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Ian Blackford elected SNP Westminster leader

His deputy group leader will be Kirsty Blackman.

Ian Blackford has been elected SNP Wesminster leader after Angus Robertson lost his seat.

Blackford saw off competition from Joanna Cherry and Drew Hendry. His deputy group leader will be Kirsty Blackman.

The MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber said he would work to ensure Scotland has a voice in Brexit negotiations, attempt to keep access to the single market and customs union, and prevent austerity. 

He added: "The hung parliament means that SNP MPs will have more influence than ever before, and with crucial Brexit negotiations on the horizon it has never been more important to make Scotland's voice heard."

Blackford, a former investment banker, and onetime nemesis of Alex Salmond, is among the moderates on independence, and on the liberal side of the party economically

As SNP pensions spokesman, he nevertheless joined forces with the more left-wing Mhairi Black to take up the case of the "Waspi women", who were affected by the delay to the state pension age.

The SNP, which won a surprise 56 seats in the 2015 election, became known as the "unofficial opposition" after Brexit, because of the strong stance it took on Europe. 

However, the party lost 21 in the 2017 snap election, including two heavyweights - Alex Salmond, the former First Minister, and Robertson, the Westminster leader. 

Blackford's new role as leader of the Westminster SNP group is likely to keep him busy, on top of his work as an unpaid director of an investment advice firm, First Seer, his chairmanship of Commsworld and the Golden Charter Trust, and running his croft.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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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.