Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Barnett Formula pledge is undeliverable and wrong

I was dismayed to read that the party leaders - and Gordon Brown - have pledged to continue the Barnett Formula as part of their three-point 'guarantee' to Scottish voters ahead of Thursday's referendum.

The formula, which gaurantees Scotland a higher level of public spending per head than anywhere else on the British mainland, has been out of sync for many years and, as the former Welsh Secretary John Redwood points out, is particularly unfair to Wales and the Northern English regions which have similar levels of need.

It won't alter my support for the Better Together campaign, but the future funding arrangements for the different parts of the UK need to be based on a new assessment of relative need, not a short-term political fix.

My suspicion is that the pledge will actually be undeliverable.  I can't imagine for a moment that
English MPs will stand for it in the long run, even if they are keeping their mouths firmly shut at the moment for fear of playing into the hands of the Yes campaign.

The politician who should be most ashamed of himself for allowing this absurd pledge to form part of the last-ditch appeal to wavering Scottish voters is Nick Clegg, whose party has previously called for the replacement of Barnett with a needs-based formula.   Given Clegg's track record of U-turning on previous agreed party policy, however, perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised by this.

In any case, the new powers envisaged for the Scottish Parliament, including the ability to raise their own taxes, ought to enable Scotland to move closer towards financial self-sufficiency rather than continuing to rely on block grants from Westminster.  In this sense, maintaining the Barnett Formula in perpetuity would fly in the face of the moves towards federalism that Gordon and others are now belatedly advocating.

3pm Update:  It seems they are not keeping their mouths shut after all.   I very much fear that the pro-Union campaign is going to fall apart over the next 24 hours as a result of this stupid and unnecessary attempt to bribe the Scots.

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