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The Liberal Democrat manifesto is a blast from the past

The party has moved on from Nick Clegg, but not in the way you might expect. 

In 2015, I dubbed the Liberal Democrat manifesto their a “coalition-ready” document: it was stuffed with small incremental changes. A few might have pulled Ed Miliband to the right or David Cameron to the left, but all were all perfectly deliverable in coalition. There were no tuition-fee-style hostages to fortune – every promise in the 2015 manifesto could have been delivered in a coalition, regardless of who was in it.

The 2017 manifesto is very different. This is a Liberal Democrat manifesto from the year BC: Before Coalition. These are policies that, for the most part, could only be secured in the event of a Liberal Democrat majority in the House of Commons.

Take the big ticket item: a vote on the terms of the Brexit deal. That would be a tricky ask if Labour were, say, 30 seats short of a majority in parliament, as their leader is a Eurosceptic of long vintage, or a parliamentary party worried about going the same way as their Scottish colleagues did if they defy their voters over a referendum. The Liberal Democrats might, however, get their way on the legalisation of cannabis.

As for their commitment to increase income tax by a penny in the pound on the basic, higher and top rate of tax to fund the NHS: Labour have made a great deal of hay that average earners will pay no more tax under them, and would loathe to give it up.

But those achievements look a lot better than what they’d get past a Conservative government under Theresa May. Philip Hammond – or whoever May replaces him with after 8 June – is not going to sign off a penny increase in income tax to spend on the Liberal Democrats and there is no drug strong enough to convince May is to approve the decriminalisation and legal sale of cannabis.

At this election at least, the Liberal Democrats are firmly back in their “wouldn’t it be wonderful if we won?” fantasyland – lightyears away from the age of Nick Clegg. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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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.