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Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Scotland’s independence referendum could be a dry run for a Euro In/Out vote in 2017 (Daily Telegraph)

The arguments being made for the Union could soon be used to defend Brussels, writes Benedict Brogan. 

2. The budget: look out for even more of George Osborne's sham pledges (Guardian)

The chancellor likes to appear committed to shrinking the deficit with cuts – but it's a fraud, just as his budget will be, says Polly Toynbee. 

3. Wolf at the door is the Tories’ best ally (Financial Times)

The cause of deficit-reduction keeps the coalition together and makes Labour look feckless, says Janan Ganesh. 

4. It’s the great Lib Dem-Tory economic love-in (Times)

If there had only been only one party in power, there would have been more differences than in the present coalition, says Rachel Sylvester. 

5. Politicians have stopped teaching. We can’t be surprised that voters are not enthused (Independent)

Tony Benn’s nerve-shredding impact on Labour has led to an extreme outbreak of caution when modern politicians speak, writes Steve Richards. 

6. George Osborne's budget will be for the privileged few (Guardian)

The chancellor's policies will increase inequality – which is not only socially unjust but bad for our economy, writes Ed Miliband. 

7. Sanctions won't scare the Bear (Daily Mail)

The smart Russian money will be well out of the reach of the western powers, writes Alex Brummer. 

8. Is George Osborne really a Conservative at all? (Times)

The Chancellor is no high priest of austerity, writes Ed Conway. Other countries are cutting more than Britain.

9. Economy: growing pains (Guardian)

The failure of the economic recovery to translate into a political resurgence for the Conservatives is striking, notes a Guardian editorial. 

10. History textbooks can start wars (Financial Times)

The imposition of an authorised version of events turns education into brainwashing, writes Gideon Rachman. 

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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.