Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Barnetts of West Lothian

Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland?

I was interested to read Iain MacWhirter’s piece in today’s Herald on the much debated West Lothian question. The particular slant he took on this occasion was to ponder the silence "in the English shires"... on the question of whether or not Westminster MPs representing Scottish constituencies should, or should not, be permitted to vote on legislation that does not affect Scotland by dint of devolution. "The dog that didn't bark..." as he describes the silence in the south. This is, as Scots know only to well, a long standing controversy, the most recent contributor to which is the SNP MP Pete Wishart who, as MacWhirter reports:

“…declared that all Scottish MPs should exercise constitutional coitus interruptus and withdraw from such [UK Parliamentary] votes [not affecting Scotland]. What right do Scottish MPs have to decide health policy in England, he says, when English MPs have no say on health policy in Scotland?”

This is all very well but there is a problem. And it is this. Changes in (health) policies in England (or more acurately, the rest of the UK) which are, under the Scotland Act, devolved to Edinburgh (including, of course, health though extending to many other policies) will – to a lesser or greater degree – impact on the total public expenditure allocations to Whitehall Departments. These allocations might rise or, in the current low-tax mentality world, most probably fall. And while not all such legislation has a public expenditure consequence, most certainly some does. And to the extent that it does, then the total public expenditure changes that result from 'English' policy choices will impact directly on the block grant available to finance spending in Scotland under the terms of that much loved institution – the Barnett Formula. So, whilst applauding Mr Wishart’s sense of self-denial, it is well to point out that a necessary corollary to his proposal is full fiscal autonomy for Scotland – an argument with which I most heartily concur. But unless that is granted, then I’m afraid to say that there remains a pressing case for ‘our’ MPs to continue to influence all policies in the rest of the UK.


Blogger The Blind-Winger Jones said...

Couldn't agree with that more.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006  
Blogger Toque said...

Whilst I agree that English legislation may have a knock-on effect on Scottish funding I do not agree that this constitutes a pressing case for Scottish MPs to interfere in English business.

Essentially you are arguing that Scotland, a country that receives over £1000/head more in central spending than England, and which has tax-raising powers, should send democratically unaccountable politicians to England to overturn the democratic will of the English nation on the basis that Scotland may loose out financially.

Scotland may not loose out, it may benefit.

Those Scottish MPs that sit in Westminster voting on health, education, transport, culture and sport are democratically unaccountable to any voter - be they Scottish or English - on those issues.

Are you seriously suggesting that their participation is justified under any circumstances? Clearly it is not.

The Scots voted for devolution. We English did not get a say in the matter. You should live with the consequences of your decision; have your devolution; ring-fence your legislation from English interference; but don't expect a continued say in ours.

If you want to continue in the style to which you have become accustomed then you should raise taxes in Scotland.

Ideally, of course, England and Scotland would have full fiscal devolution. The Barnett Formula is simply a fop to Scottish Nationalist that would herald its abolition as a concession to England and use that as a tool to break up Britain, or, more likely, take Labour seats from the Scottish cabal that is presently running England.

Friday, February 24, 2006  
Blogger roadrunner said...

Well, I agree almost entirely. My point is that the West Lothian question can only be satisfactorily resolved by Scots MPs not voting on English legislation, subject to Scots having fiscal autonomy. I favour fiscal autonomy - not only by reason of 'West Lothian', but also by dint of the more fundamental point that those spending money should be responsible for raising it.

Finally, and maybe to disagree - the English did vote for Scottish (and Welsh and Norther Irish) devolution. The relevant Act granting devlution are Acts of the Westminster Parliament and, in a representative democracy, that means that devolution is exclusively a product of English MPs. The referendums in Scotland and Wales were consultative only - albeit in political terms couldhave nipped devolution in the bud. But I'm afraid devolution is an English policy - not a Scottish one...oh, and English MPs can also reverse it by an Act of the still sobereign (UK) Westminstr Parliament.

Friday, February 24, 2006  
Blogger Toque said...

I take your point, infact I take both of them, but even though the devolution act was passed by Westminster I think it's disingenuous to claim that it had anything much to do with England.

I lived in Scotland up until two years ago so I'd like to think that I know a little about it. However, most English people were completely ignorant about devolution, and still are.

Opinion polls at the time showed that most English people supported Scottish devolution but didn't really understand its consequences; just as well that they weren't consulted. Devolution 1998 was almost entirely the work of the Scottish Labour Party + a few other groups that were involved in the Scottish Constitutional Convention. It was supported by the UK Labour and Lib Dem Parties but that's as far as English involvement went.

As far as Westminster was concerend it was just enabling the will of the Scottish people to be expressed. Whether you take the SCC to be the will of the Scottish people is another matter.

Saturday, February 25, 2006  

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