First up is the issue of how the Barnett Formula is, in fact, destroying the very thing that Labour wishes to keep intact, not from any particular sense of love for it but merely for the electoral advantage that it affords. It surfaces anew (as it seems to do with increasing frequency and regularity) today because of yet further evidence that the Scottish Executive is utilising it to keep the people of Scotland in a state of luxury denied to the fifty million people of England who are currently funding Scotland’s spendthrift profligacy.
This is the news brought to us today by The Telegraph to the effect that prescription charges north of the border will be progressively abolished within the lifetime of this Scottish Parliament. Added to those other luxuries of free University education for Scots pupils and people from elsewhere in The Union (the big nasty one, that is, because of the legal obligations imposed upon it by virtue of the UK’s membership thereof) but not for the people of England, small class sizes for primary schools, free care for the elderly, free eye and dental checks, free central heating for all pensioners and so forth, the English Taxpayer could be forgiven for thinking that he is a serf set to work for the citizenry of a Scottish Raj. After all, the two men who hold the nation’s purse strings both sit for Scottish seats and understand only too well the virtues of bribing their electorate.
That, ultimately, is what at the heart of this legalized theft and bribery. Vidkun Brown understands only too well that England’s principle purpose in The Union (the little one between England and Scotland) is to be soaked for the purpose of Labour maintaining its hold on Scottish seats at Westminster, by means of the Barnett Formula.
Unfortunately Labour has ridden the tiger for too long and has now been thrown off to be replaced by someone who bears the Union no love at all. Alex Salmond also understands how to use the Barnett Formula only too well. He has seized the loot it provides and is using it liberally both to provide Scotland with goodies and to rub England’s face in it whilst he is at it, thereby enraging us yet further at the continuation of that which he hates and would break.
Labour now finds itself in a situation entirely of its own making. If it reduces the money transferred from England, the goodies disappear and Scots voters are antagonized against Labour and it risks losing seats. If the subvention remains intact it enrages England further and they risk losing popularity South of the border. For them it is, deliciously, a lose-lose situation, one which Alex Salmond, crafty salami-slicer that he is, shows every sign of exploiting to the hilt and beyond.
Meanwhile William Rees-Mogg in The Times raises an interesting idea. Should Mr. Salmond hold a referendum of his own on the Treaty, bearing in mind all the ‘competences’ that he holds under the devolution settlement which will now be within the competence of that other Union, the big bad ugly one? Rees-Mogg reminds us of an important issue: why would Scots wish to vote for an ‘independence’ that is no such thing if they are later admitted as members of The Union? And what a way to embarrass Vidkun Brown and his motley crew: holding a referendum on the Constitutional Treaty will surely enhance the case that he is making for a referendum of his own.
That would wrong foot everyone except the Liberal ‘Democrats’ (who have done enough wrong footing of themselves to last a lifetime on this issue): in particular Labour, but also the Scottish Tories who would find themselves supporting a referendum on the Union but opposing one on The Other Union which would make them look utterly unprincipled.
At the same time Salmond is also doing some grandstanding that he knows will infuriate: Scotland on Sunday has revealed that the First Minister has written to representatives of the 189 countries who have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – including Iran and Zimbabwe – declaring his aim for the SNP administration to be involved in future discussions. This is part of Salmond’s strategy to dish the union, at the same time putting the Defence of the Realm at risk.
It does infuriate. The issue of the Defence of The Realm is just that: the defence of all The Realm including Scotland and whilst the United Kingdom endures it is for central government alone to decide on how that is to be carried out. Defence is beyond a peradventure a matter that does not fall within Mr. Salmond’s purview, however much he seeks as a minority within a minority to arrogate to himself a say in our defence. What does surprise, though, is that neither Vidkun Brown nor part-time Defence Secretary Des Browne (another member of Vidkun’s Scots Camarilla) nor part-time Scottish Secretary Des Browne (also ditto) seems to have made any effort whatsoever to slap him down once and for all.
What a mess devolution has become. This was entirely avoidable, yet Labour could not help itself in trying to have its cake and eat it. Well now it is finding out that it may well choke upon the cake.