Fresh from giving his enthusiastic support to George I’m Not Bullying At All Osborne over the currency, the UK Treasury’s resident carrot top has decided it’s a good idea to distract from the threat with a tiny wee carrot. At least it looks like a carrot, but it lacks any nutritional value. It’s a miniature scale model of a carrot, carefully fashioned out of the breeks George Osborne has just keeched and glued together with false hope and desperation.
Wee Danny Alexander – recently voted man of the year by readers of The Face You’d Most Like to Slap magazine – has announced the ‘historic’ news that Westminster is going to allow Scotland to borrow from commercial lenders, but only at a higher rate of interest, and only within the strict limits set out in the Scotland Act. The Scotland Act will allow Holyrood to borrow up to £2.2 billion after 2015 for capital expenditure through the UK Government administered National Loans Fund. Danny’s wee sleight of hand will give Holyrood the option of borrowing from commercial lenders at a more expensive rate of interest instead. It’s another of those “oh look extra powers” from Westminster that on closer inspection turns out to be useless – and was intended to be useless.
In this sense it is exactly like another useless power Holyrood currently has, the power to vary income tax. Holyrood can only vary income tax equally across all income bands, so Scotland can’t cut taxes for the lowest earners without also cutting tax for the richest. In any case, any extra funds generated would be cut from the UK’s block grant so the net effect would be zero. It granted us the illusion of extra powers for the Scottish Parliament, without any actual power being transferred.
Danny’s trying the same trick, only in this instance you don’t have to look very closely at all to see that the historic extra power is as historically useless as a Victorian steam powered spaceship. Westminster has already agreed that Scotland will be able to borrow from the National Loans Fund, now they’re telling us that if we want we can borrow the same amount from Wonga instead.
“Instead” being the operative term here. This is another extra power that is not an extra power at all, and it owes it existence solely to the political need for Westminster to make like it’s offering Scotland increased powers without actually giving us anything we want or need, or indeed are able to use.
So not that historic at all really, unless Danny meant it was historic in the sense that it will shortly be consigned to the history books as a wee footnote marked “last desperate throw of the dice”. Its distinct lack of historicness was apparent on BBC Scotland’s lunchtime news, even the cheerleaders for the Better Together campaign didn’t think it was historic enough to bother mentioning it.
The supposed new power does precisely zero to ameliorate the 26% cut in capital expenditure which Scotland is facing after 2015. That’s the reality of extra powers promised by Westminster. Extra cuts, extra austerity, extra lies, extra kicks up the arse.
The sole purpose of the measure has nothing to do with increasing the powers of the Scottish Parliament, and everything to do with allowing Danny Alexander to play the Treasury good cop alongside Osborne’s bad cop. But neither of them are much cop, and neither is this supposed extra power. It’s hysteria, not history.
But I’m being unfair. The new measure does actually have another purpose. This purpose has nothing to do with increasing the powers of the Scottish Parliament however, and everything to do with granting Unionist politicians another stick with which to beat the yes campaign. “But Holyrood has powers we don’t even use!” they will cry. The extra power isn’t for Scotland, it’s for our Unionist masters. It’s to allow them to assert that devolution is a progress, when all that progresses is their careers.
These wee tricks always bemuse me. Westminster spends so much time and energy devising non-functional copies of extra powers for Holyrood that it would surely be far more efficient and cheaper just to give us the real thing. But Westminster is locked into a self-destructive cycle of greed and avarice, hoarding power like Gollum’s precioussssss. They can’t help themselves.
Scotland has woken up. The independence debate means that all across the country, in ordinary homes, folk are looking into the mechanisms of government, the intricacies of national budgets, the ways in which our political class use and abuse their power. We’re learning, we’re informing ourselves. We want answers, and we increasingly want them from a position of knowledge. The indy debate has given Scots a macintosh that’s resistant to bullshit.
Scotland has changed forever. Tiny wee non-functional model carrots fool no one any more, you’d think Westminster would have realised that by now. But they haven’t, and that’s why they’re going to lose in September.