With the publication of the GERS figures, somewhat earlier than usual (does that mean they are even less accurate than normal?), we have the usual Unionist orgy of doom-laden descriptions of the “black hole” in the Scottish finances, clearly demonstrating that Scotland couldn’t possibly support itself without the help of those nice people from Westminster. All of this is pretty standard stuff and probably by now is pretty much ignored by many Scots. However, there are a couple of points which all the Unionists have failed to notice, probably because thinking of doom-laden statements tends to occupy so much of your time that you probably haven’t the time to read the report and think of what it really says.
Firstly and something which has been mentioned by many, GERS says more about the failure of Westminster than it does of the failure of Scotland. Westminster have had over 300 years to make sure that Scotland, as an integral part of the UK (you will notice that I didn’t say “valued part of the UK”), has a strong economy and, using their own figures, they appear to have failed.
Secondly and perhaps less thought about, is this. Every year, the Scottish Government gets a grant from Westminster through the Barnet Formula to finance the responsibilities that Westminster have generously allowed it to have. This is a fixed proportion of total UK Government spending on these devolved responsibilities, though the actual amount reduces year on year as UK Government spending is impacted by the current austerity drive. This grant represents the maximum amount that the Scottish Government can spend, because they are not allowed to spend more than is allocated via the Barnet Formula. Despite that, the so-called black hole seems to be forever increasing. Why is this?
If the amount allocated to the Scottish Government is a fixed proportion of UK Government spending on devolved matters and the Scottish Government cannot spend more than that, who is responsible for the extra spending that causes this black hole to get bigger. Obviously, it can’t be the Scottish Government, so who else makes spending decisions for Scotland that could affect the Scottish deficit?
For all you who said Westminster, award yourselves a gold star. Westminster makes the majority of decisions that affect Scottish spending reported in GERS. If Westminster decides to spend more on defence (did someone mention Trident), Scotland has to pay a part of that. If Westminster decides to go to war (did someone mention Iraq or Syria), Scotland has to pay their share. Fair enough, you might say, as these things affect the whole country. But if Westminster decides any expenditure at all is in the national interest, such as London Crossrail or the upgrade to the London sewerage system or the high speed train link from London to Birmingham or the London Olympics (is there a trend here), then Scotland has to pay a share. Strangely, it appears that a London based government always thinks that money spent on London benefits the whole country, but doesn’t feel the same way about money spent on other parts of the country.
So, all in all, it’s obvious that the majority of decisions affecting Scottish spending are made by Westminster and if Westminster decrees, then Scotland must pay a share whether they want to or not.
So you decide. Is the current so-called black hole in Scotland’s finances the result of the Scottish Government’s profligacy or Westminster profligacy? I don’t think it’s a hard choice.