Although to some it may be unpalatable, it must surely be time to speak plain truths to all the peoples of these islands, the Union and the continuation of the UK is in the interests of all the citizens of the United Kingdom. If people want to go their own way, they are at liberty to do so but they need to speak truthfully to those they claim to represent, their personal desire for fame and position must not stand in the way of the hard facts.
Each of the people depicted above represent conflicting political views, they are entitled to those but they need to realise that there is only one forum where they should be aired and that is in the Parliament of the UK at Westminster and in each case, it is in their interests to support and enhance that chamber and not waste time complaining about where it is. I am sure that the people of the Highlands and Islands feel no more certain that people based in Edinburgh know any more about their needs than those based in London do, neither live their lives.
The Basic Political Settlement
Right across every part of the political spectrum in the UK there needs to be a fundamental realisation that the only way things can work for ALL UK citizens is that whilst some powers could and should be devolved to some degree, such devolution will come with a price that cannot be avoided. The UK Parliament and regardless of the political colour of the Government of the day must legislate, raise and control the level of taxes to provide the revenue for specific levels of ‘services’ for all parts of the UK in order to provide security and value for all it’s citizens.
Defence, Health, Education, Justice and Welfare would be obvious examples but beyond that, there needs to be a very public distribution formula of “cash per head of population for all other things” as a bloc grant, it obviously exists already so make it “front and centre” rather than shrouded in mystery as it now seems. The scope of those things should be debated and agreed at the Westminster Parliament on a cross party basis and be subject to revue at the start of each Parliament.
From there it would be an option for the devolved institutions within the UK to levy additional taxes to be spent locally on funding projects and services that are dear to the hearts of the people who live there and who will be paying for these ‘enhanced local’ services.
Put in simple and conceptual terms by which I mean the following is a hypothetical example and NOT a specific one: If the required overall tax rate was agreed by all at say 40% of GDP, then Westminster would raise 30% of that leaving the other 10% to be raised locally by property taxes or a local income tax or both. What this would mean is that at the local level, if the preference was more towards education or healthcare or supporting the elderly, then those local priorities can be favoured regardless of the choices made in other parts of the UK by the ‘local’ government spending what it raises in taxes in those areas.
Central Government apart from setting the ‘basic income tax’ level, would need to remain in charge of corporation tax and VAT to ensure that there is no ‘regional competition’ on the rates charged however, this would not preclude them rebating part of those taxes back based on the amount raised in their area to the local government authority.
Obviously there would be a lot of detail to be worked through but the key benefit would be whilst benefits generated by the local economy would feed back to it very directly, it also means that all would still have the security and support of the whole of the UK. In other words, the “Basic Political Settlement” has little to do with waving flags and everything to do with how the “cake is sliced” and distributed within the UK.
The Other Benefits
Do not underestimate the impact of all this on how UK politics would be run, it would be a major shift in both emphasis and power which would be “pushed down” to the local level and away from the centre.
Now whilst on the surface given that we are only talking about 25% of the revenue leaving 75% still in the hands of the Westminster Parliament, this may seem a strange claim, in fact it is based on common sense. For all the bluff and bluster politicians generate come election time about why “Their Party will do such radical stuff…” if we elect them, the likely truth is that over 90% of the UK Budget is already committed and can’t be altered leaving very little wriggle room for them doing anything much different.
In comparison and at a local level with a bloc grant taking care of most things, the locally raised revenue can be more easily spent in discretionary ways and as “power resides with the money”, local politics would be totally reinvigorated.
With Regard to English Devolution
In the terms of attempting to set up regional English Parliaments, I am against it and I suspect most English people who think about it for a moment, would be as well. My primary objection is best summed up as follows:
Since the establishment of the Welfare State, when it comes to State Benefits, there is equality in terms of what each person receives which is unrelated to geography. A person in London is not more or less valuable than a person drawing the same benefit in Liverpool, Walsall, Norwich or Plymouth and retaining that ‘harmony’ within England even if all the Celtic Nations went their own way, is very important for our society.
The moment we start messing with “regional government” within England we will soon enough end up with people from say the South East questioning why their taxes are being spent in other areas, the answer is because we are one English family and need to keep it that way. Whether people realise it or not and mainly by accident, in this area we share the philosophy of the Kibbutz, “From each according to ability, to each according to need.”
However the Problem
Returning to my first heading “The Basic Political Settlement”, in truth there is one major problem which is that both politicians and the electorate are ‘reluctant’ in the extreme to embrace the logic that paragraph contains. To summarise, that Central Government should do the majority of the heavy lifting on raising revenue via taxes but that local governments also need to raise taxes at a local level to ‘top up’ the amount their local government has to spend.
Although this is logical particularly if the incumbent central government and its policy priorities are different from those generally held locally. As for example, a Labour Government at Westminster may not have the same spending priorities as the stockbroker belt of Surrey might desire or, a Tory government the same focus as the majority of the voters of Liverpool. But I suspect that the majority of voters whatever their political affiliations would baulk at paying their taxes in this way.
A proof of this was the Poll Tax, in theory a far fairer way of raising a local tax than property taxes but it failed, people preferred a less obvious method of raising the local taxes required
Financial Services Products
It reminds me years ago of the position of the sales people involved in selling life assurance, pensions and other such financial products.
The sales person was remunerated by a commission on each sale and to ensure sales people were fully committed to each sale, in the majority of cases, that commission was paid over the first two years of the policy, if the policy lapsed during this time then the sales person lost all of the commission on that sale.
Whilst this encouraged more ethical sales, from a long term investment viewpoint, there could be other issues on investment products with this method of paying commissions for the customer so some Independent brokers offered a fee service. What this meant was the customer paid a fee to the insurance sales person for their advice and guidance just as you would a solicitor or accountant and the sales person would redirect all the commission they would have been paid into extra investment on the customers policy.
This was by far the most sensible route for most customers who would buy a product that acquired any type of cash-in value over time, unfortunately, very few would do this, they preferred all their costs to be bundled up in the monthly premium. The same problem would arise with central and local taxes but as a system it would highlight the real cost of things and it is that the majority of the electorate don’t want to face and politicians seem intent on aiding them in this illusion. Our politics and its presentation today more closely resembles a “Cargo Cult” rather than any type of reality.
The Scottish Parliament
The SNP which is the current government and despite having lost the Referendum is still set on one thing only, a Scotland that is no longer part of the UK and an independent country in its own right, but that said, the SNP was totally dishonest in its presentation to the Scottish electorate, they just were not prepared to be truthful and put the facts to them openly.
The main question is; “Could Scotland have a viable economy as an independent nation ?”
The answer is of course it could without a doubt but, it would not be the same economy as today, it would have a far smaller tax base, a higher dependency on social spending and the revenue from North Sea oil and gas would likely not cover it. The North Sea oil ‘card’ is a false one because it is not “Scottish Oil”, it is owned by the companies that invest to extract it and all a Scottish government would get, the same as a UK one, is revenue through tax on the amount extracted or ‘landed’.
This is not a minor difference, it is a major one that has an immediate and direct impact on governments dependent on such revenues. Oil exploration and extraction is a totally global business and is driven by the supply and demands of the major consuming economies of which Scotland is not one. Flows get adjusted and sources ‘prioritised’ dependent wholly on market conditions except in the case of major exporters like Saudi Arabia who have the ability to ‘crack the political whip’ from time to time.
Even if as part of the UK, North Sea oil and gas is important for the UK economy but it is very small beer in terms of the global picture. An independent Scotland would be in a worse position in today’s market conditions where there is a glut than as part of the UK where the peaks and troughs of the market can get ironed out.
But the big SNP lie was simply not admitting what would need to happen in the early years of becoming independent, there would need to be a substantial crackdown on all public spending for the first 5 years until a stable and sustainable economic picture had emerged, it would most definitely NOT be business as usual and you won’t notice a difference. It is common sense, if I after 15/20 years as an employee decided to start my own business, I would most certainly tell my family that I’m doing it to create a better future for them but that for the next few years we would need to “baton down the hatches” until we saw how things were going.
It will come as no surprise to find that I totally disagree with the Smith Commission on further devolved powers for Scotland and for all kinds of reasons, is unlikely to happen as proposed there see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-30223083 In fact I would go further and say that as the proposals won’t satisfy the SNP anyway, rather than try to implement them, let the SNP who are gagging for it and Scotland who may not be, have another referendum because I would rather they left the UK than get this massive “special treatment” denied to other parts of the UK. If Scotland is to remain part of the UK it needs to participate in a debate as to what is best for the whole of the UK, not just Scotland.
Too Much Haste
It is not that I consider the Smith Commission Report total nonsense, rather that the UK should not pander to any one part of it which is what this Commission is all about. I thought that the Westminster politicians were fearful and silly in the promises they made prior to the Scottish Referendum, it would have been far better to let Scotland go than make “Scottish Only” promises, the whole point of the UK is that it is united and together we work it out.
Obviously there are concessions to local conditions a good example of which concerns Northern Irish Republican politicians who win Westminster seats and never take them up. In a common sense world, rather than see their constituents not being represented, they should be deposed and whoever came second should take the seat but of course, it is not as simple as that. Republicans who take the political route must always keep an eye on other Republicans who favour violence. The mantle for violence passes from the IRA to the Provisional IRA to the Continuity IRA to any other name you can conjure up, the mad dogs of violence are always with us and their excuses for their brutality overflow.
But whilst concessions like this can be made to accommodate such local sensibilities when it comes to the economy, we really all do need to be on the same page. The SNP’s case is an appeal to greed not fairness, it is “We will be richer because of oil by not having to share it with the rest” This is a message that is alien to the United Kingdom because by the same token Londoners could say the same so no, if that is the view of the Scottish people, they are already outside of any United Kingdom.
The Scottish Referendum has done a lot of good, it has shaken up the cosy view of “the way things are” but rather than rushing off on “English votes for English Matters” which although a natural reaction to the narrow nationalism of SNP politicians, we must not follow them on that route. We can however take the opportunity to open up a new chapter in our on going evolution.
The EU has put itself on the spit roast of the Euro and seems unable and unwilling to resolve the issue, it will be because of this that the EU will change radically and the future of it, who knows ? Otherwise on the basis of the supremacy of our own Parliament we are likely to leave it if it stays as it is, sooner rather than later but that won’t matter too much, the UK will remain a potent economic force with or without Scotland.
A new “Settlement” yes but not an ill thought through one such as Smith, let us deal with the UK as a whole because if we don’t, we cease to be the UK where all citizens are equal.