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Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Obama’s false choice: war-war or jaw-jaw (Financial Times)

War – cold or hot – against Russia is not an answer but neither is pointless discussion, says Philip Stephens. 

2. Does Boris belong in the zombie parliament? (Times)

Life is draining out of the Commons, writes Rafael Behr. The real action is elsewhere – with the likes of Nigel Farage and Alex Salmond.

3. £5m for the Barclays boss is disgusting. But so is £71 for the unemployed (Guardian)

Nearly 500 Barclays staff are paid more than £1m, writes Polly Toynbee. Meanwhile, those hit by the recession continue to suffer. This can't go on.

4. Strip banks of the power to create money (Financial Times)

The giant hole at the heart of our market economies needs to be plugged, writes Martin Wolf. 

5. Why the Tories care more about bins than Brussels (Daily Telegraph)

Conservatives are more interested in the local elections because they are thinking ahead to the 2015 campaign, says Isabel Hardman. 

6. The NHS needs a life-saving idea – how about a health tax? (Guardian)

We rail against general taxation yet clamour for the NHS to be replenished, writes Peter Wilby. What's needed is a bold solution.

7. Cameron’s green credentials are being blown away (Times)

The party’s position on wind farms is inconsistent with other energy policies, says Peter Franklin. 

8. Social media is now the biggest jihadi training camp of them all (Daily Telegraph)

Unable to control online radicalism, police have little option but to plead with Muslim women to dissuade their menfolk from enlisting, writes Fraser Nelson. 

9.  Pope John XXIII’s ‘missing’ second miracle is that he knew he was fallible (Independent)

Cardinals never know what will become of a cleric once he dons, Clark Kent-like, those papal robes, writes Peter Popham. 

10. Cornwall is far more than just a county - and now it’s official (Daily Telegraph)

This week’s decision not only recognises our glorious past, but offers hope for the future, says Petroc Trelawney. 

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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.