It was the theme running through this Sunday’s ‘The Politics Show Scotland’ – a mature debate….
It was the theme running through this Sunday’s ‘The Politics Show Scotland’ – a mature debate on Scotland’s fiscal future is urgently required. The three pundits brought in to share their collective thoughts on where we go now were at one on the need for a frank and open debate on the nations funding and public spending.
Labour’s 13 year splurge is over, the UK credit card has been cut up and the debt has now been called in – a reckoning awaits.
Speaking to the BBC’s Glenn Campbell – independent experts Brian Ashcroft, Ben Thompson and Allan Alexander highlighted the lack of mature discourse on how Scotland raises it’s cash and how that cash is subsequently spent. The calls were timely and welcome, £6 billion of cuts are expected to be announced by the new alliance and Scotland will not be immune. The Scottish government can do little but administer whatever budget it is handed, the economic powers it currently possesses are so weak as to be useless.
For such a debate to happen though we need politicians, a media and public who are prepared to engage honestly with one another on each of the options available – with no exceptions.
What are those options?
Well the three Unionist parties have their own collective view on matters constitutional, the generic ‘catch all’ commonly known as the Calman Commission.
Tax raising powers and borrowing powers dominated the list of recommendations set down by Sir Kenneth’s hand picked panel. That Scottish ministers have no responsibility for the raising of funds was key to Calman’s findings and formed the basis for much of the commissions outcomes.
The other options available are full fiscal autonomy within the Union; recently called for by leading businessmen and of course the SNP’s preferred option of independence. All three options have significant support and all three need to be debated and discussed.
That there has been pretty much no debate whatsoever is difficult to understand; the Calman Commission has exclusively dominated the media since its inception yet its recommendations have still to be seriously scrutinised and discussed, this is despite the tax raising proposals having been savaged by leading academics.
That criticism ought to have resulted in some sort of serious scrutiny within the Scottish media, especially during the recent general election campaign. However Jim Murphy, David Mundell and Alistair Carmichael fielded no such questions on the matter. This media reluctance was compounded by the marginalising of the SNP throughout the election coverage and meant that Scots went to the polls completely ignorant of the possible impact of what were then Labour’s tax proposals.
Moreover it was never fully explained what the Tory and Lib Dem plans actually were – thus, the new alliance are currently cobbling together a piecemeal compromise to be implemented at an undisclosed date.
When asked about the proposals on Sunday the new Scotland Office minister David Mundell would say only that they would ‘consult’ the Scottish government, adding depressingly that the National Conversation was now “defunct”. If mature and inclusive debate is to be had at all then politicians who try to tell Scots what they can and cannot discuss must be forcibly reminded that the debate is open to all and that we will not be corralled.
Across the nation there is a spectrum of views ranging from Calman-lite to full independence and no section of Scottish society should be excluded, nor their views be ignored.
So let’s listen to the independent experts and let’s have a proper debate. Calman, Fiscal Autonomy or Independence await – we owe it to ourselves to place everything on the table and have a look at what our choices are.
The table of course is the ‘media trinity’ of radio & television, traditional newspapers and the online community. At the moment only the third of this triumvirate are fully engaged, the other two still appear reluctant to participate.
Until they change their ostrich like stance then the Scottish electorate will remain in blissful ignorance as historic decisions are taken on their behalf behind closed doors somewhere in London.
That will be unacceptable.