Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. For all their rage, the Tories know Qatada is going nowhere fast (Independent)

The dialogue going on in the party’s brain is also a dialogue with the electorate, writes John Rentoul.

2. Ukip has thrown British politics into the most marvellous chaos (Daily Telegraph)

Nigel Farage's party is a problem for David Cameron – but he should avoid a lurch to the right, says Peter Oborne.

3. Xi needs to prove he can deliver (Financial Times)

Even if the leader does embrace an economic overhaul, don’t expect political reform to follow, writes David Pilling.

4. Abu Qatada: holding the line on law (Guardian)

Lib Dem ministers should be congratulated for ensuring that the coalition does not embrace deliberate lawlessness, says a Guardian editorial. 

5. Google's tiny tax bill shows how greedy and ruthless it really is (Daily Mail)

Google is a gigantic parasite that makes a fortune from exploiting the creativity and entrepreneurship of others, argues Luke Johnson. 

6. This disability ruling reveals new depths of political dishonesty (Guardian)

Nobody said, in any of the parties' manifestos, that they would claw money back from the severely disabled, writes Zoe Williams.

7. Reheating Thatcherism won’t save Cameron (Times

Conservatives should look to Heseltine for a sensible — and vote-winning — attitude to the role of government, says Steve Richards.

8. We glimpse in Syria the ghost of wars to come (Guardian)

In the Balkans, outsiders stepped in to finally halt the misery, writes Timothy Garton Ash. But this is a different kind of conflict.

9. The age of austerity is over. Why? It doesn’t work (Independent)

If ever George Osborne wanted an excuse to embrace Plan B this is the moment, says Andreas Whittam Smith.

10. Let’s make more leg room at the Cabinet table (Daily Telegraph)

The growing numbers of ministers and hangers-on crowding into No 10 are hardly conducive to good government, says Sue Cameron.

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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.