I watched the Independence debate for Scotland last night. It was basically what I had expected. Passion from Salmond – facts from Darling. How the Scottish electorate vote is not a matter of great concern for us in the rest of the UK. 91.7% of us will be staying together. The institutions that shape us will still be based in London. In fact my guess is that we will benefit.
I was unable to understand why if Scotland is as wealthy as Salmond claimed they continue to get a much higher level of public spending guaranteed through the national finances under the Barnett formula. They also get a much higher input from European funding over this current 7 year period. We can have some of that back.
My guess is that most high level banking jobs will migrate south as the much smaller Scottish economy could not support the risks of a banking sector that size. With good luck those jobs might go to Leeds or Manchester – with bad luck they would all just go to London. Other business would also slowly but surely migrate over the border to stay in with wider fiscal and economic certainties.
The EU is a curious one. New entrants have to sign up to the Euro. There is no guarantee that there would be a place for Scotland with at least two countries facing secessionist issues, notably Spain, almost certain to vote against the membership. Even if they were in they would have to renegotiate all the exemptions and rebates that the rest of the UK will continue to have. Actually some of the changes that will be forced upon them would be good. Most however, would not be.
Interestingly for the nation that has just hosted the Commonwealth Games they would also have to sign up as a new member for the Commonwealth as well. I doubt that this is a problem but it is not a foregone conclusion.
But that is all up to the Scottish people. If they want to float their boat into a whirlpool of uncertainty why should I bother as it will have minimal effect on me?
What I am interested in is the pressures that this will force on the way we do things within England. Whether as a bribe or part of a deliberative political process the people have Scotland have been promised that their Parliament will have much more power and control over finances than they have hitherto. There is already a major constitution deficit in this Country which manifests itself in two ways:
The MPs for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can and do vote on issues such as education and the health service which are controlled in their own areas by the regional government. That is they are voting on English only issues. Why? This anomaly will become even greater as more powers are transferred and MPs from those areas may only be voting for half the time on issues which affect their constituents.
If better Government is ensured by a transfer of powers from London to Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh why would it not be better ensured by transferring power over similar services to the English regions? We too suffer from the yoke of national proscription. We too suffer from plonkers like Pickles seeing a London problem for empty properties, housing benefits, parking and then through this narrow prism deciding on national policies which have adverse effects outside London and the South East.
This Government has talked localism but the effective control of power is still exercised through the iron grip of Westminster and Whitehall. The North-West would really flourish if we had political control with our region for fiscal policy and the development of regional activities to deliver services such as health, housing and education to meet our needs.
If you think this is a ridiculous idea then remember this. The North West of England has a population and a GDP that is very similar to Scotland. The Liverpool City Region alone has a population and a GDP which is similar in size to Northern Ireland.
The devolution for England debate was set back after a daft question was asked in a daft referendum in the North-East more than a decade ago. I doubt that I would have voted yes given the limited powers that were available to the putative new assembly. I am not a North-West nationalist (although an independent Scouseland is quite a good idea). I am however, a political pragmatist. All my experience is that when you release power to lower levels of Government that are closer to the citizen and the user the quality of services is improved and the efficiency of the service gets better.
That’s why I want devolution – to ensure that we can use taxpayer’s money effectively for the things that we know our regions and localities need. That will only be done by breaking the power of the panjandrums of Westminster and Whitehall. Westminster should only be dealing with things like foreign policy, defence, overseas aid and fiscal policies. Leave them with just this we could halve the number of MPs and London based bureaucrats. That would more than pay for the 8 new bodies that would be created (arguably London already has a regional body in place which would need marginal alteration).
So who is up for this debate? Which Party is prepared to strike a decisive blow for cost-effective services by including it in their manifesto for next year’s General Election?