Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. A short history of austerity: it almost never works (Guardian)

You have to be one of Vince Cable's 'austerity jihadists' to believe you can cut your way out of a slump, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

2. Labour and the Tories both think they'll lose 2015 and they can't both be right (Independent)

The mood in each camp is downbeat and introspective, but “Sorry we blew it last time" isn't the kind of slogan that wins elections, writes Steve Richards. 

3. Punish them, yes. But jail doesn’t fit this crime (Times) (£)

Huhne and Pryce broke the law, writes Rachel Sylvester. But locking them up in our expensive, overcrowded prisons serves no purpose.

4. Prison is the right place for Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce (Daily Telegraph)

If they’d got off lightly for swapping penalty points for speeding, how many others would be encouraged to test the legal system, asks Philip Johnston.

5. Prepare for endgame in North Korea (Financial Times)

The US and China should pool ideas on the nuclear threat, says Gideon Rachman.

6. If Cameron wants his troops to rally, he must act like a general (Daily Telegraph)

MPs would fight to the death for victory, but they need the PM in the trenches with them, says Benedict Brogan.

7. A mansion tax can stop this mountain of wealth crushing us (Guardian)

Labour barely breathed on the super-rich when in power, says Polly Toynbee. In backing a mansion tax, they are at last offering an alternative.

8. Time for the media to find a compromise on Leveson recommendations (Independent)

The sluggish progress that has followed the inquiry risks the worst possible outcome, says an Independent editorial.

9. Immigration exposes political weakness (Financial Times)

Conservatives are caught between the right and left, writes Stanley Greenberg.

10. I'm leaving the Liberal Democrats too (Guardian)

The justice and security bill will have a corrosive impact on individual rights, writes Philippe Sands. The party's support for it is a coalition compromise too far.

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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.