The Treasury has unveiled the latest per capita spending figures for the countries of the United Kingdom, and advocates of a No vote in the Scottish independence referendum have been quick to leap on the news.
Thanks to the Barnett Formula, each Scot now enjoys an average of £1623 more taxpayers’ money than their English counterparts.
Danny Alexander used it as an argument against Scottish independence, saying:
“These figures demonstrate that the people of Scotland continue to see a real financial benefit of over £1,300 per person compared to the UK average.”
Taxpayer-funded bribery is a rather poor reason to maintain the Union – though it may be a compelling one for Scottish voters.
But just as this is an argument that Scotland gets a remarkably good deal from being part of the UK, it is also an argument that England in particular gets a very bad deal from the arrangement.
The SNP hate to engage on the issue because they refuse to accept that Scotland is effectively subsidised by English taxpayers, but it is true. The claim that North Sea oil and gas balances out the Barnett Formula is simply hogwash – a 2008 analysis by the TaxPayers’ Alliance found that of the preceding 23 years, only in five of them had the North Sea made up for the cash flowing North of the border.
As a democrat (and therefore a eurosceptic), I support anyone’s right to self-determination, but I happen to think that the Scottish case for independence is a rather poor one.
On top of the Barnett billions, Scottish voters are over-represented in Westminster and enjoy an extraordinary amount of political influence for such a small proportion of the UK population. The country was insulated from its disastrous banking adventures by the way the UK collectively shared the burden of the RBS bailout, too.
For those same reasons, the English case for severing the Union with Scotland is a rather persuasive.
There are historic links – from the charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo to Piper Bill Millin accompanying Lord Lovat’s men ashore at Sword Beach – and familial links (as my surname suggests, my family once reived over the border and decided to settle in England a few hundred years ago), which rightly carry a lot of weight.
But fiscally and economically, would England really lose out if the Scottish independence referendum was to go Salmond’s way? I doubt it.
We might even gain a healthy impetus to make our own economy more competitive if an independent Holyrood was to embark on a drive to attract companies by slashing taxes, as the SNP have suggested. And that’s not to mention the natural majority the Conservatives enjoy in England, unshackled from the dominance of Scottish Labour MPs.
Many of these benefits could be achieved by giving the Scots what is called Devo Max, of course – but to make such devolution truly worthwhile it would have to be accompanied by the abolition of the subsidies which even Joel Barnett now agrees should have been scrapped long ago.
English voters are increasingly aware of the poor deal they get, constitutionally and financially, and will become more alive to the issue as further studies like today’s are used to convince the Scots to stay. As that awareness grows, there ought to be a Conservative voice standing up for their interests, too.
Whether by devolution, constitutional reform and an end to the Barnett Formula, or by simply waving goodbye to Scotland, there are votes to be won by fighting for England’s interests – we ought to work out how to get them, before somebody else does.