Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. America’s fiscal policy is not in crisis (Financial Times)

The most urgent challenge is to promote economic recovery, says Martin Wolf, not reduce the deficit. 

2. What the latest conflict in north Africa tells us about the meaning of 'war on terror' (Independent)

To try and draw simplistic lines between good and bad will only help those seeking to unify those with ethnic, regional and international grievances, writes Douglas Alexander.

3. Mali: the fastest blowback yet in this disastrous war on terror (Guardian)

French intervention in Mali will fuel terrorism, but the west's buildup in Africa is also driven by the struggle for resources, writes Seumas Milne.

4. Fear of the grey vote has turned politicians into cowards (Daily Telegraph)

Wealthy pensioners must pay their fair share to finance childcare and social care bills, argues Mary Riddell. 

5. Trident will not protect us (Guardian)

Britain can't justify these military cuts without looking at the billions spent on nuclear weapons, says Liberal Democrat armed forces minister Nick Harvey. 

6. It’s not a fight against ‘us’. It’s Islam v Islam (Times) (£)

The new "war on terror" won’t be won by armies, but by helping moderate Muslim governments defeat extremism, says Paddy Ashdown.

7. An African crusade is lunacy when cuts have left us barely enough soldiers to troop the colour (Daily Mail)

David Cameron should not have sent a single British aircraft anywhere near his French counterpart’s rash African adventure, says Max Hastings.

8. Climate change is back on the agenda, at last (Independent)

Warnings of the economic risks of global warming should help focus minds at Davos, says an Independent editorial. 

9. Wars like Afghanistan should never be a theatre for celebrity (Guardian)

Prince Harry may shine as a soldier, but he's just a pawn in a political game – adding celebrity dust to a senseless conflict, says Simon Jenkins. 

10. Whitehall can learn from London 2012 (Financial Times)

The games hold plenty of pointers to effective and successful delivery, writes Peter Riddell.

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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.