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Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Homes, health and fairer taxes could put Ed in No 10 (Daily Telegraph)

With the 2015 general election exactly a year away, voters deserve to hear the truth on Labour’s big ideas, writes Mary Riddell. 

2. Small is beautiful. The NHS needs to be broken up (Guardian)

Our once-revered health service is now a national scandal, says Simon Jenkins. After so many failed reforms, it's clear that central control no longer works.

3. My contender for the stupid socialist award (Times)

If Thomas Piketty thinks that today’s capitalism has failed, he needs to explain what he is going to replace it with, says Daniel Finkelstein. 

4. Look who's not voting Tory (Daily Telegraph)

Ethnic minorities are backing Labour in droves, writes Daniel Hannan. But one country has bucked the western trend for immigrants to support centre-left parties.

5. Can South Africa's revolution move beyond the ANC? (Guardian)

South Africa has done many things right, but its post-apartheid politicians still need to develop a truly pluralist system, says Mary Dejevsky. 

6. The stats and the markets concur: Europe is no longer an economic basket case (Independent)

Next year, if forecasts prove right, no European country will see its economy decline, writes Hamish McRae.

7.  A game for children to build on dreams (Financial Times)

‘Minecraft’, like Lego, helps turn imagination into reality, writes Helen Lewis.

8. The new Mussolini and his axis of the macho (Times)

Europe’s nationalists see Putin as an ally, writes Roger Boyes. But, as Ukraine shows, he has no respect for borders.

9. Wipe out rentiers with cheap money (Financial Times)

Cautious savers no longer serve a useful economic purpose, says Martin Wolf. 

10. Zero-hours jobseekers? Britain's given up on employee rights (Guardian)

We have developed a system where poverty can be actively enforced by brutal employers on their powerless staff, writes Zoe Williams.

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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.