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.
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?
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.
‘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.
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.’
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.
And here is the Fraser of Allander Institute on the subject: ‘…On a technical level there is nothing in the Northern Ireland agreement that contradicts any rules or laws.’ The author goes on to say there are other concerns but they are of a different nature, concluding that: ‘HM Treasury acts as both rule-maker and referee. It appears to have complete discretion as what is within and outwit the Barnett Formula without consulting the devolved government.’ Exactly. We are powerless. They decide for us and we lump it. that’s where we are and that’s the nub of it, not the convoluted jumble of Barnett consequentials.
We need to stop clinging to discredited assumptions and show some muscle of our own. Which is why I’m glad to hear the First Minister say the referendum remains on the table but the legislation can wait until Brexit is a done deal. 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.