The Barnett bypass won’t survive Tory deflection and abuse of UK politics

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The Union reaches a new level

Commentary by Derek Bateman

The Barnett Bypass is the worst example I recall of what is an accepted funding formula being exploited unfairly for raw political purpose. It appears to contradict the aim of Barnett as a means of distributing fairly UK national resources based on population. It is nakedly opportunistic and cynical. It is, in political parlance, a bribe. It says to the DUP: Support us and we’ll pay you.

Derek Bateman

Further, it is a fact that it was deliberately framed by the Scottish Secretary as a product of Barnett and he made clear he would not sanction it otherwise.

I believe even the Tory Party itself accepts all of this while desperately deflecting to avoid embarrassment. In other words, this is a dirty deal using public money to keep a discredited government in office.

But my question is: Who’s surprised? Are serious observers of British politics really shocked at the use of political patronage to solve a difficult problem? Are commentators genuinely taken aback that a ruthless government machine would abuse the Barnett Formula for a political end? Seriously?

EMBEDDED

Even if Barnett were laid down in law, they would still contrive a way of circumventing it. And it isn’t. It’s accepted custom and is embedded in the system but there is nothing to demand it is used whenever money is allocated, except of course public expectation. If you want these convenient arrangements and gentlemen’s agreements to work, you need a government that will honour them in all circumstances – a government you can trust. And the reality for Scotland is that all our lives we have learnt time and again that a Westminster government cannot be trusted.

A British government will always support Scotland. Until it doesn’t. That’s the rule that’s more important than Barnett.

So spare me the grief from the holier-than-thou mob. When Scots decided by majority three years ago that they didn’t want to run their own affairs and preferred a London government – Labour or Tory – to do it for us, we surrendered to whatever devious ploys they come up with. Now, nobody ever votes to be made a fool of and I’m sure all Unionist No voters believed they were doing it for the right reasons. It’s just this is the consequence. London decides how much we will get and how much we won’t get. Even having a man in Cabinet and War Hero Colonel leading the Scottish Tories is rendered meaningless when the needs of that London government are on the line.

What I can’t stand is the wailing about how unfair it all is. There is something pitiable about pleading with people who have manifestly no interest in your plight. Did anybody who knows anything about the Tory Party expect anything more? Did anybody ever say: ‘I can trust the Tories to do the right thing for Scotland?’

If, after their behaviour in the indyref – not to mention the previous 300 years – a single Scot honestly expected a Tory government to play fair, they should get themselves sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

LITANY

‘We wiz robbed – again.’ Make that Again. And Again. It’s a never-ending litany of robbery and insult and still a large section of the electorate ask them to do it again by voting for the same people.

‘We’re getting away with it again!’

It sums up just how weak our position is that we’re reduced to raging about whether a funding formula should have been applied to money spent elsewhere so we could get a notional nest egg. ‘We should get some too,’ sounds to me like the bleat of people who never learn a lesson. The government has the power to do virtually as it wishes in a country without a written constitution. And even when the rules appear to be written down, as in the Scotland Act, we can be quickly disabused – see the Supreme Court ruling on Scotland’s role in the triggering of Article 50. To me the main issue here isn’t the dubious authority of Barnett and the technical detail of when and how it applies. It is the principle of how a democracy should work. This looks wrong. It sounds wrong and, from the mouth of Mundell himself, it is wrong.

Here’s Andrew Wilson who heads the Growth Commission and ex MSP via Twitter.

‘I am sure people are following but every area of DUP deal would normally fall under Barnett equivalent areas.

And to bypass the system is quite something which the post war Scottish team would normally unite to fix. This probably wont stand. But we live in such strange times of self harm. Remarkable really. And while I get the argument its not relevant as not England as anchor spend this fails completely to get the whole policy intent.

Every post war secretary of state (bar none) would step in now. Every single one. I think the current one might still. Lets help him

And while by passes have happened a lot they have almost always been in the favour of the countries. A shoddy awful system & I dont approve. But the sense of unfairness from today’s move is not a matter of technical debate but obvious

So we shouldnt wind selves up on technicals rather than natural justice and (frankly) national self interest.’

GRAMMAR

Sorry about the Twitter grammar. Not wishing to put words in his mouth but I think he means, and I agree, that Barnett normally flows from a spending settlement in England and doesn’t in this case. But it really a case of politics – that is, it doesn’t feel just and isn’t in our national interest. That’s the key point. And the Union’s politics are now so broken that what would have seemed normal not so long ago – when Scotland’s politicians would have united to find a fix – is now not on the agenda. That’s what I was saying yesterday about previous Scottish Secretaries who recognised when to intervene.

It is clear that Mundell was excluded from this decision and has been humiliated. Again. Even his Tory friends don’t rate him or this would never happen. He is weak and talentless. If he had the dignity, he would look at the last two days and resign.

Here’s another Twitter sample, this time James Mitchell, Professor Politics at Edinburgh.

‘Basic logic of Barnett formula (Barnett did NOT invent it) was to rationalise spending decisions/avoid political muscle as determinant

There have always been ‘by-passes’ because political muscle continued to rule

Today has seen the most egregious case of political by-pass. Fiscally and politically irresponsible.’

He agrees that this was the use of raw politics, or muscle resulting in fiscal and political damage. No sign here at least that any Barnett ‘rule’ or law was breached. We need to stop clinging to discredited assumptions and show some muscle of our own. Which is why I hope we’re not about to hear from the First Minister that she’s hedging on the referendum.

The Barnett Bypass shows exactly the colour of people we’re dealing with – ruthless and unprincipled with no care for Scotland (or Wales). If they think they have nationalists on the run and all we can argue with is technical details on funding formulae, we should give up.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. What happens to this deal if Corbyn forms the next government supported by the SNP?
    Will that extra spend be transferred to Scotland instead?
    This is no way to manage a country’s fiscal affairs and can only discredit the Westminster establishment,even in the eyes of staunch unionists.
    When Salmond lost the referendum he resigned.
    When Cameron lost the referendum he resigned.
    May is clearly not an honourable politician and prepared to do anything to cling on to power.
    A dishonourable politician leading a dishonourable government.
    What’s new I suppose,par for the course at Westminster.
    Thanks Derek.

  2. At least if we were a colony we would be on the UN’s list of colonies in need of decolonization, to be free from what the UN calls “the scourge of colonization”. In reality Scotland’s standing is lower, even less than that of a colony, being a mere province, with all the negative connotations that entails, part of north Britain, powerless and pitiful. We are a deceit to ourselves. Brigadoon right enough. A joke of a nation. A global joke at that. And our legacy? 56 SNP MP’s did diddly squat. Nationalists ma airse.

  3. Thinks: under cover of all this chaos, someone is busily reconfiguring many things, including the shape and balance of power in the UK. The spectacle of the pathetic front of house personnel should not distract people from the real game. For example, it was obvious that Sturgeon had to be silenced.

  4. These times will be rich materiel for playwrights and authors of the future. Will Theresa May’s walk on the dark side end in success, or failure?

    The jury is out, but what actual concessions has she had to make?

    We possibly don’t know the worst of it yet.

    I think Theresa May lacks any morality whatsoever. The deal she has done is dirty and leaves her on the end of the phone to a complete, utter idiot.

    It is pretty pathetic.

    The answer is to walk away from both of them.

    Scots seem to be incapable of seeing that.

    Cue, Scots but.

  5. I don’t know anyone in Scotland who is bothered by the financial aspect of this deal.

    We will have to get shafted a lot harder than this for people to take notice. And probably then the press will still sucessfully manage to pin the blame for any pain on the SNP.

  6. The article makes clear the power to make things up as it goes along that resides in Westminster.

    The justification for excluding the ‘contribution’ to Northern Ireland from Barnett is an example of this. Until now, I had never seen or heard it stated that the Barnet Formula applies only to spending increases announced for England. In practice, because of the imbalance in the politics of the UK, announcements about additional spending were usually made relating to, for example, education, NHS England, housing, etc and that proportionate amounts were then devolved to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

    However, as we are always told the UK is a partnership of equals, so the logic should be that any specific increases for Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales should than be applied proportionately to the other countries. Now, I do not know if any Scotland-specific, for example, spending increases in the past were applied to England, Northern Ireland or Wales. Had GERS been other than a con and been a rigorous account of real tax and expenditure for Scotland, perhaps, we would know have known.

    If the ‘Vow’ had been actually enacted then we would have ‘as close to federalism as is possible’ and, as such we, in Scotland, would have a proper constitution with comprehensive and coherent powers, as would England, Northern Ireland and Wales. And, England would have the power to devolve itself further into regions.

    Let us not grudge the people of Northern Ireland their additional £1billion and hope that it is deployed equitably to benefit all sections of society. While we ought to demand similar treatment for the rest of the Uk, let us also use it as a lever to prise the constitution and associated powers from Westminster and to distribute these much wider and more transparently.

  7. “56 SNP MP’s did diddly squat. Nationalists ma airse.” Thanks, agree, Alf B. This phrase sums it all up entirely. I cannot see indy happening now and we have truly missed the chance. We INDEED should have moved fast when the world’s attention would have been upon this monumental victory of 56/59 MPs returned.
    And – anyone even mentioning UDI should return to their tree house with a fresh bunch of sarnies.

  8. Agree with the argument, it’s as if the MPs and SG are trying to be too much part of the system. They could say it is a political ploy and move on from that.
    It is beginning to sound like the Welsh Labour Government that spent so much time pleading with Osborne to give Wales more money because Scotland got so much, in fact they wanted £4Billion transferred from Scotland to Wales.
    I think it was Craig Murray who said the increased MPs didn’t settle up they settled in to Westminster.
    I accept the MPs did get experience of what larger Government did, and being on many Committees learned what Westminster was doing to Scotland, information the SNP didn’t have before, and that the GE cut short their time.
    However I had thought what they did have would serve to make plans for Independence, getting together with the SNP MSPs to see how to advance Independence. An example would be to get the real figures that go to make up GERS. Richard Murphy pointed out 25 of the 26 sets of figures were estimates, there were no real figures for Scotland alone on the taxes collected, VAT, Corporation tax, all income tax.
    I also thought they should come to their constituencies, as there was an MP in virtually every one, to inform us of what Westminster was about, especially on devolved and reserved powers.

    • “I also thought they should come to their constituencies, as there was an MP in virtually every one, to inform us of what Westminster was about, especially on devolved and reserved powers”

      I think that is a great idea, Brian.

  9. I personally think that excluding this ‘deal’ from the Barnett is simply an abuse of power. Why? Because the Tories are paying support from the DUP with public UK funds, not with funds coming from the Tory party itself.

    Those public funds contributions are being taken from the citizens of the UK in the from of different forms of mandatory taxes with the excuse to run the country, not to be used to pay for the dodgy deals of a self-serving Tory party that is clinging onto power by their fingertips. Those public funds belong to the entire UK, including Scotland and quite frankly, sending just 13 tory MPs to WEstminster is hardly a mandate for the Tories to help themselves to the public purse to use Scotland’s contributions to pay backhands to individual political parties in exchange for their support.

    This is clearly abuse of power and I think it should be fought tooth and nail by Scotland, Wales, and certainly England too as it only opens the door to more abuse by the tories. I am of the opinion that if the Tory party wants to buy the support of DUP then it should be forced to use the cash from the tory party’s pot and therefore ‘living within their means’ as they preach to us minions. Tory donors are generous, judging by the fact that some constituencies in Scotland received up to 13 leaflets. So Theresa May can start a fundraiser and ask its donors to put a generous contribution to the kitty to buy DUP’s support.

    I do not see it lawful that they are appropriating themselves of public funds abusing their position of power to buy themselves extra time in government. The only way they can put right this unethical appropriation of public funds for the tory party’s interest is by applying the Barnett formula so the rest of the nations of the UK get what corresponds to them proportionally. If we consent in corrupt minority governments like the one currently leaded by May, in abusing public funds to buy the loyalty of MPs from different parties, then democracy as we know it is finished.

    By the way, how is Mr Mundell’s position tenable after this? Didn’t he said that he would oppose “anything that could be construed as backdoor funding to Northern Ireland”? Well this is indeed backdoor funding to NI, so what is he waiting for? Shouldn’t he resign for lying to and misleading the Scottish people?

    And what about the other 12 Ruth’s MPs holding the ‘leavers of the balance of power’? Didn’t it even cross their minds to use those leavers to stop that buy off with public funds?

  10. The comment that the SNP MPs did “Diddly squat” is not accurate. What the 56 MPs did was ask more questions, make more speeches and submit more amendments than the others.

    Their presence, and their failure to change things was the most salutary lesson on the need for independence we have seen so far. The overwhelmingly presence of nationalist MPs glaringly highlighted that “Scotland proposes – England disposes”.

    House of Commons 650 MPs – SNP 56 MPs.

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