Peter Arnott in The Global Dispatches, 29 January 2014:
“We have been tempted to believe in Scotland that our tactical pattern of voting one way in a Westminster elections and another in Holyrood elections would continue to shelter us from the worst neo-liberal excesses of Westminster – our parliament after all came into existence as a retroactive shelter from what was inflicted on us (and everyone else in non-Tory Britain) the last time the Conservatives were in power.
And that, readers, is why it matters that I live in England.
SNP MSP Joan McAlpine made a very similar point to Arnott’s in the Daily Record on Monday, in a rather more specific context. In a week in which the Scottish Parliament enjoyed a rare moment of unity by agreeing to essentially pay Westminster a £50m ransom to release those held hostage by the coalition’s bedroom tax – money sacrificed from elsewhere in the Scottish budget – she noted:
“There is only so long you can keep patching the holes Westminster is shooting into the welfare state. Eventually the bucket will leak.”
Those quotes are relevant to our location because in an ongoing display of apparently unwitting irony, a section of vocal Unionists (both Labour and Tory) on social media frequently likes to deride the fact that this site campaigns for Scottish independence while its editor – hello! – currently lives outside Scotland.
(We’ll leave aside that such jeering borders on an ugly ethnic nationalism of exactly the sort they claim to decry, we’ll also turn a blind eye to the constant interference in the debate by English MPs and government ministers, and lastly we’ll gloss over the fact that the No campaign is openly recruiting and bussing in hordes of campaigners from England to “lovebomb” Scots with pleas for unity.)
Because the pertinence of my location to Arnott and McAlpine’s comments isn’t that it’s geographically outside Scotland, but that it’s five years into Scotland’s future.
The Scottish Parliament, as McAlpine notes, is essentially a firefighting operation. It has almost no control over the economy of Scotland, because the economy of Scotland is the economy of the UK, and as such is controlled by Westminster. When cuts are made in London, Holyrood has no levers with which to try to replace the missing money – all it can do is frantically jiggle stuff around, cut a few corners and try to make a few efficiency savings to delay the inevitable.
But there’s a limit to how thinly you can spread money before it simply won’t cover everything any more. The Scottish Government’s actions can buy some time, but with no money of its own that’s all it can buy. Sooner or later, as successive Westminster budgets turn the screw, what happens in England will come to Scotland.
And what’s happening in England? Bath, where I live, is one of the UK’s richest pockets. Because people have money house prices are mindboggling (the average is just shy of £300,000, almost exactly twice as high as Scotland and nearly 40% above even the Scottish hotspots of Edinburgh and Aberdeen), and unemployment is low (around 2.7% in the city and just 1.8% in the unitary-authority area), which means a relatively small benefits bill because more people are working and paying taxes.
Yet even here cuts are savage, with children, the elderly and the poor bearing the brunt in an area dominated by the Lib Dems and Conservatives. All manner of social services, from libraries to public toilets, are either being abolished, having their budgets slashed or having fees imposed on them. The city has already lost almost 90% of its post offices, with just one left to serve 80,000 people. Retail is struggling.
This is Scotland’s future, seen in advance. The inevitable end of the Barnett Formula after a No vote will turn the steady erosion that Holyrood has struggled to keep under control into a catastrophic tidal wave, overwhelming any defences the Scottish Parliament can put up no matter how diligently it strives to build a wall of sandbags. Because at the end of the day, even the most ingeniously-designed sandbag is no use when you haven’t got any sand – that is, money – to put in it.
By and large, Scottish voters are as ignorant of what goes on in England as their counterparts down here are of events north of the border. But readers, take it from your correspondent on the scene – what’s happening here is what’s coming to you if you don’t vote Yes, and you’re not going to like it one bit.