Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Osborne economics is not an invincible force of nature (Guardian)

Although many appear resigned to life under this dysfunctional capitalism, there is a way to make the system less inhuman, says John Harris.

2. All coups end in petty tyranny, however good the intentions (Daily Telegraph)

Britain should scorn the idea that military rule in Egypt is the 'least bad’ option, says Daniel Hannan.

3. We have another option in Egypt: to do nothing (Guardian)

We want to avoid another Syria but intervention could prove counter-productive, writes Oliver Miles. Britain should push for a diplomatic solution.

4. No, this is not the road to recovery. It's the road to Wongaland (Guardian)

The notion that the Bank of England base rate is dominant and we should all go shopping has already been punctured, writes Ann Pettifor.

5. Britain's involvement in the EU is too entrenched to achieve any reform (Daily Mail)

To break free and set our own terms requires an Act of Parliament to repeal the European Communities Act and all connected statutes, writes Robin Harris.

6. One year on, Marikana is emblematic of South Africa’s woes (Independent)

In the ANC’s 19 years in power, little has been done to address inequalities, says an Independent editorial.

7. The police keep firing; the bodies pile up. In Cairo, bloodbaths are now a daily occurrence (Independent)

There can be no excuse for the police whose duty is to protect all Egyptians, says Robert Fisk.

8. Conversation dies. Smartphone to the rescue (Times)

It’s not necessarily rude to play with your phone instead of talking, writes Matthew Parris. It’s just a way of relieving the pressure.

9. The Conservative Party needs to be more inviting (Daily Telegraph)

It's no wonder the Tories are losing members when Conservative associations appear to be stuck in the Fifties, writes Graeme Archer.

10. Japan’s past and future meet at Zero (Financial Times)

Controversy over a new film highlights the change in Japanese attitudes since the 1990s, writes David Pilling.

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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.