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Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Russia is a hostile power, but this is not a new cold war (Guardian)

The west needs to step back from the Ukraine crisis and devise a new strategy of containment towards Vladimir Putin, says Martin Kettle. 

2. Man Utd and Britain share a problem – debt (Times)

The football club is paying off its borrowings, writes Tim Montgomerie. But for Labour, the deficit will force tough decisions on tax and spending.

3. Boris, George and selfish scheming that could hand Labour the keys to Downing Street (Daily Mail)

The Mayor and the Chancellor should leave their machinations until after the election, says Stephen Glover. 

4. This war on 'Islamism' only fuels hatred and violence (Guardian)

Tony Blair's anti-democratic tirade chimes with David Cameron's toxic manoeuvring at home and in the Muslim world, says Seumas Milne. 

5. The mysteries of the UK economy unravel (Financial Times)

Three almost universally held ‘truths’ will wither when new standards are adopted, writes Chris Giles. 

6. Rebellion is brewing against the elite that has ruined Europe (Daily Telegraph)

"The idiot in Brussels" and his like may keep their jobs for now, but trust is evaporating fast, says Peter Oborne.

7. Enjoy the sushi and hot noodles while you can, Barack – the Chinese will remain cold (Independent)

For two of the countries on his itinerary, the timing is especially poor, says David Usborne. 

8. London borough elections: Britain's other other country (Guardian)

London elected 14 more MPs than Scotland in 2010 – this other country is under parliament's nose, notes a Guardian editorial. 

9. Kim turns into the Macbeth of North Korea (Times)

Planning is already in place in case the leader’s brutality leads to his assassination and the collapse of the regime, writes Michael Burleigh. 

10. Latin rebels turn to pragmatism (Financial Times)

But take Venezuelan and Argentine reform with pinch of salt, says an FT editorial. 

Photo: Getty
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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.