Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. China’s great leap forward hits the wall (Daily Telegraph)

This was supposed to be the Asian century, but the eastern boom is dying of exhaustion, writes Jeremy Warner.

2. Clegg is set to be kingmaker again in 2015 (Times)

The pundits are wrong about the Lib Dem leader, says John Kampfner. He is open to doing a deal with Miliband.

3. Boris wasn’t joking – work is becoming a woman’s world (Daily Telegraph)

Sexual inequality has reversed: fewer boys go to university, get a good job or earn as much, says Fraser Nelson.

4. The imperative that keeps the US in Asia (Financial Times)

By leaving, Washington would invite chaos; by staying it provokes Chinese resentment, says Philip Stephens.

5. Sorting the System (Times)

The IPSA proposals for MPs’ pay need to be protected from attempts to regain political control, says a Times editorial.

6. The Archbishop of Canterbury must wean the Church off its benefit addiction (Daily Telegraph)

Justin Welby understands that welfare benefits do not fix everything, writes Isabel Hardman. Now he needs to educate the Church of England.

7. UK's finest asset, the NHS, is in sick hands (Daily Mirror)

Jeremy Hunt’s advisers found time to give Murdoch market-sensitive information but not to tell an MP her local A&E was being closed, writes Andy Burnham. 

8. My cohabiting generation has not fallen out of love with marriage just yet (Guardian)

Some of us are quite happy to commit, but others can't afford a wedding or would actually prefer a heterosexual civil partnership, says Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett.

9. Russia can’t be allowed to get away with the Magnitsky case (Independent)

The style of "justice" disposed under Putin is becoming more and more baroque, but even next to Litvinenko and Khodorkovsky, the Magnitsky case stands out, writes Peter Popham. 

10. Who let this Gulf on Thames scar London's Southbank? Mayor Boris (Guardian)

Boris Johnson pledged to control the vulgarity of bigness, writes Simon Jenkins. But his city is alone in Europe in its slavery to 'anything goes'.

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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.