Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Cameron shouldn’t blame our rowdy press for his own failings (Daily Telegraph)

The Prime Minister suffers because he is not very good at politics, says Benedict Brogan.

2. Why I shifted sides over Europe (Financial Times)

I have not changed my view but now appear to be on the other side of the battle lines, writes Gideon Rachman.

3. The Great Gatsby's world is every bit as unequal as Britain under the coalition (Guardian)

The wealthy in America and Britain no longer resemble the prewar elite, but appearances cannot mask how cut off they are from the rest of us, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

4. Those aren’t loons, they’re just the over-60s (Times)

As membership dwindles, activists have less and less in common with voters, writes Rachel Sylvester. The party system needs a total rethink.

5. It feels like the right has split irrevocably (Daily Telegraph)

David Cameron's carelessness has mixed with public contempt for politicians to create a toxic brew, says Iain Martin.

6. Mervyn King's housing warning is too little, too late (Guardian)

In a British economy addicted to property inflation, the government's Help to Buy scheme threatens Fannie Mae-style disaster, writes Polly Toynbee. 

7. Tories misunderstand the last election (Financial Times)

Cameron’s estrangement from his party began with the failure of 2010, writes Janan Ganesh.

8. This is Syria's great chance for change (Guardian)

It is crucial that all sides approach June's international conference with hope as well as caution, says Jonathan Steele.

9. Who's in charge of the clattering Tory Party? (Daily Mail)

Cameron should be broadening his entourage to include hard-headed Tories with experience of the real world and the gut instincts of the British people, says a Daily Mail editorial.

10. Obama has a tricky balance to strike (Independent)

President Obama's economic record is good, but the successes of his second term risk being overshadowed by Washington's three separate "scandals", 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.