Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. End the damaging obsession with deficit (Financial Times)

America must not lose sight of infrastructure, jobs and growth, says Lawrence Summers.

2. Cameron's message is Tory but his enemies have drowned it out (Daily Telegraph)

The PM is allowing his adversaries to define him, says Benedict Brogan. Will the real party leader please stand up?

3. Cameron is lucky to have a Foreign Secretary with experience but no political ambition (Independent)

Unusually, Hague can be candid with Cameron without fearing for his political future, writes Steve Richards. He does not seek a future.

4. Israel’s moderate voices won't be heard at this election (Daily Telegraph)

The loudest applause is reserved for the new right and talk of peace with the Palestinians is increasingly drowned out, writes Peter Oborne.

5. Algeria hostage crisis aftermath: only folly lasts for decades (Guardian)

With such a history of failure in Muslim countries one would have thought David Cameron would choose his words with more care, says a Guardian editorial.

6. Custodian of an interventionist legacy (Financial Times)

Cameron filters Blair’s basic arguments through a very Tory temperament, writes Janan Ganesh. 

7. Algeria head good – Europe head bad (Times) (£)

The EU is an old and damaging distraction for Cameron, says Rachel Sylvester. He looks stronger dealing with modern issues.

8. I agree with Churchill: let's get stuck into the real shirkers (Guardian)

They parasitise us from above, writes George Monbiot. But landowners and the Tory party's idle rich are spared the fairest and simplest of taxes.

9. An action-packed thriller is about to unfold in Davos, Switzerland (Guardian)

In secret meetings in tiny rooms, the rich plot to get even richer, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

10. A crisis of leadership in the western world (Daily Mail)

The west is now run by a new class of career politician, with no expertise in anything beyond spinning a line at election, says a Daily Mail leader.

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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.