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Friday, 10 December 2010

Are the wheels coming off the Union?

The Daily Politics today – Jo Coburn, with guest commentators Nick Watt, chief Political Correspondent of the Guardian, and Iain Dale, a Tory blogger, talks to Linda Fabiani, MSP of the Scottish National Party about Scotland and the Barnett Formula.

The lead-in to this was a piece about the Barnett Formula, and featured its eponymous inventor. The Noble Lord has mixed feelings about his long-running invention, taking some pride in its longevity and the fact that his name will be remembered for a formula, but unhappy about the way it favours Scotland (and Wales and Northern Ireland), as he sees it.

Linda Fabiani acquits herself more than honourably in the face of Jo Coburn’s rather hostile – and confused - questioning and what rapidly became ill-concealed indignation from Iain Dale, a Tory blogger and commentator with views that could fairly be described as right of centre. Political programmes seem to have a great affection for Iain Dale, but are less inclined to feature equally influential bloggers of other political persuasions. (I do not include myself in this category, but the question is academic, since the likelihood of an SNP blogger appearing on The Daily Politics roughly equates to the possibility of Alex Salmond being invited to grace the benches of the House of Lords.)

Jo Coburn’s opening question set the anti-Scottish tone firmly -

Is it fair that Scotland receives more public spending per head than anywhere else in the UK? In fact, it’s £1500 more per person than England?”

Linda Fabiani replied that a recent survey showed public expenditure per head being higher in London.

Jo Coburn simply ignored this, and repeated that Scotland got more than anyone else except Northern Ireland, which seemed to contradict her earlier assertion that Scotland received more than anywhere else in the UK. Perhaps Jo thinks Northern Ireland is not in the UK?

Linda patiently developed her earlier point, and said that when examined regionally, certain English regions received more than Scotland and Wales.

Jo Coburn resolutely stayed in her don’t-confuse-me-with-the-facts mode of questioning, repeatedly using the words fair and fairness. She then moved into a ludicrous line of questioning about why Scottish students should not have to pay tuition fees, nor students from other European countries, when English students do have to pay fees.

Why on earth she - or anyone – thought that this was a question for Scotland to answer beggars belief. Scotland spends its allocation as it sees fit – that is what devolved government is about. The answer as to why English students pay when the others don’t is a matter for the UK and the EU, not Scotland.

It would appear that, in the Alice in Wonderland world of UK political commentary, it is expected that Scotland, with a devolved government, should somehow limit such fiscal freedom as it has to avoid doing anything different, or necessary, in order to maintain consistency with the backward social and educational policies of England.

To do this would negate the whole purpose of devolved government in the first place.

Linda Fabiani heroically restrained herself from stating the blindingly obvious – that a party committed to the independence of Scotland does not base its social policy on what the failing and confused UK chooses to do. But she could not resist offering the comment that England was free to treat its student how it saw fit, but based on the evidence of the last few days, was not making a very good job of it. Linda was anxious to help the confused Jo Coburn understand the realities of devolved government.

Jo rapidly changed tack. “Can you guarantee that you’re still going to be able to guarantee that you’ll still have free Scottish universities?

Linda did not fall into this most obvious of elephant traps, simply saying that there was a review in the light of the budget cuts, and when that review was completed, decisions would be made. But she reiterated that there would be no fees for students in Scotland.

It fell to Nick Watt, the Guardian’s man, make the point that Linda Fabiani was too courteous to make – that she, as a Scottish MSP and a member of a a party committed to leaving the United Kingdom, didn’t really care what people in England think, nor what England did.

He wrenched the floundering Jo Coburn back to the realisation that she and The Daily Politics should be putting the question to the Unionist parties, Labour and the LibDems, who agreed that Scotland should get this funding. not to the SNP or the Scottish Government.

He also posed the $64,000 question for the Scottish Unionist parties – and the UK government – how can you justify the continuation of a perceived inequality – remaining in the Union with favourable treatment? Scotland was having it both ways …

Iain Dale, who had been fizzing quietly with Unionist indignation, entered the discussion, saying that it was “an absolute outrage” that English taxpayers were subsidising Welsh and Scottish students at the English universities. “The only solution is devolved government for England …

Well, no – it’s not, Iain. The other solution is independence for Scotland and Wales, with Northern Ireland left as the sole remaining colony of the resulting rump of the United Kingdom, which has been a very disunited kingdom for some time now.

Dale concluded by adding “ …if we had a proper English Parliament, we wouldn’t be sending all this money up to Scotland to waste.

There you have it – providing free higher education for the generation that holds the future of Scotland in their hands is waste, in Iain Dale’s view: providing free personal care for the elderly, free bus passes, or indeed any of the deeply human social policies of the Scottish Government is waste, in the Unionist world view. We know that, Iain – that why we want to get the hell out of the Union, sooner rather than later.

The UK social policies that he espouses, and defended earlier in the programme, have led to riots on the streets of London, and the disaffection and alienation of the flower of England’s youth. The unionist conspiracy of big business, the monarchy, the rich and the military industrial complex, aided and abetted by the last labour Government and compounded by the ConLib Coalition has wrecked the countries economy, and is now attacking the poor, the vulnerable and the young.

The young people of England have nowhere to go politically. Betrayed by Labour for thirteen years, betrayed by the Liberal Democrats and now by the Tories and their LibDem puppets, they are left asking themselves what political avenues are left open to them.

 There are sinister forces at work who will be only to eager to exploit their confusion and despair and their youthful energy and idealism. It is already happening – the Heir to the Throne and his consort have already been threatened and humiliated in the heart of their capital city, despite a massive police presence.

Scotland can only watch, saddened by what is happening to England and England’s people, and hoping fervently that they find a democratic and peaceful political solution to their problems.

But Scotland’s young people and the Scottish electorate have a choice, one that will determine the future of Scotland for a generation or more, and that choice must be made wisely in May 2011. Choose the SNP – and choose to stand as a free and independent nation once again.

Saor Alba!


  1. Absolutely brilliant post Peter, keep it up.

  2. Strange how two people can watch the same thing and see something entirely different. But seeing as you make no secret of your political bias - each to his own.

    However you say - "Iain Dale, who had been fizzing quietly with Unionist indignation" ... and then go onto sneer at his call for an English Parliament. If he is indeed calling for an English Parliament he can not be justly called an 'Unionist' now can he?

    Such inaccuracies reflect on your credibility and make you out to be nothing more than another anti-English ranter - which of course you would never be ... would you??

  3. I don't sneer at his call for an English Parliament, Michele - I support it fully. However, Iain Dale wants a devolved English Parliament within the Union - as a committed right-wing Tory, all his blogs reveal that he is a unionist, and he makes no secret of the fact, nor should he. He wants Scotland to remain as a colony of the UK - that's where we differ.

    I am not anti-English - I lived in England for ten years, and I have many friends, business contacts and relatives who are English. I admire England and the English people - it is the Union and the rump of the British Empire I dislike.

    Thanks for your contribution.