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Both Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith campaigns investigated over texts

Leadership candidates are not allowed to send unsolicited marketing messages. 

At the weekend, Labour supporters were rudely interrupted from their dreams by 4am texts from leadership challenger Owen Smith asking: “Can I count on your support?”

But The Staggers learns the Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating both campaign teams for their use of campaign texts.

A spokeswoman said: “We’re aware of these messages and are making enquiries to establish whether they were sent in line with the law.” This applied to both campaigns, she confirmed. 

The text from Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign, received by The Staggers on a personal mobile a day after the aforementioned one from Owen Smith, states: 

Jeremy Corbyn here. I’m running for leader to build a Labour movement serious about winning power. Will you back me?

The Corbyn campaign says it is complying with regulations.The Smith campaign blamed the late night texts on a "technical glitch", but this does not explain the texts themselves.

The one received by The Staggers states:

I'm standing for leader because I want Labour to deliver policies that matter to us all. Ending failed Tory austerity. Investing 200bn pounds in public services. Strengthening workers' rights. Can I count on your support? Owen Smith. 

In last year’s Labour leadership campaign, candidates happily exploited Labour’s vast membership database to get their message across.

But the ICO later rapped Labour for allowing members to be spammed, and the party issued guidelines for this year’s contest. It said: 

If the Labour Party or its elected members intend to send marketing material to individuals (regardless of their membership status) it should ensure that consent is gained. A facility should be provided to allow the individual to consent to each method the Labour Party or its elected
members wish to contact them by.

The implication of this direction is that candidates in internal Labour Party elections MUST NOT be given access to lists of existing registered and affiliated supporters which allow for unsolicited marketing messages to be sent by email or telephone. Indeed, there must be explicit consent given by each supporter to receiving marketing messages by each and every channel of communication. 

This is significant. The Staggers is a Labour member, but did not give a personal mobile out to either the Jeremy Corbyn or Owen Smith’s campaign marketing team (only to certain individual contacts in the press team). This suggests that membership data is being shared with both campaigns. 

On the other hand, both texts received did offer the option of opting out from further messages (and The Staggers gratefully did). 

While the Smith campaign declined to comment, a Corbyn campaign spokesman said: "Our campaign has fully complied with Labour Party regulations - including the new guidance on consent to contact - and have met our obligations under the Data Protection Act."

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.