Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Labour is betting everything on its new brand of pothole politics (Daily Telegraph)

Ed Miliband hopes local activism and 'viral’ recruitment will be an antidote to voter apathy, writes Mary Riddell.

2. How can prisoners 'work harder' when they've got nothing to do? (Guardian)

It may not be what he intended, but Chris Grayling's criticism exposes the flaws of privately run prisons, says Frances Crook.

3.  I hate Abu Qatada too – but the law’s the law (Times)

Do we seriously want the Home Secretary to ignore the pesky courts and just shove this man on a plane, asks Daniel Finkelstein.

4. Young IDS should pick his battles with care (Daily Telegraph)

Only a foolhardy politician would ask pensioners to sacrifice their free bus pass, says Joan Bakewell.

5. Why the Baltic states are no model (Financial Times)

What is possible for small, open economies is close to impossible for the large and relatively closed, writes Martin Wolf.

6. Michael Gove is winning the hearts of state heads (Daily Telegraph)

Teaching unions don’t want you to know, but head teachers support Michael Gove's education reforms, says Anthony Seldon.

7. Ed Miliband will fail if he locks himself into Tory austerity (Guardian)

Falling living standards make Labour favourite to win the next election, writes Seumas Milne. It needs policies to match the scale of the crisis.

8. Vive la change between us and the French (Daily Mail)

An Anglo-French alliance as reformers of the EU may yet come to pass, says Andrew Alexander.

9. Cash-hungry countries have encouraged the rise of tax havens (Independent)

A desire to protect the oppressed, and generate revenue, has got us to here, writes Hamish McRae.

10. What Queen Elizabeth can learn from Queen Beatrix (Guardian)

Britain's monarch enjoys huge support – but therein is the royals' vulnerability, writes Simon Jenkins. They should look to the Netherlands.

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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.