WGPlus (Archive)

Editorial Commentary by Simon Wane (Senior Editor)
And now the other 60m+ want their ‘vote’

So it’s sort of all over and the ‘majority has ‘expressed their ‘will’, except rUK and especially England are ‘revolting’ (and no, that is not meant to describe what some Scots think of the English), with good reason.

Just a few years ago a report concluded:

The House of Lords Committee on the Barnett Formula (BF) has today labelled the Formula 'arbitrary and unfair' and recommended it should be replaced by a system that recognises changing population levels and the differing economic needs of the devolved nations. …………………

The Barnett Formula was a short-term fix which became established as the method of deciding how much money goes to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland over the last thirty years because it was easy to administer and convenient for Treasury ministers………

"When the Committee considered a range of indicators of need it became clear that Wales and Northern Ireland have greater needs per head of population than Scotland and England - the current allocations made through the Formula give Scotland more funds, per head of population, than appears to be justified when compared to Wales and Northern Ireland and their needs. …..

"There should be a clear and straightforward method of allocating funds, decided by an independent expert Commission, so that taxpayers can be certain that their money is going where it is most needed."

The SNP have not exactly helped their argument to keep the BF by claiming that they are a ‘rich country’ (it is in fact the second wealthiest part of the UK) and spending around 19% more on public services than England.  After all, the original concept of the BF was to ‘equalise’ society, not provide free prescriptions in Edinburgh & Aberdeen, while the much more deprived residents of Cornwall are expected to pay!

We should also bear in mind that the WAG Holtham report said:

A formula for calculating relative needs across the devolved administrations that combines simplicity with a high degree of completeness and is based on real world funding allocations by the UK Government and the devolved administrations finds that Wales should receive some £115 for every £100 of funding spent on comparable activities in England.  At present, Wales receives only £112 for such activities.  For Scotland and Northern Ireland, the figures generated by the formula are £105 and £121 respectively, although these estimates would need refinement to take account of different devolved responsibilities.

The SNP counter-argument is that ‘their’ oil revenue pays for the difference, so why don’t we require all politicians to ‘put their money where their mouth is’ and tie the Scottish part of the BF to oil tax receipts?

If we take the last year’s figures as a base line, then if (as the SNP claims), the revenue increases they can keep the same level of BF and even have it increased to reflect the extra revenue. 

However, if it decreases (as the rUK government believes), the BF will be reduced they will have to cut back on their ‘freebies’ (free university education, prescriptions, hospital car parking, etc.), reduce their public sector services to English levels and / or start charging for these things as in England.

As for the ‘votes only for English MPs on English matters’ there is no way that Labour or the LibDems will agree without months (or more likely) / years of ‘horse-trading’ (if even then), as we should also anticipate the reform of the House of Lords will also be thrown into the mix.

However there is one ‘quick’ interim fix that both these two parties might find it hard to resist, which is to ‘revive’ & pass into law some bits of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill (from January 2013) that were ‘cut out’.  These were intended to amend constituency boundaries to reflect equal sized voting ‘pools’ and cut the number of MPs by 50.

Country

2010 Election 

2013 review 
proposal

England

533

502

Wales

40

30

Scotland

59

52

Northern Ireland

18

16

Total

650

600

While not a ‘satisfactory’ long-term solution for any of the parties it would go some way to counter-balance Labour’s ‘use’ of Scottish MPs to push through legislation impacting on England and further changes could (don’t hold your breath!) be made after ‘detailed debate & consensus’ at a future date.

As for claims by Labour that the Conservatives are being ‘opportunistic’ by tying the two issues together we should all remember that the modern day politician is often defined as; ‘An opportunist who will do everything necessary to climb the greasy pole’.

It is worth remembering that Scotland is still due to implement some new powers gained under the Scotland Act 2012 and not due to come into force until 2016.  So talk of rushing through even more powers in 2015 seems a ‘wee bit optimistic’ (and to be realistic quite stupid)!

The latest news out of Scotland seems to indicate that the SNP is thinking of ‘ignoring the Sovereign will of the people’ with the Telegraph writing;  …. Jim Sillars, his former mentor and a former SNP deputy leader, tweeted that the nationalists should “assert” a new rule that Scotland would become independent if separatist parties won a majority of votes and seats at the 2016 Holyrood election.

This attitude seems to be a case of the pot calling the kettle black’ with their claims that the rUK is ‘reneging’ on its devolvement promises.  What happened to the SNP’s promise to accept the result of the referendum?

Finally, Gordon Brown’s timetable is open to question in that, unless the SNP accept the extra powers proposed without any negotiation, it is difficult to see how Westminster can progress them into law by early 2015.

As it is Jim Sillars seems to wants control of everything except Defence & Foreign Affairs and for the BF to continue.  This would truly be ‘snatching victory from the jaws of defeat’ as it would be ‘virtual independence’ with rUK picking up the bills as oil receipts decline and Scotland falls into fiscal deficit.

One suspects though that even Miliband & Clegg might have difficulty selling that proposal to their MPs & voters, as the injustice of the English paying for the Scots to have ‘freebies’ and also Scottish MP’s voting on laws for England would be too much for voters to accept come the May 2015 election.

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