The blank cheque


By Hazel Lewry

In dialogue over the upcoming referendum there’s been much noise from those of a Unionist persuasion of the benefits of the present political arrangement.  Three centuries into this forced marriage Scotland is still waiting to discover the benefits that accrue to her.  Tangible benefits, not simply feel-goods for a few.

Scotland is being requested to write a blank cheque in the referendum.  Scots are to promise all current and future revenues to London in return for the unspecified “gift” of powers” at some unspecified later date.  We might be given a few more ways to decide how we wish to spend that portion of our own money which is returned to us.

Westminster is unwilling to put its money where its mouth is.  If London is serious, and honest, it will put forward the extra powers now that an agreement in principle has finalised the Scotland bill.  It will enact the changes in the near future, readying them for the referendum and do so in such a way they cannot be altered without a subsequent Scots referendum.  They will enshrine them in such a way that any proposed power grab by Westminster would require a vote of the Scots people.  Scotland requires guarantees beyond the current SNP majority administration.

Scotland’s present blank cheque should at least buy these guarantees.  That it cannot do so at the current time shows the full value of these promises.  Scotland is asking the UK government that in return for all tax receipts, upwards of £50 billion, that the UK treats with us fairly.  The refusal of respect from Westminster after the countless billions sent south has been stunning in its scope.

The blank cheque going over the border around budget time brings thoughts of exactly what the it gets us.  What does Scotland obtain in return for the money?

Mr. Osborne said this week “What you will see on Wednesday is a Budget for working people, a Budget that shows Britain can earn its way in the world, a Budget that says Britain is not content with being in the second rank of economic powers.”

That was clear enough, we get to be in an unequal partnership that’s created a second rank state – but it’s got aspirations.  

Lowering the top tax rate to 45% and scrapping tax breaks for over 65s were among items that led to the SNP describing the Budget as “failing the fairness test”.  It also means the tax take from Scotland will increase.

The budget’s another net loss for Scots working class families.  There’s nothing there to significantly enhance the lives of most in our nation.  We are witness to an elimination of tax credits, to be replaced in two years by a “Universal Credit” system.  That won’t put food in the mouths of Scots weans tomorrow, and by the time it finally arrives we may well have said our last goodbyes to the Union.  Osborne, Cameron, Alexander and Clegg have initiated a two year tax raid on the poor while pandering to the rich in the City with a tax reduction.

Based upon the black hole that is the fiscal drain of UK government policy, where aircraft carriers are commissioned without aircraft and the coastguard decimated in the name of putting Britain first, our blank cheque is used for the purchase and perpetuation of incompetent London based governments.

Our blank cheque also buys Scots a bundle of debt, some £125 billion, if a conservative estimate of our share is accurate and billions more by the time we choose to stop writing the cheque.  If the conservative estimate is wrong then it’s three to four times that number.  In simple terms about £24,000 per man, woman and child in Scotland and it could be as high as £80,000.  Scotland writes the cheques, Scots cover the cheques, and we are capable of doing it, yet still we owe for Westminster’s profligacy, and they want more.

The blank cheque we send south also pays for the benefits system, a system which Scots can afford better than any other constituent UK nation, yet our poor and reliant are seeing those benefits reduced or eliminated.

Our blank cheque will make certain that our disabled will be denied even if they are terminally ill, if some individual arbitrarily decides they might live six more months.  The terminally ill are rarely productive; they are dealing with closing out their lives.  Our industries and business will be forced to retain dying employees to their mutual injury.  This part of our cheque buys us what can only be considered as a purchase of state sponsored sadism.

Our blank cheque buys us our NHS and our Police, with other services that we require, except the proposals by the Con-Dem government in Westminster, ostensibly to reduce public debt, will decimate the Barnett formula, and force Holyrood to follow suit.

When the Barnett formula is replaced after the referendum, if we stay, there is no mention of joint negotiations as to the future level of need.  Scotland will get what Westminster decides it requires.  On present form, based upon military expenditure, that number will be somewhere between one half and two thirds the funds required, and substantially less than is sent south.

Our blank cheque buys Scots unemployment, from the mining, fishing and steel industries of the past to the defence of the realm today.  It buys us the inability to create and craft policies for implementation that can be put forward for the better governance of ourselves, for the betterment of our lives and communities and in an effort to ensure a productive future for our next generations.

One area the proponents of the UK are constantly upbeat about is defence, it may have held water a century ago, but is no longer a credible argument.

The Navy normally provides a minimum coverage of a frigate or destroyer fulfilling the role of Fleet Ready Escort (FRE) in order to be able to respond quickly to a potential threat at home or abroad. However, slashed Defence budgets and the war in Libya have meant there hasn’t been a vessel available in the UK since the start of October.

To put this in perspective, at the time of Union in 1707 there were three Scots navy ships dedicated to ensuring Scotland’s waters were safe.  Our blank cheque to Westminster is currently buying Scotland a 2 billion defence under-spend and poorer naval coverage than at the time of Union.

Scotland does require protection and response vessels; three full time ships would be a minimum with one on each coast constantly available for fisheries and rig work.  London demanded we throw in another few billion in addition to our blank cheque, courtesy of a tax raid on Scots oil, even though this stifled investment, cost jobs and stalled a full industrial sector recovery.  Westminster can’t even protect the assets laying the golden eggs.    

The blank cheque is still not enough for London; it needs additional cash on top.  Not content with mortgaging our children’s futures there’s a very real possibility that our own may be in more jeopardy.  The previous pensions raids, increasing our pension age and changing tax allowances or thresholds were not sufficient as the chancellor eagerly eyed the biggest cash cow left, what remained in our pensions was ripe for another plucking – the fowl is now near naked.

More than our already blank cheque is demanded as we have seen our lottery funds raided, sports programmes in Scotland set aside as cash is funnelled to London’s Olympics, already over budget by a factor of five.  Eight thousand million pounds over budget and Scotland gets a projection of depressed tourism this summer in exchange.  More than a quarter of Scotland’s annual budget is just the overspend for a games in London, and our dying are forced to work for it.

There are also many things we know our blank cheque doesn’t buy.  That cheque drawn on the community and realm of Scotland doesn’t protect the lands we own from being sold out from under our feet.  Witness the Crown Estate, our absentee landlord in England as Westminster’s own MPs recently called it, selling the land below Stirling Castle.  Land held in trust for generations to be managed on our behalf.  The people of Stirling had to buy their own land with emergency funds.

Our blank cheque also doesn’t buy protection from the worst excesses and atrocities perpetrated in London.  There is no historical protection from items like the Poll Tax or present austerity, from near criminal relaxation of financial regulations leading to a banking collapse over which we had no influence yet still it became a rod for our collective backs.  It doesn’t even buy us an ability to discharge disgraced, morally contemptible or lawbreaking lawmakers.

In 2014 you can vote against independence.  But if you vote No, you are voting to continue sending your blank cheque south to vanish into the maws of the black hole in Westminster’s accounts.