Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Rocks and hard places

I don’t know whether it’s true that Gordon Brown still enjoys much more support and respect in Scotland than he does in the rest of the UK.  It’s reported as a fact by the UK media, but it has a slight feel of being one of those pieces of ‘conventional wisdom’ as seen from the perspective of Westminster; the sort of wisdom which only matches the facts in the imagination.
True or not, the ‘no’ camp seem to be placing a lot of faith in his ability to win people over in the last week or so of the campaign.  It’s hard to judge whether that faith is misplaced.  His task is not an easy one with the momentum going the other way, and it isn’t made any easier by the differing perspectives held within his own party on some of the key issues, such as funding mechanisms.
Last week, he declared that the Barnett formula is a “needs-based approach” to allocating resources, and said: “I don’t think there is going to be much change in the Barnett formula at all in future years”.  Speaking to a Scottish audience, I guess he didn’t have a lot of choice.  But I can’t imagine that our own First Minister can have been best pleased as he prepared to make the journey north to support Brown and others in the Labour Party.
It’s a problem of Labour’s own making.  They’ve had the facts and they had the opportunity to search for a way forward on funding which reconciled the different perspectives in Wales and Scotland.  But they decided that it was too difficult, and bottled it.
But those different perspectives also undermine something else which was part of Brown’s key message.  He said of the Union, “We are four nations that have come together.  We have proved what no other four nations have proved, that we can allocate resources amongst each other, according to need.” 
Given the large and growing geographical inequalities in the UK, and given the forensic dissection of the effects of the Barnett formula by the Holtham Commission and others, many would argue that the UK has proved quite the opposite – that it is in fact utterly unable to allocate resources according to need. 
This has been one of the weaknesses of the unionist case from the outset – whilst, theoretically, a union ought to be able to redistribute resources fairly, successive governments have shown only limited inclination to attempt it.  If they had succeeded, then the unionist case would have been very much stronger; but claiming to have done something which has patently not been done only draws more attention to the problem.
Worse still, if people like Brown really do believe that they have achieved this outcome, then we can be fairly certain that they won’t feel much need to change what they’re doing if they win the next UK election.  After all, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”.  I almost feel sorry for the “senior elected Labour politician in the UK”, as he finds himself bound to support a campaign which is, effectively, trashing the conclusions of the Holtham report and distancing itself from everything that he has been saying on funding.  But only almost.


Bored of Labour said...

I don't know about anyone else, but to me the No Campaign are lining the currency union up as a trap in case they can't win and have to enter post YES negotiations, with all three Unionist parties saying in the past few days that there will have to be a referendum in England, Wales and NI before they agree the policy and of course it's likely to be a resounding no and cause problems to a newly independent Scotland.

I hope im wrong, but logical thinking is out the window and hatred of Alex Salmond and the SNP is driving UK party thinking.

John Dixon said...

"... the No Campaign are lining the currency union up as a trap in case they can't win ..."

I really don't think that their strategy is anything like as well worked out as that. I suspect that they never thought for a moment that they could lose, and therefore felt free to say more or less anything they liked.

But if it all goes horribly wrong (for them!), and they have to face up to a new reality on September 19th, then everything changes. Anything that they've said in the run-up to the referendum is just "politicians' promises" - they'll have no problem doing the opposite once the dust has settled. Indeed, I'd even go so far as to suggest that many voters have already discounted much of what they say on that basis. The little boy who cries wolf always has trouble with his credibility.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I think you are rather out of date here.

Gerry Holtham, a man that many have time for, myself included, doesn't see any likely change in the Barnett formula over the coming years. And, in part, this is due to the recent recession having narrowed the various differentials.

For my own part, one person's need is another person's greed. And the same thinking applies to many regions throughout the UK.

If we in Wales want more we need to start to make more and contribute more. Sadly, I rarely see any politician telling Welsh voters the realities of life!

John Dixon said...

The difference between Gerry Holtham not seeing any change forthcoming and Gordon Brown not seeing any change forthcoming is that the one is an observer predicting that nothing will happen even though it should, whilst the other is a participant saying what his party will or won't do, who doesn't even understand the need. One is a prediction; the other a promise - not at all the same thing.

"one person's need is another person's greed" In the sense that the greed of the few causes need in the many, I'd have to agree. But I rather suspect that isn't what you meant.

"If we in Wales want more we need to start to make more and contribute more."

And I sort of agree with you on that as well. But it is only likely to happen if we start taking full responsibility for our own future. But I'm guessing that you didn't mean that either.