December 11, 2006

New Labour walking the independence high-wire

£11.3bn: The extra amount that the Government spent in Scotland in addition to the money it raised there

Labour seem to have got themselves into a right pickle. Up in Scotland they must convince the Scots that they do well out of the Union; that money flows into Scottish coffers from English tax-receipts, in order to fend off the electoral threat of the Scottish nationalists that carries with it the threat of Scottish independence. Down in England they must explain themselves.

Figures released today that show that Scotland had a £11bn deficit last year. This helps the Government enormously, in Scotland at least, and has already put the Scottish nationalists on the back foot.

Unfortunately for the Government, but fortunately for all fair-minded people, the case against Scottish independence can no longer be bought with English gold. Not because the Scots object, they'll happily bleed England for all she's worth, but because the English now object, with 60% of English people thinking that higher spending in Scotland is unjustified.

The Tories, sensing that they have got Labour over a barrel, have pulled an ace from their sleeve and played the English card. Step forward David Maclean MP:

Not only have we got an unbalanced Parliament in Westminster, with Scottish MPs having more rights than English MPs, we are having legislation foisted on England with the votes of Scottish MPs. We are getting fundamentally greater expenditure on people in Scotland, which is aggravating rural poverty in England. If the Government does not address this, it will find an unstoppable demand in England for separation. It is not Tory policy, it is the Government that is destroying the United Kingdom.

This is what the I have been saying for years. It's nice to have made a convert.


John Redwood rubs salt into the wound:

When it comes to certain public services, people in England do think it is unfair that devolution allows Scotland to vote for things England is not allowed.

The fact that the Tories are, at long last, addressing this issue creates a hell of a problem for the Scots at the helm of Government. How can they fend off the nationalists in Scotland with barrow loads of English cash whilst asking their English MPs to defend the policy to their English constituents, who are beginning to feel slightly impoverished when they make comparisons with their Scottish neighbours ? It's a tricky one alright and I wouldn't like to be in Gordon Brown's shoes.

It boils down to this: If the Great Divide gets any bigger the English will vote Conservative, and if it gets any smaller the Scots will vote SNP.

Cross posted from LMiaT

Posted by Gareth at December 11, 2006 09:59 PM

There are certainly a few more issues here than the objection of conservative-minded people to the alleged socialist kleptocracy which is perceived as buying a constituency in Scotland with English money and using that constituency as a voting bloc to foist hard-left legislation on England – insult to injury, so to speak. Frankly, that issue is not even particularly interesting since it has been going on since time immemorial – the Whig ascendancy in the 18th Century was institutionally Scottophobic since they feared that the smaller, poorer electoral constituencies in North Britain were soft targets for royal patronage and that those solidly-Tory Scots were happier with the centralising tendencies of royal prerogative-tyranny than the liberty-loving English. Indeed, the rhetoric of American rebels in the 1760s-70s explicitly stated again and again that Scots were bad because they were a willing tool of the executive in the re-imposition of Stuart-style tyranny over free-born Englishmen in the Americas. Tempora numquam mutantur…

No, I am much more interested in the way in which the Conservative (and Unionist?) Party is reacting to the increasing prominence of this issue in British political discourse. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they have decided to force the issue. At best, they are seeking to call the Scots’ bluff, but I don’t think so. Their speeches about banning Scottish MPs from serving as Prime Minister, preventing Scottish MPs from voting on issues which affect England, the choice of that oh-so-‘British’ oak tree as their new logo, and my personal favourite: on their website,, you can choose to visit either Conservatives (UK) or Conservatives (Scotland). A nice touch, and very enheartening, I’m sure, for those embattled Tory enclaves in Edinburgh and the Lowlands countryside.

All this, in short, points to a decision that Scotland has to go. The interesting questions are why they have so decided, and what that means for whatever units exist when the dust settles. I think the first part is fairly easy: Mr Cameron would be Prime Minister right now if the House of Commons contained only the representatives of constituencies in England; the next Labour government wouldn’t be until about 2167; taxes could be slashed without a whimper of protest; and so on. Pretty sneaky – and of course Labour, and particularly G. Brown Esq., is now the most passionately Unionist force in Britain for precisely the same reasons, which is an irony for you, if you like.

So I think we have to accept disunion. Interesting consequences for Scotland – the opportunity to be another Ireland or, better, another Isle of Man, by abolishing corporate taxes, installing a flat-rate income tax and all the other measures which only small countries can get away with these days, and setting themselves up as the Singapore of Europe, or something like what Hong Kong is to the PRC. But they won’t do any such thing, of course, because the new entity, a Tartan Republic devil a doubt, will be dominated by the hard-left and without its English subsidy will simply turn itself into a cold, damp basket-case with a predilection for deep-fried confectionary.

Interesting opportunity for whatever the rest of the UK becomes – Ulster is ambiguous because their Britishness has always been predicated on a strong Scottish connection, but I rather fancy that they’ll stick with England as the safest guarantor of the monarchy. And it’ll be a cold day in hell before Wales jumps ship, for all their dual-language roadsigns. This new entity, whatever it is, will have more years of Conservative governments per generation and consequently a steady downward pressure on taxation and regulation, which can only be a good thing. There will be absolutely no nonsense about European integration in a primarily English confederacy of this sort – at least half the pro-European voters in the UK are Scots Nats who think that a stronger EU will be a stabliser in the transition to independence; and the rest are the mid- and soft-left of the Labour Party throughout the UK who will be more or less permanently out of power after Scots independence. There is even a good chance (inshallah!) of English succession from the EU – look at the distribution of Tory and UKIP votes at the last Euro elections: combined they were huge majorities in the most populous ‘regions’ of the islands: South East and South West, East and West Midlands.

In short, I, like other Conservatives, am beginning to come to see my Unionism as a principally aesthetic objection, largely romantic in origin, to disunion, which takes no account of the possible benefits which such disunion might bring. And, faced with its near inevitability at the moment, our responsibility is not to mimic Canute ranting at the tide, but to ensure that the cold, dark, ugly waters about our feet are channelled into the directions which will do us the most good and the least damage.

Posted by: Ed at December 12, 2006 06:07 AM

I would like to highlight the graph, which is misleading in the usual way. The bottom 80% or so is simply erased from the visual. 90% is set as the zero point, giving the impression that the spending on Wales, Scotland, and N. Ireland is 3, 4, and 5 times as much as on England. For those hoping to persuade with graphs, BTW, this is the single best trick to make any difference look more dramatic: set the zero point wherever you like.

That said, the rest of the reasoning seems solid in both post and comment. Scotland desires separation for reasons that are more aesthetic and historical than they would admit, England desires continued union for similar emotive reasons. The actual consequences of a split are likely to be the reverse of what folks think they want.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at December 15, 2006 08:14 AM

Are the legal requirements for marriage still different north of the border?

Posted by: triticale at December 16, 2006 07:23 AM

"The actual consequences of a split are likely to be the reverse of what folks think they want."

Aye, and there's the rub. Schadenfreude is probably a bad motive by which to make a political calculation, but the thought of the anguish the dissolution of the Union would cause Labourites, both Nu- and Feckless Stalinist Nostalgic-, is too delicious to entirely discount. The SNP would soon rue the day, too. There are few joys fiercer than seeing your opponents hoist by their own petard, and while it's unlikely we'll see convoys of UN lorries heading north through Coldstream with cargoes of food aid, one is forced to agree with Ed that an independent Scotland makes an unlikely Celtic Tiger. And in that day there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and the masses will cry out unto the Lord, saying, "Lord! Lord! We did'nae ken!" And the Lord will reply, "Aye well, ye buggers—ye ken noo!"

Ed: do you have a blog? If not, why not?

Posted by: David Gillies at December 19, 2006 11:03 AM

There's a letter in the Telegraph from Angus MacNeil MP that demonstrates Labour's problem very well.

Posted by: Toque at December 20, 2006 06:56 PM

A blog, eh? Food for thought. However, given that I have a deficit in the technical skills required to turn on my Sky Plus box, it may be better all round if I stick to commenting on other peoples' blogs. Besides, I wouldn't be able to resist including humourous items on my own weblog, and the blogsphere doesn't need another demi-semi-serious contributor...

However, on the subject of botched devolution, I feel that the real tragedy is the missed opportunity to inaugurate a new kind of British confederacy. It is typical of New Labour that they should have gone for the kwik-fix populist choice back in the late 90s, but do you think it is too late to tear up the present devolution settlement and start again, this time having a real debate about the allocation and separation of powers throughout the whole United Kingdom, and perhaps sticking in some kind of written constitutional instrument to underwrite it? Would the Scots see it as a mean English attempt to undermine their hard-won autonomies now that we have all become so embittered?

The attraction of a fresh start is very powerful - as well as necessary to prevent some kind of ghastliness being visited upon the next generation. The UK could be brought into line with the rest of the Crown Commonwealth by adopting an ensign and using the Jack as the royal flag, as in Canada et al. This would cunningly knock the stuffing out of those blighters at Ausflag and elsewhere, whose principal argument is that their ensign doesn't represent 'shared heritage' but submission, because we use the 'shared' part as our national flag in Britain.

Closer to home, the existing subnational crosses and saltires and mythical animals and so forth would be the provincial flags and flown along with the new British blue ensign. Legally, I would be inclined to use the BNA act as a template for provincial-federal relations, not just because it's a nifty piece of constitutionalism in itself but also with an eye to incorporating the states and provinces of Canada, Australia and the British federation, which would now have near-identical federal structures, into a loose confederal union. This could be achieved without setting up new layers of government to bring us together, but instead by simply abolishing the existing ones which keep us separate.

This is my personal opinion, of course, and subject to something of a democratic deficit where the extra-UK parts are concerned; but my point is that, in horsing around with the constitution as Labour has done, the trick is not to attempt just to fix today's problem but to have a stab at opening up the possibilities and opportunities of the future, and coming up with a constitutional settlement which fixes today's problem as well as taking into account tomorrow's changes...otherwise we'll be changing it every generation like the Europeans.

So let's be imaginative...

Posted by: Ed at December 22, 2006 05:03 AM

Ed, there's a blueprint for a federal UK on a recent post at Conservative Home.

Federation is my preferred outcome but I have a few problems with it.

Posted by: Toque at December 22, 2006 05:39 AM

I thought SNP independence always had an eye on North Sea oil/gas which funds socialism nicely, viz. Norway.
Incidentally, Ed, I'd love to see what the growly old b*gg*rs on's forum make of your federation ideas.
I get wary in constitutional discussions of the trap that the State may award us Rights in some new Constitutional Bill.

Posted by: Zymandia at January 1, 2007 07:28 AM