Devolution in Scotland (2006)--How NOT to form a new country.http://dennisleewilson.com/simplemachinesforum/index.php?topic=555.msg1043#msg1043There will be NO "goin' home to Scotland" for this laddie....Dennis
Devolution in Scotland (2006) -- Home truths about home rule
Devolution has not brought Scotland's separation.
Nor has it brought confidence, self-reliance or a new Scottish Enlightenment
May 18th 2006 | edinburgh | from the print edition
“AE FOND kiss and then we sever.” In 1999, when Scotland regained a parliament of its own, many believed that Robert Burns's love song was about to become a prophecy.
Nationalists hoped, and unionists feared, that their country was now on its way to breaking all ties with the rest of the United Kingdom. It has not happened. Instead, something much less expected has come about. Scotland has regressed into an inward-looking, slightly chip-on-shoulder, slightly Anglophobic country with no clear sense of direction. Instead of gaining a new self-confidence, it has gained self-doubt, while clinging to an old dependency on the state, which still means, at least in part, England.
“Nonsense,” or perhaps “Havers,” you will say. The new parliament, known as Holyrood, is up and running, a model of participatory democracy with an excellent system of committees, one of which even hears individual petitions. It has passed laws giving free personal care to the elderly, free nursery places to three- and four-year-olds, free bus travel to pensioners—and central heating, too. At the same time it has abolished tuition fees for university students, brought in a fairer voting system for local government, reformed land tenure and set up a mental-health system that could never have emerged from Westminster, where time for Scottish legislation was always in short supply. [Not much in the way of individual freedom in all that mess!!...Dennis]
Holyrood is a welcoming, bottom-up place, quite unlike the United Kingdom Parliament with its antique conventions, forbidding procedures and officers in 18th-century outfits. The Scottish Parliament is worker-friendly too, and not just for men: two-fifths of its members are women.Related items Scotland: A lament for Scotland
May 18th 2006 Scotland: Sources
May 18th 2006 Scottish history: Clearing the air
Sep 1st 2005 Scotland after Dewar
Oct 12th 2000 Leading by example
Oct 2nd 1997
True, the building's expense has given devolution a bit of a bad name. The first estimates were £10m-40m ($16m-64m), but the cost rose like a startled snipe, to an incredible £431m at its opening in 2004. In time, though, that may become less of an issue, despite the descent of a beam in March that nearly wiped out the Tory delegation and closed the debating chamber for two months. In any event, the 700,000 people who visited the parliament in its first year testify to the curiosity about, if not the popularity of, the strange edifice at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.Scold and spend
Yet, if that is the case for the defence, it is not the whole story. In its seven years' existence, the parliament, or at least the coalition of Labour and Liberal Democrats who run the Scottish Executive, has been slow to tax, quick to spend, and even quicker to ban.
Its powers of taxation are limited: it can vary the rate of income tax, up or down, by three pence in the pound, and it can change local property taxes for businesses (rates). It knows that to raise income tax would be unpopular and as yet it has no need to: the money it spends is allocated by the Treasury in London out of general revenues, and distributed according to a rule known as the Barnett formula. [How is THAT for being "independent"?...Dennis]
Yet the propensity to spend is strong. Almost everything that the parliament has done to distinguish itself from its London counterpart has cost money, and its two main innovations may well be unsustainable: waiving student tuition fees means compensating universities (or assuring them an ever-sinking status), and free care for the elderly is a terrifying blank cheque in a country whose pensioners are expected to increase by 35% (to 1.3m) in the next 25 years, while those of working age are forecast to fall by 7% (to 3m).
Scotland's politicians, however, have been more interested in settling some old class-war scores than in shrinking the state. One of their first priorities was to ban hunting (embarrassingly, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, the Labour member whose acute sense of morality prompted him in 1999 to introduce the bill, was last year given a prison sentence for arson committed in an Edinburgh hotel after the Scottish Politician-of-the-Year awards).
Then came land reform, largely directed at “feudal” landowners. Some aspects of the legislation were good: the laws of access were clarified. Some were bad: crofters (hereditary tenants of small farms), many of whom live and work in distant cities, now have the right to buy not only their croft but also any fishing and mineral rights, so long as they form a “community”, even if the landowner has no wish to sell. Some will have unintended results: the changes designed to increase the number of tenancies for farmers are having the opposite effect. None will save money: the purchase by their inhabitants of islands such as Gigha under new right-to-buy laws has largely been made possible by huge grants from the taxpayer.
Almost everything that the parliament has done to distinguish itself from its London counterpart has cost money, and its two main innovations may well be unsustainable
The ban on smoking in indoor public places, introduced at the end of March, falls into the nanny-state, not the class-war, category. It is, however, equally typical. Self-government has not merely brought an 18% increase in employment in the Scottish Executive's main departments and a 40% increase in jobs in quangos, it has also brought a flurry of new regulations. Tourists who struggle all the way to Orkney in the far north to visit Maeshowe, a remarkable neolithic tomb, may, for instance, find it closed by Historic Scotland because of “high winds”, even in August. The production of red tape—the issuance of statutory instruments provides a good proxy—far outpaces that of Harris tweed.Banana-skin republic
The new parliament has not pulled all the best, or even best-known, Scottish politicians back home. Only about a score returned from Westminster, and they did not include such Labour luminaries as Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, John Reid or Alistair Darling.
Donald Dewar was an exception. His early death robbed Holyrood of its first premier—known as “first minister”—and one of its few members who was widely admired.
Scandal, albeit a small one over expenses, claimed his successor, Henry McLeish. The present incumbent is Jack McConnell, the only one of the three not to have served at Westminster. A product of local government—which, especially in the west, is richly peopled in many minds with “numpties”, ie, bone-headed placemen—he has conspicuously chosen not to give ministerial jobs to several capable colleagues.
Mr McConnell, too, has been caught up in controversy—scandal would be too strong a word—for failing to declare as an “interest” a brief holiday with a well-known television presenter, Kirsty Wark, and her husband in their villa in Majorca. In truth, the episode revealed more about Ms Wark and the small world of the Scottish establishment, often known as the Scotia Nostra. Ms Wark, it turned out, was a woman of many parts: fearless public-interest inquisitor on the telly, old friend of the first minister, founder of a company chosen by BBC Scotland to make a film about the new parliament building, and member of the panel that had originally selected its design. Fancy.
Scandal, though, has not been an all-Labour affair. Revelations about expense claims swept away the Tory leader, David McLetchie, last year, adding to the widespread disillusionment about devolution. Opinion polls* taken over the first few years of the parliament's life show the slow dashing of hopes since 1997, when 74% of Scotland's voters gave it their blessing in a referendum. Today criticism of Holyrood and the goings-on within is rife. Letters to the press reflect the mood. “Is it not ironic”, ran a typical one recently, “that Scots have travelled the world and made their mark on politics... But when it comes to running our own affairs we make such a mess of it.” The author only just stopped short of comparing Scotland to a newly independent banana republic.
Feelings might be more favourable if the economy were stronger. It is by no means dismal. Last year, indeed, it grew at 2.1%, faster than its long-term average of 1.7%, and unemployment fell. Banking and financial services flourish in Edinburgh's New Town, and by the airport the Royal Bank of Scotland has built a huge headquarters for its global business. Oil-related activities have brought prosperity to Aberdeen and other parts of the north-east. Video games, spun off from Abertay University, are a new industry for Dundee and biotechnology is now well established in Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh—home of Dolly the sheep.
But Scotland's annual economic growth rate over the past ten years has on average lagged behind the United Kingdom's by almost a percentage point, and no forecasters expect it to catch up soon. Gloom has settled over much of Silicon Glen—Scotland's technology industry—as many of its manufacturing jobs have gone to lower-cost countries, and fewer Scots now see salvation in foreign investment. [I remember Dave Ramsperger telling of his visit to Scotland on business and the lack of imagination and sound business thinking that he encountered....Dennis]
What part has devolution played in all this? Researchers at the University of Strathclyde's Fraser of Allander Institute say Scotland's economy is doing better than would be expected on the basis of its past relationship to the economy of the United Kingdom as a whole. They do not, however, know whether this is attributable to Holyrood. Moreover, even if it is, the improvement is not big enough to make much difference to the most intractable of the country's economic problems, the decline of mining and heavy industry, especially in and around Glasgow.
If Scotland is poorer than England, the west of Scotland is also poorer than the east. The evidence is less clear in the income figures, though, than in the health statistics. Scotsmen in general can expect to live to only 73.8 years, about three years fewer than Englishmen. In the Calton district of Glasgow, male life expectancy is even lower: 53.9 years, almost ten years fewer than in Bangladesh. Scotland has the highest death rates in the United Kingdom from lung cancer, bowel cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. Its childhood obesity rates, at 19% for 12-year-olds (another 17% are merely “overweight”), are higher even than America's.
Surprisingly, perhaps, only 9% of adults in Calton are unemployed, yet 58% do not work. In other words, the majority live off the state. But then the state plays a large part in Scottish life. It spends half of GDP and employs one Scot in four (one in five in England). The public sector is not large by the relevant OECD standards. And by the standards of some other small, rich countries whose governments spend a similar share of GDP, Scotland's growth rate is respectable. But not more than that.
Something of a debate has been taking place recently about the size of Scotland's public sector: is it too big, does it crowd out private investment? Academics, journalists and businessmen have leapt into the fray, but few politicians seem interested, perhaps because so many see their job as simply responding to popular demands. This may reflect the background—typically public-sector—of those who lead them.
Opinion surveys suggest that Scots stand politically a bit to the left of others in the United Kingdom, though only a bit. They vote for parties, though, that are well to the left. Labour, strongest in the western part of the central belt, is rooted in backward-looking state socialism and tends to be Blairite only in paternalistic ways. The Liberal Democrats, perhaps the biggest winners so far from devolution, have prospered not by espousing self-reliance and a bonfire of controls but by pushing free care for the elderly and an end to tuition fees.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) is the big loser. Once the party of the young, upwardly mobile and aspirational, it is increasingly associated with the not-so-young on their way down, says Lindsay Patterson of Edinburgh University. Its tactics seem to be to try to outflank Labour on the left, where it competes with a periodically feisty Scottish Socialist Party.
Only the Tories can plausibly claim to be right of centre, but they have yet to recover from Margaret Thatcher's legacy. Never endorsed by Scottish voters—the Tories last carried Scotland in 1955—her policies so infuriated the Scots that the party won no Scottish seats at all in the 1997 Westminster election. The present Scottish leadership seems terrified of any discussion of taxes, certainly of cutting them.
The strongest factor that prevents politicians' minds from turning to the size of the state, however, is the fact that they do not have to raise the money to pay for it, or even the 60% of government spending they are responsible for. Over £20 billion simply drops into their hands every year from Whitehall, providing total public spending per Scot of £7,597 (in 2004-05). This is 16%, or £1,034, more than the equivalent figure for the United Kingdom.
Scotland's deficit is also out of kilter: net borrowing—which reflects all government spending that benefits the Scots, but excludes North Sea oil revenues—was 13% of GDP in 2003-04, compared with 4% for the United Kingdom as a whole.
Holyrood's politicians can hardly be blamed for this. The block grant gives them the money, and they spend it. They do not overspend; and if they are too lavish on one item they must be stricter on another. They do not, however, suffer the discipline of having to raise their revenue themselves: they are like teenagers on an allowance. And they have no incentive to promote economic growth through taxation.
The case for abolishing the block grant and giving Holyrood tax-raising powers is increasingly being made, most recently by a Liberal Democrat commission under the parliament first's presiding officer, David Steel. Its report, drawing on the experience of other countries, is a happy exception to the parties' generally dull introspection and poverty of thought. But most Scots, if the opinion polls are right, would be pleased to see tax-raising (and some other powers) brought home. For all their disappointment, devolution is still supported by over 50% of Scots—and, incidentally, about the same proportion of English. Few Scots want to revert to the status quo ante.Brave hearts and barmy history
Wouldn't more powers be another step towards bust-up, a vindication of the Burns-as-prophecy theory? Not really. Polls suggest that, but for one brief hiccup in 1997, Scottish support for independence has remained pretty constant at 25-30%. Devolution, says John Curtice of Strathclyde University, “has to date neither proven to be a slippery slope to independence nor put the nationalist genie back in the bottle.” It has not made much difference to the level of support for separation at all.
Most Scots seem to feel contentedly both Scottish and British. But not all, and not as many as in the past: the proportion of Scots who say they also feel British has diminished since the 1970s, suggest the opinion surveys, and whereas before 1999 only about a fifth of them explicitly said they were not British at all, nowadays the proportion is about a third. Yet, says Professor Curtice, this change is not a continuing slither down a greasy slope, but a single step-change that took place about 1999; and nothing suggests it has come about as a result of devolution.
Devolution, however, has not diminished this sense of being damn-well-not-British, nor the rising Anglophobia that seems to have come with it. This is difficult to measure, but is regularly attested to among the 400,000 or so people of English birth who live in Scotland (about half the number of Scots who live in England). Many of their anecdotes seem trivial: cheering for English teams' opponents during sporting events, complaints about the television coverage given to cricket matches, children bullied at school for being “English”, roars of audience approval whenever William Wallace kills an Englishman during the xenophobic and historically preposterous film “Braveheart”. Individually, these incidents seem harmless—and should not be exaggerated—but taken together they may suggest something more disturbing. One writer, Colin McArthur, certainly finds the political appropriation of “Braveheart” by the SNP troubling, and the film's appeal to “the proto-fascist” psyche particularly so.
Many Scots abhor the “Celtic whinge”, among them, for instance, Andrew Wilson, a former spokesman on finance for the SNP. In 2002 he urged his countrymen to support England in the football World Cup—Scotland had failed to qualify—and wrote, “None of Scotland's problems are the fault of England or the English. All are of our own making,” adding that Scotland had to lose the national chip on its shoulder about the English.
Yet the chip is bigger than that; it is about a perceived sense of victimhood that many Scots seem to revel in. It encompasses, in particular, a set of beliefs about the Highland clearances, a series of evictions 200 years ago in which thousands of Highlanders were swept off the land by their landlords. When, last year, Michael Fry, an Edinburgh historian, dared to question some of the received conclusions about this episode, 23 members of the parliament promoted a motion condemning him for “clearances denial”—and a Labour ex-minister likened him to David Irving, an historian made infamous for Holocaust denial. Unceasing fury about the clearances is now, it seems, essential to being truly Scottish.
Along with victimhood comes a measure of illiberalism, notably on such matters as abortion, homosexuality and sexual offences. From the outset abortion has always been reserved to Westminster, lest the Scots should come under pressure to restrict their inherited rights. But in other social and sexual matters, too, Holyrood's members often show a mistrust, and fear, of their compatriots' views. This is evident from the frequency with which they voluntarily yield their right to pass laws on a particular issue by adopting a “Sewel motion”, a device that explicitly gives Westminster the power to legislate in an area supposedly devolved to Holyrood.
Oddly, a stream of books have been published recently with titles like “Capital of the Mind: How Edinburgh Changed the World”, “The Scottish Enlightenment: the Scots' Invention of the Modern World”, “On the Make: How the Scots Took Over London”, “How the Scots Made America” and so on. Immodest these claims may be, but the (mostly 18th-century) achievements they celebrate are not altogether imaginary. Some other claims—such as that of Mr McConnell, the first minister, that “Scotland could be home to a second Enlightenment this century”—are more fanciful. Little that takes place in his domain gives cause to think it will be soon.
In the arts, fortunately, Scotland continues to flourish, but in politics it shows little originality, exuberance or readiness to experiment, still less to sever. The story of devolution so far is more like “Ae fond kiss and then we blether”—neither dashing nor romantic, but the basis, it should be said, of many a contented marriage.
*The sources for this article are listed here.