Monday, 13 March 2017

Indyref2

"Oh! what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive!"
Sir Walter Scott 

Well that was a birthday present I could have done without. Just when you thought things couldn't get more confused and uncertain the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has announced that there will be another independence vote, indyref2. By doing so she has made investment decisions less likely and released the handbrake on another downhill ride for the Scottish economy. I understand the reasons and share many of the frustrations that she cites including the unwillingness of the Tory Government to entertain a less strident Brexit strategy. But is it really wise to have a repechage on an issue that has dominated Scottish politics for the last decade? It has been to the exclusion of using the now extensive powers of the Scottish Parliament to make progress on devolved matters. And let's face it there has been a significant deterioration of public services since 2008 most notably health and social care, education, police and the complete range of community services from sport to libraries, arts and local community facilities. All of which are devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

At the last referendum there was an unrealistic assumption that North sea oil and gas would cover the substantial deficit between income and expenditure. That is no longer the case as can be seen from Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland 2015-16, North sea oil and gas revenues peaked between 2006 and 2013 and are now in terminal decline with extraction dipping from 118.7 m tonnes to 66.9m tonnes in 2015.

The net deficit between income and expenditure in 2015 to 2016 was £14.8bn, a very significant 9.5% of the Scottish GDP.  This compares to the UK as a whole having a net deficit of 4.0% over the same period. Even whisky exports fell by 10% between 2012 and 2015. Scotland has not recovered from the last recession as well as other parts of the UK. The most recent evidence on education performance shows that Scotland is now lagging behind England as well as the majority of European countries in school performance. Threats to free schools from local authority control is not the answer, it is the loss of support services and failure to train enough teachers as the baby boomer tranche of teachers retire that is at the heart of the problem.

Scotland has stood still or regressed from 2008, this is partly as a result of the financial crash, for which the activities of the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Scotland's played a significant role. It is also because the Scottish Government has focused too much attention on blaming Westminster for all problems whilst failing to provide constructive leadership for the delivery of Scottish public services. The facts are unassailable from unemployment to GDP to average incomes to school performance to health services and housing investment.

Add this to the fact that the economic case for independence is now even less positive than 2014 and it can be seen that indyref2 will be another risky venture that will divert attention and resources away from the things that really matter.

The half truths and lies that have emanated from both the first minister and prime minister do no credit to either Holyrood or Westminster. I find the dilemma particularly vexing. Whilst the UK government is possibly the worst in my lifetime with policies that contravene all that I hold dear, I am no fan of independence in a world that requires stronger global alliances to prevent the obscene profit taking by the global companies. Equally important is unambiguous local governance for setting priorities and delivering good local services that respond to the needs of localities.

The Scottish Government has been a centralising force and has certainly failed to reflect the ambitions that Donald Dewar held out when proposing and delivering the Scottish Parliament. His plea for devolution was one of subsidiarity where decision making was taken as close as possible to communities. He saw the Scottish Parliament devolving many of its powers to the local level not sucking up more from the localities. Instead powers have gravitated to Edinburgh under successive first ministers. Police, colleges, economic development, health, education, roads and transport have all been subjected to centralisation. What is increasingly evident is that this has resulted in no commensurate improvement in the services. No surprise there, it is almost inevitable that central government is too remote to deliver services in the era of neo-liberal politics. The transfer of services to external providers has been exploited for profit and the fundamental tenent of public service delivery - to serve the citizen- has been made into a commercial transaction without the supposed safeguard of competition for the citizen.

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