Thursday, 27 October 2011

Having Your Salmond Cake and Eating it...

Driving into work the other day, I listened to the pugnacious Alex Salmond on Radio 4. He was doing his outraged Jock bit that he so loves. He insisted that whether devolution occurred for Scotland and to what extent would certainly be a matter for Scottish people to decide. It would not, he spluttered as if the words themselves offended him, be a matter for English politicians at Westminster.

Fine. That makes some sense to me. However, you can't have your (Salmond) cake and eat it - though he looks like he's failed to dodge the pudding trolley on at least a couple of occasions. The West Lothian question is one that has long existed and long been avoided. Why should English politicians be barred from deciding Scottish matters when Scottish MPs are allowed to decide on English matters? It is such a crushingly obvious flaw and one easily remedied one wonders why it hasn't been.

Certainly it is not in the interest of Labour or indeed the Lib Dems  - they have many MPs sent to Westminster from Scotland. Removing their votes could be crucial. Full devolution would cripple them both as parties, whereas the Tories would lose just Dumfriesshire. Yet since it was 'officially' mooted in 1977 Tory Governments haven't done anything about an injustice that seems sensible to deal with and is entirely beneficial to them.

Any discussion of the West Lothian Question tends also to trigger discussion of the Barnett formula; the simple formula that sets the amount of money given to the devolved authorities of the UK to spend as they wish. It is the spending of this for Scots only on free hospital parking, free prescriptions, negating university fees with which those south of the border take umbrage. The reason is that the formula gives much more (an average of about 20% more) to the other UK nations to spend per capita on its inhabitants than Parliament has to spend on English inhabitants.

Both the West Lothian Question and the Barnett formula are matters that must be resolved. The formula was not based on need nor indeed on tax revenues. What such a formula should be based upon or even whether it should even exist are still matters of contention. Either way it does not help the union, or future relations of the separated countries, to have such obvious inequality of treatment of its subjects. So Salmond can have is devolution if he wants, but if wants only Scots to vote on it, let's have a bit of vice versa at Westminster. And whether or not devolution fully occurs, there must be a re-evaluation of the Barnett formula. Well-intentioned probably, but definitely a concern - even the best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley...

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