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Jeremy Corbyn praises "champion of social justice" Fidel Castro

The Labour leader said Castro was a key historical figure, despite his flaws. 

The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called Fidel Castro a "massive figure in the history of the whole planet" after the Cuban revolutionary died aged 90.

Corbyn commended the social changes Castro had brought about, and praised his "heroism", according to the Press Association.

He told the newswire: "I think history will show that Castro was such a key figure."

In an official statement, he expanded:

"Fidel Castro's death marks the passing of a huge figure of modern history, national independence and 20th century socialism.  

"From building a world class health and education system, to Cuba's record of international solidarity abroad, Castro's achievements were many.  

"For all his flaws, Castro's support for Angola played a crucial role in bringing an end to Apartheid in South Africa and he will be remembered both as an internationalist and a champion of social justice."

Corbyn has a longstanding interest in the politics of the Americas and has in past backed the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, which urges an end to the blockade of Cuba.

Castro's revolutionaries seized power in Cuba in 1959, and he would go on to govern the country for nearly 50 years, before handing over power to his brother, Raul. He was best-known for his willingness to stand up to the United States, his support for other former colonial countries and for delivering high standards of healthcare and education, although critics also condemned his record on human rights.

His death was announced by Raul, who told the nation on Friday night: "The commander in chief of the Cuban revolution died at 22:29 hours this evening."

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.