Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Royal Mail has no future without a return to some Victorian values (Daily Telegraph)

The trade unions destroyed its ability to harness technology and provide a public service, claims former Telegraph editor Charles Moore. This privatisation is necessary and overdue, but a bit sad.

2. I'm getting older. So am I becoming more rightwing? (Guardian)

Conservatism isn't necessarily an inevitable part of ageing, writes Jonathan Freedland.

3. I salute Ed Miliband’s big, brave mission (Times) (£)

For different reasons Blairites and Tories want Labour’s leader to fail in his bid to reform the union link, writes Matthew Parris.

4. Don't believe Chancellor's 'mission accomplished' rhetoric, we need a recovery that lasts, for all (Independent)

The Chancellor's "recovery" is neither stable, nor investment-driven, not equal, writes Prateek Buch.

5. We have abandoned our children to the internet (Guardian)

Young people are addicted to a virtual world that is designed to keep them hooked with little care for collateral damage, writes Beeban Kidron.

6. Pressure on children is getting too cruel for school (Mirror)

Parental and school-inflicted pressure has resulted in more mental health issues, such as anxiety and ­depression, than ever before, writes Fiona Phillips.

7. Esther Rantzen: Why I’m setting up a 'ChildLine’ for old people (Daily Telegraph)

Esther Rantzen on her new charity, The Silver Line, which aims to bring conversation to the silent lives of elderly Britons.

8. If the Syrian talks are to progress, the US will have to include Iran (Guardian)

Diplomatic imperatives require that Iran, Syria's main ally, is invited to the negotiating table, writes Michael Williams.

9. Does anyone know of any impediment? (Times) (£)

There is no good reason to stop Roman Catholic clergy marrying; the Church should rethink its toxic ban, writes Church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch.

10. I’ll take Obama (and Hector) over the utopists and dreamers who’d have us in or out of Syria (Independent)

I like the US President for his refusal to refusal to take an absolute stance, writes Howard Jacobson.

Cock-a-doodle-doo: the ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.
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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.