David Miliband. Photo: Getty
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Commons Confidential: how the Queen feels about the missing Milibrother

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

Theresa May’s dash to the polls has helped her avoid a clash with a Michael Gove, who remains in favour of better grammar, not more grammar schools. The former education secretary privately opposes the return of selection, but if he keeps quiet in the campaign, he could be recalled to the cabinet.

Gove has moved into his own “No 10”, purchasing a west London home with that number and a black door to complete the Downing Street look. He is rueful about his past friendship with David Cameron. The pair have exchanged only a few words in a Commons brush-past since the Brexit referendum.

A reflective Gove concludes that he never really fitted in among Cameron’s Notting Hell set. Old school ties stretched long into the Old Etonian premier’s circle, and Gove’s Scottish minor public school created a class barrier. May’s loyalty test in June will determine Gove’s fate.

She’s pretty ruthless, May – as Labour discovered with the snap election. The whisper in Downing Street is that she is considering binning the minor minister Stephen O’Brien. The Brit at the UN is anonymous as undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator, and May feels that her government enjoys insufficient credit for a £12bn foreign aid budget. One of the names in the frame to replace him is Andrew Mitchell, who at least did a good job as international development secretary. Mitchell – once the Whitehall boss of Stephen Who? – is keen to escape the long shadow of Plebgate.

Disapproving muttering is heard about the “big idea” of the Today programme’s new editor, Sarah Sands, for BBC Radio 4’s establishment bulletin. Robert Peston may or may not hanker for a return from ITV to a presenter’s mic on the BBC’s flagship show. The current melodious voices insist that there is no vacancy, unless John Humphrys, 73, fancies a lie-in, or is finally winkled out.

David Miliband, a member  of Labour’s lost leaders’ club, is revelling in speculation that he could save the party from Jeremy Corbyn. But he didn’t win the royal seal of approval as foreign secretary. A prominent snout recalled that the Queen asked if the elder Milibrother possessed the “experience” for the post, after economic sanctions against Vladimir Putin banned a Scottish pipe band from travelling to Russia.

The name of Bill Jordan was curiously missing when a trio of former senior figures in the unions that gave birth to Unite signed a letter backing Gerard Coyne against Len McCluskey. The former president of the Amalgamated Engineering Union is Coyne’s father-in-law. Perhaps Baron Jordan was considered too close to the well-connected Coyne’s home, given McCluskey’s flat has featured in the campaign. 

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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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.