Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The hidden truth of local cuts will soon be revealed (Guardian)

It is worse than under Margaret Thatcher, writes David Blunkett. As living standards fall and services are slashed, revolutionary fervour may return.

2. Until David Cameron learns to explain himself, voters will not trust him (Daily Telegraph)

Many natural Tories are losing faith in a party that appears to ignore their opinions, says Bruce Anderson.

3. Seismic events will shape the Middle East (Financial Times

The region offers no respite to international or local actors, writes David Gardner.

4. End this failed marriage of Church and State (Times) (£)

Even the Archbishop can see the benefits, writes Philip Collins. It’s Anglicans who have most to gain from disestablishment.

5. Welfare reform: history today (Guardian)

The newly released cabinet papers from the fourth year of the first Thatcher government are a prequel to the 2012 welfare reforms, says a Guardian editorial.

6. It's time for America to do the right thing (Daily Telegraph)

Economic stability appears to have been abandoned in favour of infighting and point-scoring over the "fiscal cliff", says a Telegraph editorial.

7. Why have the Tories rejected the spirit of 2012? (Independent)

The Conservatives’ new tactic is a betrayal of all that Cameron stood for when he became leader, writes Mary Ann Sieghart.

8. An apprenticeship will soon match all a degree has to offer (Daily Telegraph)

New routes are rapidly opening into valuable and highly paid professional careers, says Matthew Hancock.

9. Mr Clegg's contempt for democracy on EU (Daily Mail)

The deputy PM demonstrated how he remains as detached from the views of the electorate on Europe as ever, says a Daily Mail leader.

10. Why it's good to walk (Guardian

Strolling around the neighbourhood is an antidote to ignorance, and empowering too, says Lynsey Hanley.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.