Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Falkirk has revealed the rotten state of all our political parties (Guardian)

Falling membership has allowed small cliques to control our politics, writes John Harris. It's a failed model, but the powerful like it that way.

2. This attack on Labour’s union links must not succeed (Independent)

These union-bashers are beholden to private interests, and want Labour to be, too, says Owen Jones.

3. Abu Qatada’s case shows the human rights system works (Times)

Could you bear your country sending a man to a torture chamber, asks Adam Wagner. 

4. Weary US consumer shoulders a big load (Financial Times)

With China slowing, Europe still stuck and Japan in doubt, America has a heroic task, says Edward Luce.

5. Andy Murray: a victory which is his alone (Guardian)

He referred to himself as a British champion while Alex Salmond rather unnecessarily waved the saltire from the royal box, notes a Guardian editorial.

6. Who wants a PM who has no fight in him? (Times)

In dealing with unions Ed Miliband settled for a quiet life, writes Tim Montgomerie. But voters won’t stand for high taxes and a bloated state.

7. We British go out of our way to avoid using the word ‘Muslim’ (Independent)

If reporters avoid using the word, we also risk missing out on the positive side of religious identity, says Robert Fisk. 

8. As Britain dithers, the rest of the world is getting things done (Daily Telegraph)

Our great projects are being stalled by endless consultations and grinding bureaucracy, writes Boris Johnson.

9. What makes a 'real African'? (Guardian)

Too often the continent's writers are quizzed about their identity rather than the world they create, says Maaza Mengiste. 

10. Help business by taxing  profits abroad (Financial Times)

The US should eliminate the distinction between foreign corporate profits, writes Lawrence Summers.

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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.