by Enza Ferreri 9/19/14
Before the referendum on Scottish independence and in order to keep the United Kingdom from disintegrating, the leaders of the three main British parties – David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband – made generous promises in return for the Scottish people to vote No to breaking away from the Union.
They promised more powers and money for Scotland. Some say that these promises have come dangerously close to Maximum devolution (Devo Max for short), which means that, except in defence and foreign affairs, the Scottish Parliament gets power over everything.
A source of concern is that these promises – which looked like a sign of desperation when in the last few days of the campaign the Yes camp seemed to stand a good chance of winning – were made without a clear mandate from the electorate and without consulting the English, who may resent being just exploited for their money.
In particular, the Westminster politicians pledged to maintain the notorious Barnett formula, which for over 30 years has been used to allocate British taxpayers’ cash between England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland and has been widely blamed for the large public spending gap that exists between England and the three devolved territories.
Even Lord Barnett, the former minister who devised it, called the formula a “terrible mistake” and a “national embarrassment”.
In 2012-13, public spending per head in each of the home nations was:
•£10,876 in Northern Ireland
•£10,152 in Scotland
•£9,709 in Wales
•£8,529 in England
So, public expenditure in Scotland per head is 20% higher than in England, although English MPs have no real say in the governance of Scotland.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) has called for the abolition of the Barnett Formula entirely. It asserts:
In an era of devolved government, such spending gaps have become increasingly difficult to justify. Should higher public spending in some home nations be subsidised from taxpayers elsewhere? Why shouldn’t those areas pay for their own promises through higher local taxes?
The Barnett Formula cannot possibly survive. Little more than a crude back-of-the-envelope rule for splitting annual increases in public spending, back in 1978 it was a short-term expedient. It was never designed to last for thirty years and to bear the public scrutiny and resentment it now engenders.
Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the TPA, added:
English taxpayers want an end to subsidising Scotland and the Scottish Government wants financial control devolved to Holyrood…
Furthermore, as even more power is set to be handed to the Scottish Parliament, the time has come to end the anomaly of Scottish MPs voting on policy for other parts of the UK where Westminster MPs have no such say North of the border. English votes for English laws is the only fair way to proceed.
A revolt has progressively grown inside the Conservative Party against David Cameron’s promises to Scotland, as Tory MPs with English constituencies are not prepared to make their constituents foot the bill.
Rail Minister Claire Perry criticised the “whole raft of goodies on offer for Scotland that will be paid for by us south of the border to appease the Yes voters”. She wrote in her local paper, the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald:
If there is a proposal to allow devolution of local taxation, as well as maintaining the current level of funding as a dollop from the UK Parliament, then that can hardly be equitable for those of us in the Devizes constituency and all other area areas in the non-Scottish union.
Tory backbenchers have demanded an English Parliament. They say that their constituents find the differential treatment between English and Scottish subjects of the Queen unjust and claim that they will not vote in support of the Devo Max.
Michael Fabricant, a former Tory vice-chairman, said before the referendum: “Even if Scotland votes No, serious questions will be asked about the complacent mishandling of the vote by No10 and the incompetence by Miliband.”
Paradoxically, it is English nationalism that may be fuelled by all this.
The English are not amused. Their mood is reflected in this comment to a Spectator blog post:
Why does Westminster think it has a mandate to offer Devomax? Whatever Scotland gets, we want for England too.
Enza Ferreri is an Italian-born, London-based Philosophy graduate, author, and journalist. She has been a London correspondent for several Italian magazines and newspapers, including Panorama, L’Espresso, La Repubblica. She is in the Executive Council of the UK’s party Liberty GB.
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