Scotland needs courageous politicians prepared to face reality and take seriously the responsibilities vested in them by the electorate.
Resulting from years of cowardly politicians pandering to the electorates dependence on somebody else solving its problems the country is commercially and intellectually bankrupt. Slow growth, high unemployment, low life expectancy, deteriorating educational performance all result from the countries leaders refusing to make the electorate face facts.
As this piece from the Telegraph details Scotland needs to make its own changes and fast. Brown needed Scotland more than Scotland needed Brown – hence today’s dire straights. But the same isn’t true of Cameron and Clegg. Scotland needs their leadership more than they need Scotland. The finally legacy of the Labour Party.
Scots should forget about flying the flag and fix their nation
Holyrood has enough power and money to stop economic decline north of the border, says Neil O’Brien.Photo: David Cheskin/PA Wire
Scotland has become a stag-nation. Over the past decade, its economy, which was already struggling, has fallen further behind the rest of the UK’s: if it had kept up with the average, it would be 5 per cent bigger. Public services have suffered, too. Education, which used to be its pride and joy, has been left to rust. Scotland opted out of reforms like the academies programme, with the result that the proportion of secondary pupils getting good grades has increased by just 1 per cent, against 8 per cent in England. In health, waiting times have remained static, despite falling by two thirds down south.
The problem isn’t a lack of funds: state spending as a share of the economy is about 12 per cent higher. The truth is that Scottish taxpayers are getting less for more. Sadly, instead of addressing these issues, the political class is locked in an unending constitutional wrangle about the details of devolution.
Holyrood has unlimited leeway to reform public services, including health and education. It has powerful tools to accelerate economic growth: it controls higher and further education, the planning system, and finance for transport and infrastructure. Thanks to public-private partnerships, it can borrow vast amounts.
The other great distraction is the Barnett Formula, which nationalists on both side of the border will happily bore you to death about. To cut a long story short, the reason why Scotland’s funding has been kept so high is now based on politics, not poverty.
At heart, Barnett – which is under review – is about Scotland getting its oil revenue back. Although the Exchequer’s income from the North Sea has fluctuated, it has, on average, approximated to the Barnett “premium”. Public spending in Scotland is some £12.3 billion higher than taxation – but the Scottish element of oil revenues comes to £11.8 billion. In effect, Scotland gets back every penny (and more) of its oil money, and in a form that does not fluctuate with oil prices.
So if it isn’t a lack of power or money that is causing Scotland’s problems, what is to blame? As Tom Miers points out in a Policy Exchange report, published today, there is a conspiracy of inaction at work. The Nationalists have a powerful motive to avoid economic or social reform, because it strengthens the case for constitutional change. For the architects of devolution, including many in the Labour Party, the Scottish Parliament was designed to insulate Scotland from reforms instigated by the government in London. Meanwhile, those who opposed devolution want to remain engaged in Scotland, and are reluctant to rock the boat by suggesting a new approach.
This inaction is encouraged by hostility to Westminster’s reforms, which are rejected as Thatcherite, even if implemented by Labour. Ideas that originate in much-admired nations such as Sweden are abhorred if they gain credence in England, as happened with free schools.
I supported devolution, and still do. But it hasn’t led to the changes I hoped. We need to draw a line under the debate by implementing the proposals of the Calman Commission, which emphasised Scotland’s existing powers rather than advocating a significant extension. Then the focus can move to what to do about the real problems.
One idea would be to channel some Barnett money into job-creating tax cuts, rather than using it to increase spending, But that will never happen until we break the political deadlock holding Scotland back. Many Scots have centre-Right attitudes, but the Scottish Conservatives only won a single seat. Labour’s election broadcasts – with their dated attacks on Thatcherism and grainy footage of the poll tax riots – were a reminder of just what a ball and chain the word “Conservative” still is in Scotland.
The only conclusion is that Edinburgh needs a new centre-Right force, and that Scotland’s political class need to be sent a powerful message: stop blethering, and get on with it.
Neil O’Brien is the director of Policy Exchange. ‘The Devolution Distraction’ by Tom Miers is published on July 14th.