Procedure Mr Charles Walker
Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Mr Bernard Jenkin
Public Accounts Meg Hillier
Science & Technology Nicola Blackwood

Scottish Affairs Pete Wishart

Standards Kevin Barron

Transport Mrs Louise Ellman
Treasury Mr Andrew Tyrie
Welsh Affairs David T.C Davies
Women and Equalities Mrs Maria Miller
Work & Pensions Frank Field




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.