Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from the papers.

1. The giants of the green world that profit from the planet's destruction (Guardian)

A new movement has erupted demanding divestment from fossil fuel polluters – and Big Green is in their sights, writes Naomi Klein.

2. Panic is pointless. UKIP’s not a serious party (Times)

Nigel Farage is benefiting from a move away from two-party domination, but protest parties always fizzle out, says Philip Collins.

3. Wanted: a leader who can unite the warring Tory tribes (Daily Telegraph)

The modernisers and the right of the Conservative Party need one another to create a winning coalition, says Iain Martin.

4. We know spending on the arts makes big money for Britain. So why cut it? (Guardian)

Whingeing luvvies are easily mocked but it just doesn't make sense to give way to this purblind, anti-cultural bias, says Polly Toynbee.

5. Will Osborne choose politics or prudence? (Times)

If the Chancellor rushes to give away bank shares, he will reveal his true priorities, writes Sam Coates.

6. Will Carney be a man of independent mind? (Daily Telegraph)

Chancellor George Osborne has made himself clear, and the new Bank of England governor may face an early test, writes Jeremy Warner.

7. No such thing as ‘historic’ rape (Independent)

There no reason – legal or moral – for such crimes to "expire", particularly given the trauma that often results, says an Independent editorial.

8. Threats to Asia’s fragile power balance (Financial Times)

The world’s most vibrant region is also potentially its most combustible, writes Philip Stephens.

9. Charging headlong towards a secret state (Daily Mail)

Secret arrests are an assault on Britain's hard-won freedoms, says a Daily Mail editorial.

10. Holland is proof that the less power a monarch has the more we seem to love them (Independent)

When nations fall into crisis, their populations cry out for the saviour figure, writes Peter Popham.

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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.