Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Ed Miliband has a cunning plan: win power and then give it away (Daily Telegraph)

With big spending cuts inevitable after the next election, Labour’s new localism makes economic sense, says Mary Riddell. 

2. Aid money can’t work magic here – but it can overseas (Times)

More should be spent on flood management schemes in Britain, but don’t take it from the aid budget, says Tim Montgomerie. 

3. Enslave the robots and free the poor (Financial Times)

The prospect of far better lives depends on how the gains are produced and distributed, writes Martin Wolf. 

4. For devolution to work, we need talent outside London (Independent)

A century ago, civic leaders in cities and towns outside London had a power, influence and prestige comparable to the government in Westminster, writes Oliver Wright. 

5. Floods happen sometimes: the blame game is for show (Guardian)

Cameron may have rushed to the rescue, writes Simon Jenkins. But the truth is the government cannot insulate us from every evil under the sun.

6. Britain shouldn’t copy the xenophobic Swiss (Times)

The EU reaction to the immigration vote may indicate how much UK renegotiation is possible, writes Roger Boyes. 

7. The floods: coping strategy (Guardian)

David Cameron was keen to show he was a Gerhard Schröder and not a George W Bush, says a Guardian editorial. 

8. A fall guy for the floods comes out fighting (Daily Telegraph)

Lord Smith and the Environment Agency have been unfairly hung out to dry, says Geoffrey Lean. 

9. Smoking in cars: the hidden agenda behind the ban (Guardian)

The MPs who can't bear to see children in smoky cars but are unmoved by their poverty are simply demonising poor parents, says Zoe Williams. 

10. Political appointments require honesty (Financial Times)

Without robust safeguards, our institutions could be weakened, writes Patrick Diamond.

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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.