Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The logic of David Cameron's cry for optimism is: vote Labour (Guardian)

It's tempting to side with conservative Eeyores, writes Gaby Hinsliff. But from peace in Ulster to US healthcare, the progressive case is clear.

2. The new prisoners of ideology (Financial Times)

The parties of the right have forsaken centrist broad appeal, says Philip Stephens.

3. I blame the English for India’s backwardness (Times) (£)

The country’s terrible problems can be traced back to those who brought in a culture of pettifogging regulation, writes Philip Collins.

4. Greece's only certainty in 2013? Predictions are futile (Guardian)

Forecasts of collapse, 'Grexit' and even civil war proved unfounded but Greek society is under immense pressure, says Nick Malkoutzis.

5. Making welfare simple is fiendishly complex (Daily Telegraph)

It is vital that Iain Duncan Smith's heroic attempt to bring simplicity to the chaos of the welfare system succeeds, says a Telegraph editorial.

6. Where was Willetts's concern for the disadvantaged? (Independent)

The Universities Minister's professed concern for white working class boys is risible, says Joan Smith.

7. The decline of western dominance (Financial Times)

Developing countries now account for about half of total world output, writes Samuel Brittan.

8. An unfair policy that fails on every test (Daily Mail)

The removal of child benefit from higher earners makes a mockery of David Cameron’s promise to stand up for the traditional family, says a Daily Mail editorial.

9. The Falklands: another way forward (Guardian)

The governments of the UK and Argentina would do well to look to the island of Tromelin for a model for their negotiations, says a Guardian editorial.

10. Our robotic revolution is only just beginning to gather steam (Daily Telegraph)

Robots offer the potential for unlimited economic growth - as well as a helping hand about the house, says Jeremy Warner.

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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.