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Ken Livingstone tells MP who questioned his defence role to seek "psychiatric help"

The former London mayor lashed out at the Labour MP Kevan Jones who has spoken openly about his mental health problems and suffering from depression.

A classy start to the former London mayor and world's most divisive newt enthusiast Ken Livingstone's new role in the Labour party. Having just been appointed to lead a review into Labour's defence policies, Livingstone hit out in a deeply insensitive outburst at one of his critics in the party.

Kevan Jones MP questioned Jeremy Corbyn's decision to put a famously anti-nuclear politician in charge of reviewing Labour's stance on replacing Trident, saying, "I'm not sure Ken knows anything about defence. It will only damage our credibility amongst those that do and who care about defence."

This triggered Livingstone's offensive outburst to the Mirror:

“I think he might need some psychiatric help. He's obviously very depressed and disturbed.

“He should pop off and see his GP before he makes these offensive comments.”

Three years ago, Jones spoke about his mental health problems in parliament, explaining how he had been suffering from deep depression. He calls Livingstone's comments "gravely offensive not just personally but also to the many thousands who suffer from mental illness", adding that "offensive statements like this just reinforce the stigma about mental illness".

It took a few hours, but Livingstone has finally apologised for his comments.

Livingstone denies that he was aware of Jones' history of depression, claiming he hadn't heard of the MP before now, and initially refused four times to retract his comments:

Speaking on the BBC's World at One, Livingstone gave a decidedly confused and half-hearted apology:

"I had no idea that he had any mental health issues, otherwise I never would have said it. If he's upset, I'm sorry. But he can't blame me - he was the one who came out and attacked me and questioned my competence to do this job . . .

"I grew up in South London; if someone was rude to you, you were rude back to them. I didn't get to Eton and get all that smarmy charming education, I'm afraid."

An odd defence, considering Jones went to a comprehensive school in Worksop. But then defence isn't Livingstone's strong point.

This semi-apology came after a spokesperson for Corbyn urged Livingstone to apologise:

"Jeremy is incredibly concerned that people with mental health problems shouldn't be stigmatised. He has worked with Kevan in the past on this issue and is impressed by his bravery in speaking out on his own mental health issues. Ken should apologise to him straight away."

And Labour's shadow mental health minister Luciana Berger also condemned Livingstone's comments:

 

He has landed in further hot water with his assertion that shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle is "mad" for backing Trident renewal, adding, "anyone who wants nuclear weapons is mad". This was before his tweeted apology. In the same interview, which was with ITV, he said "this guy [Kevan Jones] shouldn't pick a fight with people and then start whimping around".

But there is one person defending poor old Ken! And that person is George Galloway. Yep.

 With a helpful picture attached.

I'm a mole, innit.

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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.