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Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Osborne must show he is on the side of those who suffer (Daily Telegraph)

The Chancellor will struggle to silence Labour’s charge that his Budget measures are unfair, writes Mary Riddell. 

2. Prise Ukraine from Putin’s claws (Financial Times)

Russia’s revanchism has to be stopped, even for its own sake, says Martin Wolf. 

3. The Budget is just a gimmick. So let’s ditch it (Times)

Tinkering with taxes every few months may play to the crowd but it’s a disaster for business and prosperity, says Daniel Finkelstein. 

4. Afghanistan: as China forges new alliances, a new Great Game has begun (Guardian)

A common interest in central Asia over Uighur and Taliban militancy is bringing together Beijing and the United States, says William Dalrymple. 

5. The focus is on Crimea, but next is the fight for Ukraine (Guardian)

Despite today's shooting, the west must not forget that the pivotal struggle is over control of the eastern heartlands, writes Timothy Garton Ash. 

6. The Sunni revolt in Syria has given al-Qa’ida more power in Iraq (Independent)

The western powers failed to see that by supporting the armed uprising in Syria, they would inevitably destabilise Iraq, writes Patrick Cockburn. 

7. Putin thinks the west is as weak as jelly. And the tragedy is he's right (Daily Mail)

We neither need nor wish to fight Russia, but the west must abandon its dismally failed attempt to appease its leader, says Max Hastings. 

8. Couples on £300K should pay for their own nannies (Times)

We tax one-earner couples much more than other nations, writes Jill Kirby. 

9. George Osborne, it's not your job to look after the very rich (Guardian)

Britain will always have a wealth gap, writes Simon Jenkins. What's shocking is how governments conspire in its obscene unfairness.

10. Our outrageous tax system isn’t just bad economics. It’s immoral too (Independent)

Those in Westminster have dragged people into a spiral of excessive taxation, ripping the heart of the productivity of our economy, says Nigel Farage. 

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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.