Friday, June 22, 2007

A Timely Corrective

Cancer drugs, educational apartheid, free university tuition... if you believed everything you read in the English papers, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was all milk and honey north of the Tweed. And worse, that it's all happening thanks to the benevolence of the English taxpayer. Jings, crivvens, help ma boab etc ad nauseum.

Of course, we seldom hear the flip side to this - of how public spending in the English regions varies massively; of the imbalances in 'unidentified expenditure' which benefit London and the South of England the most; the NHS treatments available in England but not in Scotland, such as enzyme therapies, a strategy for COPD or liposuction for overweight children. No, it's much more entertaining (and easier) for journos and politicians to rabble rouse about feather-bedded Scots stealing bread from the mouths of our benevolent cousins elsewhere.

Of course, there's reasons for public spending being higher in Scotland - that small detail of having 1/12 of the population spread over 1/3 of the landmass for starters. However, if you come from a high public spend region like London or the North-East, it's easy to ignore these inconvenient facts, hiding instead behind the lower overall English spending figures per head to try and justify your own special pleading.

So, hats off then to Peter MacMahon, who in today's Scotsman, bursts systematically many of these silly little arguments. My own view is that England, or at least some parts of England, get a rough deal from the current constitutional and funding arrangements. However, since devolution isn't going to go away, surely even the most blinkered Scotophobe can see that incoherent bitching about perceived Scottish advantage isn't going to resolve the anomalies they claim to care so much about?

Independence would solve all of this at a stroke. However, as a service to my CEP-inclined friends out there who can't stand the idea of Scottish independence, here's a little suggestion: why not simply break the current link which exists between English spending and the Scottish block grant through the Barnett Formula? That way, Scotland gets to keep her taxes to spend as she sees fit, submits a portion to Westminster for shared services, and with the link between English policy and Scottish funding thus broken, you could have genuine 'English only' issues at Westminster, from which you could then ban all Scottish MPs from voting, Gordon Brown included.

As I said, it's always more fun to complain than to come up with practical solutions, but the current debate in England does no-one any favours. When independence comes, I'd prefer that it happens on the basis of continued mutual respect. Currently, England is being badly served by politicians either stuffed full of John Bull, or who prefer to pretend that these issues just don't exist. Where's England's Alex Salmond right now?

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