Bugger Barnett

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.





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17 thoughts on “Bugger Barnett

  1. Couldn’t agree more, Derek.

    This IS just one in a long line of lessons we have been given about those who would rule over us.

    We cannot back down.

    There may be false incredulity from unionists and some sections of the media today if Nicola comes out fighting (‘how can she want this when the SNP are on their way down….we’ll ignore the still winning bit?!?’.

    But she’s got to keep the pressure on because the Big Prize is what lets us forget we ever had to deal with this mob.

  2. Margaret Brogan

    Indeed, as the leader of the SNP at Westminster said this morning, this is pork barrel politics. Blatant buying of political influence, why do we expect anything else?

  3. I think we should give up

    All these old coggers who r tied to the queen the red white and blue
    The Second World War
    Screw them

    I don’t mean give up
    But it’s wot my heart is telling me

    Same old crap on the media

    But if it’s as it’s sounds we’re giving up on Indy ref 2
    Wot is the point

    Scotland biggest bunch of looses
    I think that’s wot paddy power said about us and it’s true

    And Nicola if that’s wot ur saying and I hope not

    Then paddy power is rite

    And Nicola I still believe

  4. Totally agree – this is now a golden opportunity in the wake of the General Election for the SNP and any others with a modicum of sense to go on the offensive and absolutely hammer the British Nationalists and the UK’s political system. Don’t get caught up on technicalities, don’t try to back into nuanced arguments (we should know by now that this is wasted on large chunks of the electorate), don’t worry about being negative, don’t get caught up in unnecessary detail – just slam them and the UK for the joke that it is.

  5. Notwithstanding the justifiable and widespread outrage over the ‘bung’ to the DUP, the complaints from many in Scotland about unfair treatment by the Tory Government on this occasion misses the point. This is (just) what the ‘system’ permits.

    The application of Barnet i.e. what elements of UK government expenditure trigger a consequential benefit/disbenefit for Scotland’s public finances (‘block grant’), has always been in the gift of HM Treasury. We in Scotland must largely sit by and await the decisions of a UK Government as it is influenced in its spending policies by the de facto parliament of England in Westminster.

    This from the excellent account of the Barnet Formula by Alan Tench: (https://devolutionmatters.wordpress.com/the-barnett-formula-and-the-financing-of-devolution/ ).

    “All key decisions regarding the working of the formula and the block grant and formula system are taken by HM Treasury.  The Treasury has extensive discretion about its operation – most notably, whether an event should trigger a consequential payment or not.  For example, the Treasury decided in the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review to exclude all spending on the 2012 London Olympics from triggering consequentials, on the ground that it was for the benefit of the UK as a whole.  This was despite the fact that much of the spending was on regeneration of the area around Stratford in east London, which would have triggered consequentials in any other context.  The result was an enduring dispute between the UK and devolved governments.

    The formula’s basis is that it is simply Treasury ‘policy’.  It is not enshrined in statute, or given any legal or constitutional form.  It is simply set out in an internal document of the UK Government.  (A complaint sometimes made by devolved finance ministers is that they have no right to sign or otherwise approve the Statement when it is revised.  It is signed on behalf of the devolved administrations by the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.)  Authority to pay the grant is given each year in the Supply and Appropriation Act passed by Parliament, and the grant is paid to the territorial Secretary of State, who passes it on to the devolved administration after deducting the cost of running his or her Office.”

    So much ‘noise’ today over Barnet in the context of the DUP deal: so little ‘noise’ over the longstanding and ongoing discretionary power over Scotland’s public finances every other day of the year!

  6. We ( not me ) voted for this . Disheartening it is to see so many Scots , like wee kids , whinging that ”she got more than me !” Cringe and vote Tory/Labour for a subsidy culture .

    As the Proclaimers song says : ”What do you do when minority means you ?”

  7. Robert Mccracken

    Spot on its beginning to look like we have a toothless snp and scottish secretary
    I give up on hoping we have anybody who is non pc
    Nye bevan springs to mind.im sorry hes dead

  8. I’ve heard a lot of noise over the DUP’s domestic terrorist links. Today’s statesman is often enough yesterday’s guerilla – the two more recent escapades that should maybe concern us more are,

    The dirty international political funding in UK politics

    https : //www.irishtimes.com/opinion/what-connects-brexit-the-dup-dark-money-and-a-saudi-prince-1.3083586

    and the corruption that previously looked to be gutting the DUP in just the way it deserved

    http : //www.thejournal.ie/what-is-cash-for-ash-scandal-3177793-Jan2017/

  9. Robert Graham

    Well pointed our Derek , the amount is neither here nor there , its the whole idea of the begging bowl being presented , for OUR money and the english treasury doing exactly what their government demands that being the crux of the matter , Alex Salmond summed up the tory party when asked about the latest lie that was uncovered ” its what they do ,they are tories ,how can you expect to trust them ” , the sad thing is how many scots voted for this shower expecting something completely different , Mugs fooled again .
    Its like being in a lifeboat with the shore in sight , and your fellow passengers are hacking bloody holes in the bottom of the boat while blaming you for their stupidity .It’s a wonder Nicola Sturgeon continues to try and govern for the benefit of all, even these thankless b/trds , she needs our support more than ever .

  10. I too sometimes think, what’s the bloody point when so many of our own are so willfully ignorant, some even revel in it. It’s been said before but a people do seem to get the government they deserve.

    Of course it cannot be maintained in the long term, the UK is a system (of sorts) and no system can withstand constant entropy, the national debt is frightening and continues to grow unchecked. Austerity has not worked and never has, now they face demands to spend, borrow even more while the ability to repay it all is diminishing, entropy!

    Like Derek, i don’t want to hear the pitiful squeals of “oh but we were lied to” Again!

    Of course you were, but you chose to believe, the devil you know.

  11. Just remember we’re closer now to regaining our independence than ever before in the centuries of the so-called united kingdom. The only thing keeping the so-called uk together is the britnat media. The increasing hysteria of said media is an indication of a new level of britnat desperation. Not long now. Stay cool. Independence is coming.

  12. Anyone who genuinely believed that the Scots tories would fight Scotland’s corner need to wake up and grow up.

    If you voted no, you voted to be an afterthought in Westminster’s agenda.

    Partnership of equals? Scotland should lead Britain not leave it? Those two sentiments never had a seat at the table. Did you get a special badge with “No 1 best little achiever” with your no vote? If you didn’t you got cheated. You voted to be 2nd class and they didn’t have the decency to kick you in the teeth you remind you. You’re not worth even that much attention.

    What really galls me are No voters who after seeing this turn and demand the Scottish Government to pull their unionist nuts out of the fire. You have the Scottish media crowing about an Indyref U turn that never happened. Ruth Davidson turning into a an Action Man drag act and Scottish labour, absolutely cock-a-hoop at the Tory party winning in Scotland. The Corbyn bounce – there was no Corbyn bounce. Not in Scotland or in England. He lost – remember? Its just that this mild mannered old man who was probably born wearing a cardigan looked – for a moment – more electable than Madam Mayhem. But not enough to win. Some SNP voters turned Tory – Incredibly because of Brexit. Many stayed at home. So a lot of this unfolding farce is on them. But it also on the Lib dems and Labour voters who turned Tory to lock out the SNP. This is also on them They cannibalised their own votes, because they are shit scared that they will lose a 2nd Indyref.

    A 2nd Indyref it should be noted for the faint of heart, was voted through last year. An indyref Nicola Sturgeon had already said would not happen till 2019. And yet so many people, including some posting here, have accepted at face value what has been published and reported by the UK media as a U turn. Its safe to assume that many posted here and elsewhere about how duplicitous the media is and of the institutional bias of the BBC. How on earth could anyone take that as anything other than the same biased reporting we have always seen. How can anyone here actually expect the media to anything else than lie to your face?

    That what saddens me the most. People who should know better expecting honesty and fair dealing from the media let alone a conservative Government. We should have known what to expect by now.

    I have no time for No and Brexit voters complaining about Westminster’s Bullshit. I also have little patience with Yes voters who are astonished that the UK establishment at cheating bastards. They are not going to let Scotland go without a fight and they will fight dirty.

  13. They have one main tactic and that’s divide and conquer, it’s a cracker too, they learned it from us Scots then they used it to build an empire

    They don’t have to do much because we divide ourselves. Politics, class, religion, locality, brexit……anything really. This leaves us wide open to exploitation and even after over 300 years we still don’t see it in enough numbers.

  14. As a Scotsman living in Canada I often wonder why there’s not a bigger push for independence.
    Are we really that brainwashed and cowed down?
    The newspapers are appalling and the BBC is a waste of time.
    What will it take to see the light?
    Wake the heck up!

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