Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Anyone who believes in Britain's membership of the EU should stand up and be heard (Independent)

As ever with Europe, there is an appearance of flux while so much essentially remains the same, writes Steve Richards. When will pro-Europeans start to make their case?

2. Cameron strolls towards the EU exit, leaving us none the wiser (Daily Telegraph)

The PM’s failure to explain what he wants for Britain allows others to drive the debate, says Benedict Brogan.

3. If children lose contact with nature they won't fight for it (Guardian)

With half of their time spent at screens, the next generation will be poorly equipped to defend the natural world from harm, says George Monbiot.

4. Europe would lose if Britain left the union (Financial Times)

Brussels would not have to give much ground to keep the UK in the club, writes Gideon Rachman.

5. After Rowan, the Church is taken seriously (Times) (£)

For all his struggles, the Archbishop’s tenure may mark a turning point for Christianity, writes Richard Harries.

6. Another tricky balance for Mr Clegg to strike (Independent)

The Lib Dem leader is right to accept a temporary freeze on benefits, provided he can secure a meaningful wealth tax in return, says an Independent leaer.

7. No amount of moralising will alleviate the hardship caused by Tory austerity (Guardian)

For Iain Duncan Smith, poverty is caused by failure and dysfunction, writes Polly Toynbee. The reality is different, and Labour must say so.

8. The Lords must halt this draconian plan (Daily Mail)

Security considerations can be no justification for the draconian clampdown on open court hearings proposed, says a Daily Mail editorial.

9. Cameron is right to turn to the fixer (Financial Times)

Lynton Crosby might help the Tories fix their weakness without losing their strength, says Janan Ganesh.

10. Is the PM really at war, or simply deluded? (Daily Telegraph)

It was easy to agree with what David Cameron said yesterday, writes Philip Johnston. But harder to believe he’ll deliver.

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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.