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Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. David Cameron and Ed Miliband don't matter as much as they think (Guardian)

Both leaders are hiring Barack Obama aides for the 2015 election, but Britain will be voting for a party, not a president or a personality, writes Steve Richards. 

2. An equal society will not hinder growth (Financial Times)

Inequality damages the economy and efforts to remedy it are, on the whole, not harmful, writes Martin Wolf.

3. Whisper it, but Obamacare may be working (Times)

The health policy has been a disaster so far, but it could turn into an historic achievement, writes Justin Webb.

4. Pastor Cameron has played his hand - now it’s over to Dr Miliband (Daily Telegraph)

A community-driven health service would do the Labour Party’s prospects the power of good, says Mary Riddell. 

5. Time to invest in Britain’s future (Financial Times)

Fine words on infrastructure spending are not enough, says an FT editorial.

6. Panicked Tories are risking the UK’s future (Daily Telegraph)

Alex Salmond’s separatist bunkum on Scottish independence has triggered a case of the Westminster wobbles, writes Alan Cochrane. 

7. Let's make industrial action bigger than striking teachers (Guardian)

Parents sympathise with teachers' grievances, so they need to work out a way to take complementary action, says Zoe Williams.

8. Sacking David Moyes made no sense at all (Times)

You cannot judge a manager over a mere nine months – and you shouldn’t judge an organisation by its leader anyway, says Daniel Finkelstein.

9. Calling Ukip’s posters ‘racist’ is yet another example of shameful Westminster evasion (Independent)

It’s a classic tactic by those who want to shut down this debate, says Nigel Farage.

10. Gordon Brown: union man (Guardian)

Former PM has challenged the idea that politics and society can be neatly separated, by emphasising the question of pensions in the Scotland debate, says 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.