Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Eastleigh by-election is a warning for the Tories (Daily Telegraph)

The withered state of the Conservative Party’s grassroots bodes ill for the general election in 2015, says Paul Goodman.

2. The Lib Dems must not stand for any more lies over the NHS (Guardian)

The Tories have misled their coalition partners – and us – repeatedly over the true extent of their health service vandalism, says Polly Toynbee.

3. Settler policy imperils Israel’s foundations (Financial Times)

The country is losing legitimacy among allies around the world, writes Philip Stephens. Netanyahu bears responsibility.

4. Follow Marco or stay out of the White House (Times)

The smart young Republican has shifted on immigration, writes David Taylor. If his party wants power, it must follow suit.

5. Barely noticed, civil war is raging in Whitehall (Independent)

Government ministers are riding roughshod over the civil service, and that leads to government by cock-up and a loss of morale in Whitehall, writes Andreas Whittam Smith.

6. Juries? It's time they went the way of the ducking stool (Guardian)

The soap opera that is the Vicky Pryce trial shows the archaic rituals of our courts to be little more than legal parlour games, writes Simon Jenkins.

7. Weaker pound is welcome but no panacea (Financial Times)

The challenge is to connect monetary and fiscal policy to promote demand while enhancing supply, says Martin Wolf.

8. A degree of good sense (Daily Telegraph)

With people working for longer, and jobs for life becoming a thing of the past, it makes sense for older people to return to higher education, says a Telegraph leader.

9. The Robin Hood tax takes a step closer (Guardian)

The aim of the financial transaction tax is to make banks and markets contribute more – and it's coming to 11 EU states soon, writes Algirdas Šemet.

10. A poorly disguised raid on Britain's aid budget (Independent)

If David Cameron wants to up military spending he should have the courage to say so, says an Independent editorial.

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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.