Friday, 7 June 2013

The Axis of ‘non Devo’

'Better Together', the name for the no campaign for the Scottish Independence referendum, is officially supported by three groups: the Conservative and Unionist Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats.  Let’s look at how each of them is contributing to the ‘better together’ campaign, as well as their individual views towards Scotland.

"Don't forget about me!" Nigel Farage after proving he cares about Scotland by launching his party's Aberdeen Donside by-election campaign from a pub in Edinburgh
The Conservative and Unionist Party
Despite being the senior partner in power, the Conservatives have decided to wait until after the referendum before enacting their policies.  We do know what their intentions will be however.  This article in the Telegraph is very clear:

The main quotes to note are as follows:
Gordon Henderson, the MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, said uneven public spending was fuelling English resentment at Scotland and undermining the Union the Conservatives are committed to preserving.
“There is increasing resentment within England about this – there is a feeling that we are treated less favourably,” he added.
“The Barnett Formula is well out of date and needs to be scrapped entirely. If we are a United Kingdom – and I hope we remain so – then we should all receive the same level of support from the Government.”
This MP is calling for the Barnett formula, which allocates funding to Scotland based upon spending in England, to be replaced.  Unfortunately, he isn’t calling for the money raised in Scotland to stay in Scotland, which would increase the power and funding available to our parliament.  His solution is for all ‘regional’ funding to be limited, whilst allowing ‘UK’ expenditure (which is primarily spent in the southeast of England) to be excluded.

Westminster's view on Scotland's wealth 

This option ignores Scotland’s additional income, as well as the different circumstances we face.  Having a less densely populated nation and poorer infrastructure due to years of underinvestment, we need certain expenditures that aren’t required in London.  Under the Barnett formula, we contribute more than we receive back; this would only be exaggerated further under Gordon Henderson’s plans.
David Mowat, the MP for Warrington South, said: “We should be looking at the Barnett Formula now, thinking about moving towards a more needs-based formula.” he added.
“I appreciate that the Government doesn’t want to be looking at these things at the moment, but we should be starting to think about this now. There is no reason for us not be starting to address this issue now.”
David Mowat MP agrees that the Barnett formula should be changed.  Once again, however, he ignores where the money that gets divided comes from.  He calls for a ‘needs-based’ formula.  Do you believe our 4% share in Westminster Politics will be enough to ensure our needs are met?
Mr Selous said: “I am very encouraged that two Cabinet ministers have gone on the record to say that the Barnett Formula will not be here for ever. This is something that people in England are concerned about.”
One Conservative source within the Government suggested that the party could fight the next general election on a clear promise to reform public spending rules for the UK’s member nations.
Official Tory Party Policy (probably)
It’s safe to say what voting no means if the Conservatives win; power will be centralised in London and the Scottish Parliament will be weakened.  But what about the Labour party, what plans do they have?  Let’s look at what Labour leader Ed Miliband thinks:
“One nation Labour is about reaching out to every part of Britain, it’s about a party that is as much the party of the private sector as the public sector, a party of south as well as north, a party determined to fight for the future of the United Kingdom, and a party rooted in every community of our land.
I’ve set out a vision of what this country can be, one nation, and in 2013 we will be setting out concrete steps on making that vision a reality from business to education to welfare.”
In this speech, given by Mr Miliband in his 2013 New Year’s address, we see Labour’s attitude towards the Scottish Parliament.  If we take these words as accurate, then decisions regarding ‘business to education to welfare’ will need to be made centrally (from London).

A ‘one nation’ approach to business means that the rates relief that over 89,000 small businesses in Scotland enjoy will be gone.  A ‘one nation’ approach to education means £9,000 per year tuition fees (with the probability that they will rapidly increase in future).  A ‘one nation’ approach to welfare means that every Westminster cut will have to be implemented in full in Scotland.

"I can make decisions from London which are best for everyone," Ed Miliband (probably)
The only other conclusion we can make is that Labour is ignoring Scotland.  Mr Miliband has a little form in this regard.  Let’s look at his initial ‘one nation’ speech:
"First, we should start with language. We all know that the beginning of any real connection with a neighbour or colleague, work-mate or friend is a conversation. But we can only converse if we can speak the same language.
So if we are going to build One Nation, our goal should be that everyone in Britain should know how to speak English. We should expect that of people that come here. The last Labour government raised the language requirements for people seeking to enter Britain on work and family visas, that was the right approach.
But of course there is a minority who have come here without being able to speak English. This makes life harder for them - those who don't speak English are less able to get a good job, less able to make the most of being in this country. And it is also bad for Britain as a whole, stopping us building the bond we need between newcomers and those who have been here for generations.”
Mr Miliband doesn’t appear to have much time for those who can’t speak English.  And this isn’t a quote taken out of context, as his speech made no mention of Welsh, Scots, Gaelic or Sign Language.  Perhaps ‘One Nation’ really means ‘One Language’.

What about the third party of ‘better together’, the Liberal Democrats.  Couldn’t those of us who want a strong Scottish parliament hope that they form the next Westminster government?  Unfortunately, under their current leadership, even this won’t help devolution.

Even if we ignore the hypocrisy of their current calls for greater devolution following months of campaigning for this option to be excluded from the referendum, we can see examples of them saying one thing, and voting differently.

Their 2006 Steel Commission called for ‘a specific tax sharing mechanism for North Sea oil revenues’, and yet now the Liberal Democrat leadership shares power in Westminster, they favour oil & gas revenues being managed on a UK basis.

Nick Clegg (for some reason this was the only image of him we could find...)
When contributing to the Calman Commission, the Liberal Democrats favoured devolving corporation tax to Scotland, but their leadership voted against this during the scrutiny process of the Scotland Bill.

Air passenger duty, another area the leadership of the Liberal Democrats used to want the Scottish Parliament to have authority over, is, now they are in power, something they oppose.  We can see from these examples that when given the opportunity, the Westminster based leadership of the Liberal Democrats are just like their unionist brothers in not wanting to strengthen the Scottish Parliament.  Getting into office has made them devout believers in the Goldilocks Axiom.

The different strands of the no campaign are all in sync with one another, epitomised by former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling's starring role at the Scottish Conservative conference today.  He will fit in perfectly because when it comes to Scotland, he, the Labour Party, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are all in agreement; no independence, no direct representation, no change to the status quo. 

An independent Scotland, owing to a more proportional electoral system and a greater choice of candidates, offers a future of far greater scope than the three nearly identical visions of Westminster.  It’s clear to see the plans that the Axis of ‘non Devo’ have for Scotland.  Do we really want to pin our hopes that the ‘least worst’ gets in?
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