This is your country, No voters


This is your country, No voters


Preserved for posterity in case of sudden vanishing, but also because we just couldn’t face writing another post about “The Vow” today.

This is a real thing that you can buy on Amazon and iTunes. If you chose to be British last month, this is what “British” means in 2014. Enjoy it.

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Source: Wing Over Scotland

A good start

Thought I’d share a little teaser of my upcoming Devo Files, which will discuss Inverclyde MP Iain McKenzie and the ridiculously fragile New Labour hold over the constituency:

If all that independence is about is getting away from a Government for whom Scotland did not vote, I would ask Members to join me in seeking independence for Inverclyde. We have never voted for an SNP Government. We have a Labour MP, a Labour MSP and a Labour-controlled council, yet twice we have had to suffer under an SNP Government. The difference is that we understand and accept democracy. I have visited north-east England many times, and I have always believed that the future of Scotland and of north-east England lie together in one country—the UK.
– HC Deb, 4 March 2014

Inverclyde has never voted Conservative either, yet look how often we got a Tory government. You seem perfectly happy with that state of affairs. 27,000+ of your constituents clearly are not. Maybe that’s part of the reason New Labour control over Inverclyde has been plummeting since 2011?

In 2010, 20,993 (56%) voted for New Labour, compared to 6,577 (17.5%) for the SNP. In your own election in July 2011, the Labour vote plunged to 15,118 (53.8%), while the SNP’s rose to 9,280 (33%). That’s not even a Parliamentary term, that’s one year. In one year, New Labour in Inverclyde lost 4,014 votes, while the SNP gained 2,703. That’s a majority of 14,416 in 2010 to 5,838 in 2011. A 59.5% decrease in New Labour’s majority. In one year. What happened to those votes, Mr McKenzie?

Your New Labour MSP friend Duncan McNeil doesn’t have it much better. In 2007 the New Labour for Inverclyde vote was 12,753 compared to 8,236 SNP; in 2011, New Labour remained practically static at 12,387, while the SNP rose to 11,976. Duncan McNeil’s been the New Labour MSP for Greenock & Inverclyde since 1999, and has consistently hovered around the 40-45% mark: in contrast, the SNP vote has consistently risen since 2003.

The council? It’s on the tightest rope of all: the last election saw Labour with 10 seats compared with the SNP’s 6, the Liberal Democrats’ 2, the Conservatives’ 1, and the independent Ronnie Ahlfeld. With Vaughn Jones coming out in favour of independence and subsequent resignation, Labour’s overall control of the council was lost. Either they form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, or even the Conservatives – as has been done in Aberdeen and Stirling. So in the same year Mr McKenzie proudly cited his constituency’s Labour-controlled council, New Labour lost overall control – and it wasn’t even an election.

All this, and not even counting the fact that Inverclyde’s SNP has flourished from 200 members to over 1,000 in the space of a month.

Hilariously, Mr McKenzie used his victory speech to try and spin this catastrophic turn of events for New Labour into some sort of victory:

Remember, only weeks ago the SNP came within 511 votes of winning here, but tonight the voters of Inverclyde have rejected them – this time giving myself and the Scottish Labour Party not a 500 majority, but over 5,000 of a majority.

Labour’s fightback has started right here in Inverclyde – my hometown.

So instead of being a loss of around 9,000 votes, it was “only” a loss of 4,000. After one year.

No, Mr McKenzie, Inverclyde has never voted SNP, any more than Inverclyde has ever voted Conservative. For the moment, Inverclyde is still New Labour. But for how much longer will that be the case?

http://wingsoverscotland.com/a-good-start/
Source: Wing Over Scotland

Professor Curtice, saviour of Scotland

There’s a rather curious piece in today’s Sunday Times by the UK’s only known psephologist, the estimable Prof. John Curtice of Strathclyde University. In it he rather blows his cover of impartiality by framing his comments as an anti-SNP warning, but nevertheless raises an interesting point, while adding to the enormous pressure on the unfortunate Smith Commission.

It’s worth taking a moment to ponder the impossibility of its task.

devocurtice

It’s extremely difficult to imagine what possible satisfactory conclusion Lord Smith of Kelvin and his chums could arrive at during the few short weeks they have to ponder the conundrum of Scottish devolution. The government they ultimately answer to has set its heart on complete devolving of income tax, a position strenuously opposed by Scottish Labour for reasons we detailed before the referendum.

But Gordon Brown, the public face of “The Vow” and the only Labour politician even remotely trusted (for reasons which continue to bewilder us) by Scots in the context of more powers, couldn’t have come out much more strongly against that proposition, in so far as it can be said that the former PM has any sort of remotely coherent idea of what the new settlement should be. (Which is to say, not far at all.)

And the Commission’s conclusion will be delivered in the context of an imminent UK general election which could render its findings completely meaningless. If the Commission says “devolve 100% of income tax” and Labour wins the election, the chances of that decision being implemented are surely somewhere between microscopic to nil, given that it flies in the face of both Brown’s stated position and that of the party itself in its laughable “devo nano” document, which was supposedly Labour’s final, definitive settled will on the subject just six months ago.

If David Cameron retains the keys to 10 Downing Street, on the other hand, what sane person could believe that he’d choose to implement only partial devolution of the tax, given how desperately his party wants to shift it all north in order to reduce the voting power of Scottish MPs – especially in what would be very likely to be an extremely fragile coalition/minority administration?

Immediately, then, the Commission is – at best – a hostage to English electoral whims. More realistically, it’s simply a complete waste of time. Whoever wins in 2015 will do whatever they like with regard to Scottish devolution, and Lord Smith’s report will be consigned to the dustbin as swiftly as Lord Jenkins’ one on electoral reform was when Labour won in 1997, having solemnly promised to deliver on its findings.

The prospective devolution settlement, then, faces a massive problem of legitimacy. And attentive readers will of course already know than all three of the Westminster parties’ plans amount to a fiscal disaster for the Scottish Parliament, which would be forced into massive extra cuts or tax rises to fill the multi-billion pound black hole that would result from them.

The only solution to a lack of democratic legitimacy is the voice of the people. Professor Curtice’s suggestion is not only a political answer but Scotland’s only hope of averting economic catastrophe. To impose a damaging devolution settlement without the explicit approval of Scots would be a risky move which would only inflame nationalist sentiment, with a Holyrood election looming the following year.

(And indeed, it’d be interesting to see what appeared in the parties’ 2015 manifestos, since their desires seem to be fundamentally irreconcilable even before considering whether Lord Smith and his colleagues feel obliged to offer some sort of tokenistic concession to the SNP’s good-faith participation.)

And that second referendum campaign, with the 2014 Yes parties very likely to be campaigning for a No vote and the possibility of Labour having to join them, would be a pretty mess to watch unfold indeed.

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Source: Wing Over Scotland

The man with no plan

The Guardian today carries an article by Gordon Brown, which echoes the content of his speech to the House Of Commons on Thursday. We’ve read it over and over again trying to make any sort of coherent sense out of it, but we’ve drawn a blank. The mighty architect of “The Vow” appears to have not the slightest idea what he actually proposes as a constitutional settlement for the UK and Scotland.

pixelbroon

But perhaps we’ve missed something.

“There is no democratic country in the world whose main lawmaking body is made up of a first and second class of elected representatives.”

Get used to this. Every time Brown has risen to his hind legs in Parliament since the referendum his overriding concern has been the status of Scottish Labour MPs, ie him.

“And there is no state in the world, federal or otherwise, in which one part of the country pays national income tax while the other part is exempt. Yet these are the two principal constitutional proposals that have come from the Conservative party in its kneejerk response to Ukip’s English nationalism and an ill-thought-out drive to impose what is commonly called “English votes for English laws” (Evel).”

This isn’t actually true. The Tories have been demanding EVEL since long before the rise of UKIP. The No vote delivered in Scotland by Labour merely presented them with a golden opportunity.

“Under their plans, ‘the mother of parliaments’, once lauded as a beacon for fairness and equality before the law, would become home to the first elected body in the world to decree one of its constituent parts – Scotland – half in, half out of its lawmaking process. Second-class status for Welsh and Northern Irish representatives might soon follow.”

The problem Brown has is that EVEL is in itself an absolutely fair and reasonable proposition. Why should England not enjoy the same status as Scotland? Why should it alone be subject to the interference of MPs whose constituents are not subject to the laws they pass? By definition, EVEL makes no difference to Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish voters. The only entity which suffers is the Labour Party.

“But this is not simply a Westminster insiders’ issue, relevant only to the sensitivities of MPs; it is about the status of each nation in what has hitherto been one United Kingdom. By according a first-class status to England within Westminster and a second-class status to the rest, the constitution would be changed for ever. And the government of the day would become a servant of two masters, with its ability to govern depending one day on the votes of the whole of the UK and the next day on English votes only.”

Exactly the current situation faced by the Scottish Government, of course.

“Taken alongside the Conservative proposal to devolve all income tax decisions to the Scottish parliament, Scottish MPs would find themselves excluded not just from ordinary English lawmaking but from some of the most controversial and sensitive decisions a parliament can make – on income tax and the budget.”

But if those decisions only affect England, because Scotland is making its own decisions about taxation and spending, what’s wrong with that? Brown has no answer – other than vested Labour interest – to why Scottish MPs should vote on matters only concerning England.

His premise is false in any event – the budget includes (for example) military spending, which is not and never will be devolved, and therefore Scottish MPs could not be excluded from any vote on it.

“Chaos would follow: for, once Scotland and then Wales and Ireland became exempt from contributing to UK income tax – but still benefiting from it through Barnett formula allocations – English consent for pooling and sharing across the UK would quickly dissipate. Whether by malice or by mistake, the Conservatives would have done the Scottish nationalists’ job for them.”

This is complete gibberish. There already isn’t “English consent for pooling and sharing across the UK”. In poll after poll the English public expresses bitter resentment of what it (wrongly) believes to be its subsidy of Scotland.

If you had wanted to kill off the UK, you could not have devised a more lethal way. ‘A nation divided against itself cannot stand,’ Lincoln famously said, quoting Mark’s Gospel. He could have added the rest of that text: ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.’”

Florid cant.

fcant

“The starting gun for this developing constitutional crisis was fired the morning after the Scottish independence referendum, with the prime minister’s announcement of Evel. When carefully analysed, his was not a proposal for greater English rights but for fewer Scottish rights. Everything that has been said since that fateful morning has confirmed that the central Tory proposition is the reduction of Scots’ voting rights in the Commons – an issue material to the referendum that should have been announced before, rather than after, the vote.”

As noted above, the Tories have made no secret of their desire for EVEL since the day the Scottish Parliament reopened in 1999.

“The failure to do so has fuelled the demonstrations, petitions and allegations of betrayal, bad faith and breach of promise, which have dominated the Scottish debate ever since.”

No, Mr Brown, what’s dominated the debate ever since is the collapse of the vow which YOU staked your reputation on and which you gave your solemn personal promise the Tories were with you on.

“What can end this constitutional impasse? It requires us to recognise that the fundamental problem of our UK constitution is not that English MPs can’t vote on Scottish issues – that is merely a symptom of the problem – but a basic imbalance in the size of the four nations. England is 84% of the union, Scotland 8%, Wales 5% and Northern Ireland 3%. When translated into representation at Westminster, the 533 English MPs can, at any time they choose, easily outvote the 117 parliamentarians from the rest of the UK.”

If only someone had said.

“Recognising this permanent dominance in numbers, every generation has had to find a way to balance the power of the majority nation to impose its will with some protection for the minority nations. This is not a problem unique to Britain. The US, Australia and many other countries have had to find ways of managing the gross inequalities in the size of their constituent parts. Their constitutional protections for minorities show that a blanket uniformity of provision – such as Evel mimicking Scottish votes for Scottish laws – does not ensure fairness of treatment.”

Let’s hear your proposals, then.

“So, as the price for keeping the American union together, California accepts that it has just two members of the US Senate to represent its 38 million citizens, the same as Wyoming has to represent its 583,000 people. Similarly, the price New South Wales pays for Australian unity is one senator for every 580,000 people, in contrast to Tasmania’s one senator for every 40,000.”

Logically, then, Mr Brown – who promised Scots the closest thing to federalism possible, remember – must be proposing to give Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland equal numbers of MPs? This should be interesting.

“And nor is fair treatment for minorities in the Spanish senate, the Swiss council of states, the South African national council of provinces, and the Brazilian, Nigerian and Mexican senates achieved by the crude uniformity of the Evel approach, but through special arrangements that recognise minority needs in their states or provinces.”

Which apparently we’re not going to get to hear about.

“So there is a way forward that can keep the UK together, one that recognises the sizes of each nation and region and is founded on both a sensitivity to minorities and self-restraint by the majority. It involves retaining income tax as a shared tax, and ensuring the Scottish parliament is accountable for the majority of its spending.”

Woah, hang on a minute. The only possible logical conclusion of “retaining income tax as a shared tax” in the context of the above is to keep it ALL at Westminster. Since income tax revenue isn’t ring-fenced, and since its level is determined by ALL government income and spending, you can’t just arbitrarily assign SOME of it and expect the sums to add up.

If you don’t give Scotland control of its own revenues, you can’t (fairly) demand that it takes responsibility for its own spending. The only rational solution is to keep 100% of income tax at Westminster. Brown appears to be demanding that Labour in fact completely abandon its plans for the partial devolution of the tax.

That would, of course, be a welcome shift in position. This site, and senior MPs in Brown’s own party like Ian Davidson, have repeatedly pointed out the massive damage that partial devolution of income tax would do to Scotland. Yet in reality Brown makes no such call, issuing only a weasel-worded pretence that some fantasy middle ground can be found, which he fails to identify.

“But it could also involve changes in Commons committee procedures that would recognise an English voice on English issues without undermining the equal status of MPs – while enthusiastically supporting more powers for Wales, Northern Ireland and forms of devolution that meet the distinctive needs of English cities, counties and regions.”

Such as?

“No longer should we see Britain as a centralised, unitary state founded on an undiluted Westminster sovereignty, but as a diverse partnership of nations, cities and regions that pool and share risk, rewards and resources as part of one United Kingdom. Ironically, under the logic of the Conservative proposals, London MPs could be excluded from voting on matters devolved to the London assembly.”

That does indeed seem logical. In fact, it could very reasonably be argued that it was the dictionary definition of “devolution”. What’s your point?

“But there is a bigger truth: that the most powerful part of England – London – has secured the greatest devolution of decision-making in England. It is time we supported greater devolution to empower England’s other great cities and regions.

By embracing every nation and region, and every interested civic group, in a 2015 constitutional convention, the voice of England would be heard – and not in angry opposition to the voices of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but alongside them.”

Once again, Mr Brown appears to have forgotten to include his actual proposals. He’s seemingly just told us that the four constituent parts of the UK should each have the same number of MPs and that income tax shouldn’t be devolved, but has failed to expand on these startling and radical ideas.

At the same time he’s told us that Birmingham and Bournemouth and Bristol should all get devolved powers, but with no details on how that could or should be implemented. He appears to be proposing that there should be TWO extra levels of government introduced within the UK – regional and city devolution, on top of the existing national devolution – but offers no hints as to the how, the why, the when or the how much. He barely refers to Scotland specifically at all.

This, readers, is the alleged intellectual heavyweight of the Labour Party in Scotland. This fatuous grab-bag of woolly head-in-the-clouds aspirations more suited to the simple-minded idealism of a high-school debating society is what passes for the cutting edge of Labour thinking.

A survey this week found that just 15% of Scots trusted Labour (and the same number trusted Mr Brown personally) to deliver more powers to the Scottish Parliament. The drivelling excuse for a speech above suggests that Mr Brown himself probably isn’t one of them. Because not only does he have no ability – as a largely absent opposition backbencher – to deliver such powers, it seems abundantly clear that he doesn’t have the remotest notion of what they should be.

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http://wingsoverscotland.com/the-man-with-no-plan/
Source: Wing Over Scotland

A fair assessment


A fair assessment


Mark Steel in the Independent, 16 October 2014:

“Maybe one way they can reverse this is to try a more forthright approach, and to start with they could say: ‘If the Scottish are so daft as to believe our vow, maybe that proves they’re not fit to run their own country anyway, the idiots.’”

Craig Murray said something quite similar recently from the other side, as it were, and at the moment we’re finding it quite tough to disagree with either of them.

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http://wingsoverscotland.com/a-fair-assessment/
Source: Wing Over Scotland

Where it matters

http://wingsoverscotland.com/where-it-matters/
Source: Wing Over Scotland

The shattering of The Vow


The shattering of The Vow


We didn’t notice this piece in Scotland on Sunday three weekends ago, because we were on holiday and, well, it was in Scotland on Sunday. But it seems odd that nobody (including SoS) has picked up on its ramifications at the time or since, because if it’s true then it would officially and conclusively mark the complete abandonment of the “vow” all three Westminster party leaders made to Scottish voters prior to the referendum, just 10 days after Scots voted to believe that vow.

eggpromise

And you’d think that’d be bigger news.

“After Better Together’s last-ditch promises of a speedy and secure transfer of powers to Holyrood, there is recognition within Labour that it must go further than the limited transfer of tax varying powers it outlined when it published its Devolution Commission in March.

Sources close to the talks say Labour is now contemplating ditching its original plan on income tax, which proposed giving Scotland control of 15 pence out of the 20 pence basic rate, and limited Holyrood’s control over taxing the highest earners.

In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, the Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, has demanded that Westminster transfer power over raising the whole of income tax in Scotland as a minimum requirement in the devolution of powers promised by the pro-UK party leaders.

Indicating that full control of income tax bands and rates is her party’s red line issue, Davidson said this was her ‘top priority’.”

(We’re not sure if a “red line issue” is more or less serious than the “line in the sand” Davidson drew in 2011 insisting that there should be no new devolution at all after a No vote, but we’ll let that pass for now.)

The problem is that if all income tax is devolved, that WILL mean the end of the Barnett Formula, and a disaster for Scotland. And that’s not us saying that, but some of the most senior MPs in Scottish Labour.

“Scottish public spending would suffer a cash squeeze under plans to devolve all tax-raising powers to Holyrood, a leading Labour MP has warned.

Glasgow MP Ian Davidson said the Barnett formula that gives Scotland a bigger share of UK government spending would be lost if the party go for full tax powers for the Scottish Parliament.

The Labour chairman of the influential Commons Scottish affairs committee said it ‘would undoubtedly be to Scotland’s detriment’.

Or more recently:

“What makes for a lethal cocktail is that the Conservative party, as confirmed by the Right Hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), wants to devolve 100% of income tax to the Scottish Parliament.” (Gordon Brown, House of Commons, 14 October 2014)

And such a move would, of course, categorically break David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg’s solemn pledge to the people of Scotland:

“And because of the continuation of the Barnett allocation for resources, and the powers of the Scottish Parliament to raise revenue, we can state categorically that the final say on how much is spent on the NHS will be a matter for the Scottish Parliament.”

The Prime Minister faithfully promised the continuation of Barnett, yet his Scottish lieutenant is telling us not only that she wants to pursue a course of action that would end it, but that that course of action is “a red line issue” in the negotiations.

And we’re told that even though the Labour architect of the vow considers such an idea “a lethal cocktail”, and the Labour chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster thinks it would be “undoubtedly to Scotland’s detriment”, the party is going to sign up to it anyway in exchange for a few crumbs of useless welfare powers.

We must, naturally, allow for the real possibility that Scotland on Sunday was talking complete rubbish. Our bank balance is certainly testament to the fact that the paper isn’t above printing lies. But the Smith Commission is going to have to square a very difficult circle to come up with a plan that the three Unionist parties can sign up to without making liars of all of them instead.

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http://wingsoverscotland.com/the-shattering-of-the-vow/
Source: Wing Over Scotland

The pooling and the sharing

Gordon Brown is expected to be up on his hind legs again in the Commons today – a second appearance in a week that’ll almost certainly be the mainly-absent opposition backbencher’s busiest period of activity in Parliament since the 2010 election.

He’ll be inexplicably getting time to lay out his views on devolution again, despite having absolutely no power to implement them, and it seems reasonable to imagine that he’ll spend a fair bit of time on the contents of the infamous “vow” he brokered days before the Scottish independence referendum.

vowtop

One line of that vow ran “We agree that the UK exists to ensure opportunity and security for all by sharing our resources equitably across all four nations”. And as “pooling and sharing resources” was Mr Brown’s catchphrase during the campaign, we thought it might be worthwhile taking a look at what that means in practice.

Readers of this site are probably well aware by now of the functions of the Barnett Formula, which allocates public spending to the four constituent parts of the UK. But there’s also UK government spending that’s exempt from Barnett rules, and which therefore does NOT generate funding for Scotland (known as “consequentials”), because it’s deemed to be for the benefit of the whole UK.

Such projects are contained within the National Infrastructure Plan (NIP). It’s not all that easy to get a detailed regional breakdown of what’s in the plan, but an alert reader pointed us to the diagram below, which comes not from a UK government website but that of the law firm Clyde & Co.

nip2014

(The full document can be found here.)

You’ll note that at a glance it’s possible to see that almost none of the £377 billion due to be spend on NIP projects is earmarked for Scotland. Other than a largely incidental benefit from investment in the Trans-Pennine railway, which mostly serves the north of England, the only one is the carbon-capture plant at Peterhead.

HM Government, while reluctant to break spending down regionally, does however, supply some public data about NIP. It can be found at a hub on gov.uk, and financial details are available in this PDF document. It explains the sources of funding, and Tables A.1 and B.1 reveal that of the £377bn total, just over £136 billion will be taken completely or substantially from the public purse, which means that around £12bn of it will be provided by taxpayers in Scotland.

The tables also allow us to deduce how much of the spending Scotland will get.

tablea1

tableb1

Readers can study the fine detail for themselves. But to cut a long story short, Scotland will get just £1bn of public spending back in return for its £12bn. The rest of the UK will “pool” £136bn and “share” almost every penny of it straight into England. The only thing in Wales is a new nuclear power station at Wylfa funded mainly by the private sector (although taxpayers will almost certainly be expected to subsidise the corporate investment for decades by paying well over the odds for the electricity produced, as they will with Hinkley Point C), and Northern Ireland gets nothing at all.

Projects paid for by the public and deemed to be benefitting the whole UK include an extension of the London Underground, a bridge in Liverpool, the Lower Thames Crossing in London, the Thameslink and Crossrail networks in London, various roads (most notably including the A14 from Warwickshire to Suffolk, but none in Scotland, as road-building in Scotland is a devolved responsibility) and of course the HS2 rail line, speeding passengers from as far north as Birmingham to (surprise!) London.

But we’re sure that Scottish taxpayers will be more than happy to send £11bn to the Treasury in London to fund lots of projects that Gordon Brown can make use of during the rare occasions when he actually turns up for work at the Palace of Westminster. After all, imagine where we’d be without him.

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Source: Wing Over Scotland

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