Sunday, October 28, 2007

 

The Devolution Dilemma: Just Reform the Barnett Formula

The Observer today leads on Cameron's Democracy Working Group's suggestion that only English MPs should vote on English matters. It's a good political ploy when the SNP are enjoying a triumphal conference and the Independent led yesterday with a banner headline: 'Scotland 10 England 0', listing on its front page the various benefits the 29% extra per capita GDP spending Scots enjoy compared to the English: no university fees, no prescription charges, better hospitals, etc.

In addition the Mail on Sunday reports an opinion poll
which shows 33% of English voters favour independence for Scotland: 2% up on last year and a bigger percentage than Scotland itself registers on the issue. Alex Salmond welcomes the findings, suggesting it's sign of 'mutual respect' between the two countries. I'm not so sure: I think it's more likely to reflect a sentiment along the lines of: 'Sod off then you miserable Jocks!"

What can Gordon do to halt this apparently inevitable drift towards the break-up of the Union? Seems to me it's easy: reform the Barnett Formula which last year allocated per capita spending as follows:
Ulster, £8,898;
Scotland, £8,096;
Wales, £7, 509; and poor old
England, £6,623.

Even Joel Barnett himself admits the formula, based on the relatively higher English GDP in the seventies, is now absurd. Re-ordering it to make it less unfair will win votes in England and deliver a black eye to Salmond. Why has Gordon delayed so long?

Comments:
Hi Skipper,

Seems to me all reforms Nu Labour entered were not thought through to completion and left issues.

Lords reform - started without an end game

Devolution - no real thought over the West Lothian problem

Iraq - could it be worse?

Seems to me that they need to fully think things through BEFORE they embark on ill thought out programs.

In terms of devolution I see no reason why there isn't an English parliament, easily achieved by expelling the Scottish and Welsh MPs from the Commons giving each parliament autonomy over tax/spending on most issues. Then fully reform the second chamber to cover issues of the Union, typically issues like defence, 'moral issues' such as abortion et al. At the moment it seems that Scotland has a 3 tier government, The Scottish Parliament, The Commons and The Lords - surely two tiers should be enough.

Then introduce fixed term parliaments, PR and maybe referenda on issues of conscience and we may even be heading for a credible democracy.
 
Much of the hostility to the settlement for Scotland is based on these bare figures.

But if we unpack the England total we find that London where much of the criticism seems to come from is getting the same as Scotland.

And of course costs are quite different. Where things are close together it quite simply costs less to deliver many services. Roads being the most obvious example.

The other distortion here - also seen in coverage of so-called postcode lotteries - is that devolving budgets and choice means creating difference.

If you want to pick up the stick of local delegation you will find choice at one end and difference at the other. You cannot pick up one without the other.

Universal high quality services with little local difference would in fact prove easier to explain as being fair than a swings and roundabouts choice fest.
 
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