Posted by: secretperson | November 23, 2007

Painful Irony

Just been reading this post at the CEP news blog, and left a comment there but it inspired me to write a bit more detail here.

A Manchester Labour MP, Graham Stringer, raised a debate on the Barnett formula in the House of Commons, which is well covered on the CEP news blog if you want more detail. He is making the justifiable complaint about the unfairness of £500,000 making it’s way upto Scotland as a result of Crossrail, a London based (hugely expensive) rail expansion scheme.

Now some Scottish taxes have contributed to this scheme miles away in London, England, from which Scotland will not benefit. This is the justification for them recieving some money back for their own spending. The same applies for Wales and NI, percentage wise with population. Mr Stringer points out that his own constituents in Manchester also contribute in taxes that will go on Crossrail, but recieve no similar recompense. Does Manchester benefit more simply by being in England?

This is obviously unfair, and a good argument against the Barnett idea, as opposed to a UK wide needs based spending assessment (as presumably happens within England at the moment) or fiscal independence for the four constituent countries of the UK.

The reason I find it a painful irony, is that this is one of the few pieces of legislation that accepts England as a nation. I argue for independence on the basis of England being a historic nation with a national identity. This funding formula works on a similar basis. Manchester is put in with London because they are both English. Stringer’s comments about English regions being treated worse than Scotland, and possible implication of the replacement being a ‘Barnett for the nations and regions’ strikes a bad chord with me. Possibly because any regionalisation reinforces the attempts to break up England as a nation. Plus the same problems would exist, but between arbitrary regions, rather than well established nations.

The answer, as always, may lie in an English Parliament, and proper financial devolution to the UK’s other regions. When tuition fees were introduced to England, against the wishes of a majority of English MPs, helped by Labour Scottish MPs voting on an issue not affecting those who elected them, one of the Scots incentives may have been Barnett. A percentage of these tuition fees, paid only by students at English universities, went up to Scotland, to make up for them ‘missing out’ on this funding increase. Now with Crossrail Scottish UK taxes helped fund it, but in this case there is no justification. Barnett makes every English decision affect the whole of the UK. It is inextricably linked to demands for an English parliament to govern our own decisions, and would certainly need reforming before any messy ‘English votes on English laws’ Tory compromise.

The Scottish Parliament’s tax raising powers (up to three pence in the pound) which could help fund the SNPs many promises, would not be subject to Barnett. This is sensible as 85% would have to come to England, but it’d be equally sensible to have excluded tuition fees. Yet again Scotland gets the better of a ‘United’ Kingdom decision.

The issue of funding major projects is a seperate one. Some things require central funding through shere scale. Local areas will often benefit more than those far away. I have no easy answer to how we reconcile this. Everyday funding is a different issue I think. However it seems obvious that Barnett, or any regional version of it, is not the answer. Let the Scottish have their independence, oil and all, and let the English decide for themselves how to be fair to Manchester when we’re funding London.


  1. As long as Scotland only has its fair share of the oil, and also takes its share of the national debt, etc, then I favour its independence.

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