Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Well Oiled

I've been rattling around the North East for the last few days, attending SNP meetings in pursuit of a constituency to fight. With the deadline for selecting candidates now less than a fortnight away, it's left SNP members with much less time than they could otherwise have expected to make their choice. With that in mind, I've taken the risk of putting myself about so that people can see what, for good or ill, they might be getting if they vote for me :-)

So far, the itinerary has seen me in Banff, Portsoy and at a BBQ south of Fraserburgh, not far from where my grandparents have their farm. Today, since I had some time on my hands, I made a visit to Bruce Miller in Aberdeen. If you're into books, CDs, DVDs, great big TVs, drinking coffee and ogling musical instruments (guilty on all counts, m'lud), this must be the about the closest thing in the world to music/gadget heaven.

I'm pretty lucky to be in a hotel tonight, since just about everywhere is booked up for the Offshore Europe event in Aberdeen. It hit the headlines today with Scotland Office Minister of State, David Cairns, launching a pre-emptive strike on the SNP's plans to open up discussions on the transfer of North Sea Oil to the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament.

"The interests of both Scotland and the UK are best served through continued economic union and the benefits which accompany a UK-wide approach", says Cairns.
"Our thinking on this issue is therefore unequivocal - introducing needless uncertainty into an £11bn industry which supports half a million jobs is not an option for the UK Government."

That's us telt, then. Well, except it's not. Stability seems to be at a premium in an industry which seems to have a new minister appointed every year, and which is the first to be raided for supplementary taxes every time Gordon Brown's forecasts are out. And as a spokesperson for the First Minister put it in today's Press and Journal, he's "not going to be put off by the knee-jerk negativity of the junior minister from the Scotland Office" with "nothing new" to say about Government policy for which he has no responsibility.

8... 9... 10... ding ding! In fairness to David Cairns, though, putting up a former priest against a former oil economist on the subject of, er, oil economics, was always going to make for a mismatched contest. But with his maladroit intervention, Cairns has perhaps unwittingly blown the gaff on at least one aspect of Wendy Alexander's mission to 'reconnect' with voters.

As part of her bid to dispel Labour's image of rampant negativity, Ms Alexander has said she wants to "strengthen the financial accountability" of politicians, indicating in the process that she supports the transfer of new financial powers to the Scottish Parliament. So far, so good. But given the large role played by North Sea Revenues in Scotland's economy (£11bn this year alone), how exactly can you have any kind of meaningful fiscal autonomy, unless you also repatriate the revenues and relevant tax powers to Edinburgh?

So, who's got the upper hand in Labour on this one? Wendy, or Westminster? Or is it all just a big scam by Wendy, who after an appropriate period of time will announce that after some suitably weighty consideration, fiscal autonomy is just a distraction from the 'real issues' that those much fabled 'people on the doorstep' will have been telling her all about?

Maybe I've got it all wrong, and she is genuine about this. Somehow I doubt it, but if so, perhaps she just needs to stand, not so much on a doorstep as on a few well connected feet, if she's to stand a chance of getting her Westminster colleagues to pay attention.

3 comments:

David Farrer said...

Good luck!

DougtheDug said...

"Or is it all just a big scam by Wendy, who after an appropriate period of time will announce that after some suitably weighty consideration, fiscal autonomy is just a distraction from the 'real issues' that those much fabled 'people on the doorstep' will have been telling her all about?"

"Fiscal Autonomy", has been bandied around for a while now as some sort of alternative to independence. Whenever it's mentioned by the Unionist parties the detail is very sketchy, and the true meaning of the phrase is left undefined.

For me, "Fiscal Autonomy", means control of all revenues and expenditure. We've just had David Cairns say that Oil and Gas revenues are not transferable so "Fiscal Autonomy" is not on the table. What we're left with is some transfer of financial powers to the Scottish Parliament. So what revenues are left?

Alcohol excise duty (Whisky)
VAT Receipts
Corporation Tax
Tobacco Excise duty
Income Tax
Motor Vehicle Tax
Airport Tax
National Insurance
Inheritance Tax
Capital Gains Tax
Stamp Duty

I doubt if many of these will make it into control of the Scottish Parliament. VAT will be especially difficult as I understand that VAT is charged on spirits and petrochemicals as they leave the distillery and the refinery, which are both big earners in Scotland. "Fiscal Autonomy" is a big scam, it sounds good, very Lib-Demish/New Labour but I've never seen any proposals as to what it really means and what taxes it will encompass, or more to the point what taxes Gordon is willing to give away. It's simply a very vague feel-good bubble floated to try and distract attention from the independence, which is the only way to get real fiscal autonomy.

"So, who's got the upper hand in Labour on this one? Wendy, or Westminster? "
The only way Wendy, the local government politician, will have the upper hand over Westminster is if Gordon Brown lends enough of his authority to her proposals to implement them. I think Wendy may be beginning to understand that being Leader of the Scottish Labour MSP's is to be a little fish in a big Labour pond.

Richard Thomson said...

Thanks, David :-)

Doug - I'd agree with your definition of 'fiscal autonomy'. It's going to be interesting to see how the unionist parties end up trying to define their lowest common denominator version amongst themselves.