Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Nick Clegg is becoming the heir to Blair (Times)

The Liberal Democrat leader is winning admirers by standing against the extremes of left and right, writes Rachel Sylvester.

2. Missiles alone cannot secure US credibility (Financial Times)

Obama has grasped the superior power of economic strength, says Gideon Rachman.

3. The long arm of Plebgate (Guardian)

The never-ending police inquiry into the treatment of Andrew Mitchell should be of concern to all democrats, says Chris Mullin.

4. Why the Mail stands shoulder to shoulder with the BBC... (Daily Mail)

The remedy being widely canvassed at Westminster is an assault on freedom of expression that should horrify all lovers of liberty, says a Daily Mail editorial.

5. Why the Lib Dems are doomed to be unpopular – and also powerful (Independent)

Clegg and his party still have cause for hope, but it has little to do with the polls, writes Steve Richards.

6. Full-face veils aren't barbaric – but our response can be (Guardian)

The veil is a perfectly proper subject for debate in a liberal democracy – so long as Muslim women are not excluded, says Maleiha Malik.

7. Vote on EU will not help Cameron’s critics (Financial Times)

The polls show a dwindling of the salience of the issue – it grips a minority and bores the rest, writes Janan Ganesh.

8. Iran and the Bomb (Times)

The west is right to seek a diplomatic solution with Tehran to defuse an emerging nuclear threat, argues a Times editorial.

9. iPhone 5S: has Apple given up on innovation? (Guardian)

Once a company renowned for breaking new ground, Apple is turning into a typical American corporation, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

10. Who lets murderers out of jail to do it again? (Daily Telegraph)

The safety of the public is woefully neglected by our prison and probation services, writes Philip Johnston.

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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.