In pictures: Hicksville, Ohio on the eve of the election

The sleepy town at the heart of the battleground state goes to the polls today.

The sleepy town of Hicksville, Ohio, where I have been stationed, goes to the polls today with the rest of the United States.

Hicksville is a patriotic town - many houses proudly fly the stars and stripes.

Many of the houses boast the ubiquitous lawn signs outside. Josh Mandel is running for Senate for the Republicans - against the hugely popular incumbent democrat Sherrod Brown.

...but not all the yard-signs are political. This one offers "free kittens".

Hicksville is a largely affluent town - many of the houses here are large and distinguished.

This junk shop was damaged just a week ago - a truck from the grain-silo opposite rolled into the front of it, its brakes having failed.

Autumn here is beautiful - the area is known as the "rust belt" for more than just its steel industry at this time of year.

Hicksville is a largely conservative town - most of the signs are for Romney.

The town is dominated by this gigantic silo - and the railway which runs right through the town centre.

All photographs by Nicky Woolf.

Nicky Woolf is a freelance writer based in the US who has formerly worked for the Guardian and the New Statesman. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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.