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Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. We appeased Putin before - why confront him now? (Daily Telegraph)

The deaths in Ukraine are tiny when set against the Russian president’s past crimes, writes Peter Oborne. 

2. Can the rest of Britain compete with London? (Times)

The world economy is changing radically but the British state is largely unreformed, trapped in a different timezone, writes Tim Montgomerie. 

3. Punishing London’s oligarchs is not enough (Financial Times)

The most punitive financial sanction would be to target state-controlled Russian banks, writes John Gapper. 

4. White face, blue collar, grey hair: the 'left behind' voters only Ukip understands (Guardian)

Farage's core voters are not EU-obsessed Tories, but working-class men, write Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford. Labour cannot afford to ignore their real concerns.

5. The hypocrisy of the great powers is on display again in Ukraine (Independent)

We should look in the mirror before condemning Russian expansionism, says Owen Jones. 

6. What a hypocrite Red Ed will be if he takes cash from the tainted pockets of tyrants' pal Tony (Daily Mail)

Self-interest, as well as principle, demand that Miliband shouldn’t seek a donation from Blair, says Stephen Glover.

7. If you’ve got a bear by the assets, it’s in trouble (Times)

Don’t listen to those trying to justify Russia’s actions, writes David Aaronovitch. mWe should respond to this military intervention with sanctions. 

8. The clash in Crimea is the fruit of western expansion (Guardian)

The external struggle to dominate Ukraine has put fascists in power and brought the country to the brink of conflict, writes Seumas Milne. 

9. Cameron's caught between a Rock and a hard place (Daily Telegraph)

The arrest of Cameron aide Patrick Rock is further proof that an over-reliance on a tight-knit group of old chums is damaging the Prime Minister’s status, says Sue Cameron. 

10. The British economy: rate relief (Guardian)

Given the scale of the calamity that hit the economy in 2008, worklessness has been nothing like as bad as we had any right to expect, notes a Guardian editorial.

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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.