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English Question

That John Major Speech

Thanks to Braveheart's Blog I see that the full text of John Major's speech is now available on the Ditchley Foundation website. Of particular interest are the terms that Major believes will prevent Scotland from voting for independence:

Unionists have a responsibility to tell Scotland what independence entails.

A referendum in favour of separation is only the beginning. The terms must then be negotiated and a further referendum held.

These terms might deter many Scots. No Barnett Formula. No Block Grant. No more representation at Westminster. No automatic help with crises such as Royal Bank of Scotland. I daresay free prescriptions would end and tuition fees begin.

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but there's nothing to say that there should be a Barnett Formula, a block grant, free prescriptions or no tuition fees for Scotland if Scotland remains in Union; these things are not intrinsically unionist. Bribing Scotland to stay in the Union makes no sense to me. And with whose money are you bribing them, John, and with whose permission?

BBC Biased Towards England

The Scotsman:

On the day that the BBC published its annual review, a report by the Audience Council Scotland (ACS) said that there was a "bias" towards stories about England on the UK network....

Citing Radio 4 as an example, it said the BBC's flagship current affairs and cultural station had a "world view rooted in the south of England".

Having lived for five years in Scotland, followed by a year in Canada, and then five years back in England, I have to say that television in England is far less parochial and nationalistic. In England, especially on the BBC, you are far more likely to be presented with a programme or series that is specifically about Scotland than you are to happen across a programme specifically about England. The BBC doesn't do England. I wouldn't be surprised if it was possible to watch an entire day of TV in England without hearing the word 'England' mentioned, apart from on the weather forecast or if the English football/cricket/rugby team happened to be playing.

In England we get 'A History of Scotland' shown on prime time, and repeated ad nauseum, but no 'A History of England'. There is a 'Reporting Scotland' but no 'Reporting England'; there's a 'BBC Scotland Investigates' but no 'BBC England Investigates'; there's a 'Newsnight Scotland' but no 'Newsnight England'; there's a 'Politics Show Scotland' but no 'Politics Show England', and; on radio there's a 'Good Morning Scotland' but no 'Good Morning England'.

The problem for Scots is not that there is a bias towards England, but rather that there is a bias against England and BBC programmes ostensibly about Britain (but in reality about England) are presented as British when they should be presented as English and confined to English audiences.

It's time for broadcasting federalism, that way we might actually hear some English accents on TV.

The Scotsman continues:

The report suggested that coverage about Scottish issues such as alcohol abuse and sectarianism was not detailed enough on a UK-wide level.

Scottish issues such as alcohol abuse and sectarianism? Forgive me for saying so but that reads very much like a stereotypical English view of Scotland from the ACS.

John Major flies a kite over Scotland

In an interview with the Spectator last week, David Cameron gave the first hint that he may be prepared to call a referendum on Scottish independence himself.

One place where the coalition could soon have a problem is Scotland, where the SNP First Minister Alex Salmond is doing all he can to prepare the ground for independence. Cameron isn’t yet prepared to call Salmond’s bluff and call a referendum now, but he indicates that his patience is limited. ‘I want to treat the First Minister and his government with respect, I think it’s the right thing to do but if the whole of the next few years becomes about tussling rather than governing then there may be a moment where we have to say, okay, we need to answer this question properly but I don't think we’re there at the moment.’

Which makes the timing of John Major's rare intervention all the more interesting. Gerry Hassan tells us that "John Major is seen as close to David Cameron, respected by him, and thought on some issues to advise and seen as influential in senior governmental circles". And James Forsyth in the Spectator speculates that David Cameron is using John Major as an out rider: "the last Tory Prime Minister advances an idea that allows the current one to gauge opinion on it".

So what is it that John Major has suggested that David Cameron might be interested in gauging public opinion on:

"The present quasi-federalist settlement with Scotland is unsustainable. Each year of devolution has moved Scotland further from England. Scottish ambition is fraying English tolerance. This is a tie that will snap - unless the issue is resolved.

"The union between England and Scotland cannot be maintained by constant aggravation in Scotland and appeasement in London. I believe it is time to confront the argument head on.

"Why not devolve all responsibilities except foreign policy, defence and management of the economy? Why not let Scotland have wider tax-raising powers to pay for their policies and, in return, abolish the present block grant settlement, reduce Scottish representation in the Commons, and cut the legislative burden at Westminster?

"My own view on Scottish independence is very straightforward: it would be folly - bad for Scotland and bad for England - but, if Scots insist on it, England cannot - and should not - deny them."

"I believe it is time to confront the argument head on". Is that a call for a Scottish refendum on Westminster's terms? Is it a call for even greater Scottish autonomy - Independence Lite - in return for reduced representation in the Imperial Parliament? It would seem so.

If John Major really is testing the water for David Cameron, then this speech is historic. It marks the beginnings of a new mainstream strand of Conservative thought whose endpoint is outright independence or, if that is to be avoided, whose only logical departure from the motorway to full independence is a federalism that puts to bed the 'present quasi-federalist settlement'.

UPDATE

It's worth reminding ourselves of Conservative arguments against devolution. The following is from the Conservatives' Scottish manifesto (1997) under John Major:

The Labour and Liberal plans to create a Scottish parliament must be rejected because:

Scottish influence in the British parliament and government would be weakened - with the inevitable loss of the office of Secretary of State for Scotland and a large cut in the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster - already admitted by the Liberal Democrats.

Scotland's influence in Europe would be devalued - at present Scotland has a strong voice in Europe, with Scottish Office ministers able to lead the entire United Kingdom delegation where appropriate. According to Robin Cook, following devolution, ministers in the Scottish parliament would only have "observer status".

An extra tartan Tax imposed uniquely on Scotland - would make Scotland the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom and a less attractive place for companies to locate; penalising those on lower wages; taxing Scottish savings - including pensioners' hard-earned life savings - at a 15% higher rate; undermining the competitiveness of Scotland's financial institutions; creating inflationary pressures as workers seek higher wages to pay the extra tax; and creating an unprecedented tax regime within the United Kingdom - the precursor of separatism.

Financial tensions would be created between a Scottish parliament and Westminster - a Scottish parliament, having raised public expectations about what it was capable of achieving, would demand extra money from Westminster. The consequent strife would endanger Scotland's funding, 97% of which would be determined at Westminster.

The West Lothian Question would poison democrat government - with Scottish MPs entitled to vote on English matters at Westminster, while English MPs were debarred from voting on Scottish issues. With Scottish affairs dealt with elsewhere, Scottish MPs would become second class citizens in parliament.

Tensions between a Scottish parliament and local government would be created - it is inevitable that a Scottish parliament would centralise many of the powers held by councils, reversing our policy of giving more powers to local authorities; Checks and balances on Scottish legislation would be removed - the proposed tax-raising parliament would have no revising chamber.

Scots would have to pay for another parliament and more politicians - £80 million to begin with and £40 million every year to be raised through the Tartan Tax or be cut from vital services such as health or eduction.

MP criticises Coalition Government of failure to scrap the Barnett formula

Press Release from Gordon Henderson MP.

7th July 2011
MP criticises Coalition Government of failure to scrap the Barnett formula

Gordon Henderson has criticised the failure of Coalition Government to take action to scrap the Barnett formula that ensures that Scots receive 20% more money per head of population than the English.

The formula, which was devised by Joel Barnett, the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, as a short-term measure in 1978, and was based on approximate population figures at the time. The formula is used to allocate billions of taxpayers money and gives Scotland around £1600 per head more of public spending than the UK average.

In 2009 a House of Lords committee called for the Barnett formula to be replaced with a fairer funding mechanism for the UK’s regions, based on the current respective populations and economic needs. The committee declared that the formula was no longer fit for purpose.

The issue was raised again last week when Mr Henderson raised the issue at Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions, when he asked Nick Clegg:

“Does my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister understand the resentment felt by many taxpayers in my constituency when they see their taxes being used to help provide a range of free services in Scotland that are not enjoyed by the English? When will the Government take action to bring that unfair subsidy.”

Mr Clegg responded by saying:

“One of the reasons we are transferring a great deal of new fiscal freedom to the Scottish Administration through the Scotland Bill is to ensure not only that the Scottish Government enjoy greater freedom to raise and spend money but that they are held to account for it. That is exactly what we are seeking to achieve in the Scotland Bill.”

The response did not satisfy Mr Henderson, who said:

“It is simply wrong that English taxpayers are being asked to help subsidise for people living in Scotland a range of services not available in England, including free prescriptions, free hospital parking, free accommodation in care homes and free university tuition fees.

“There is widespread agreement that the Barnett formula has to be scrapped and replaced with a fairer system. Indeed, the House of Lords made it clear a couple of years ago that the formula was not fit for purpose.

“Something has to be done before the justifiable resentment felt by many people about the unfair subsidy English taxpayers are expected to contribute towards superior services north of the border, manifests itself in an anti-Scots backlash.”

Well done Gordon Henderson. I suppose it's too much to ask for the opposition to criticise the Government over their broken promises on the Barnett Formula, so it falls to a Tory backbencher.

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What is Jeremy Hunt rhyming slang for?

Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport) writing in the Huffington Post:

As the inspirational Michael Kaiser wrote, UK arts organisations have traditionally had "a reticence to talk about money, let alone ask for it."

No he didn't. What he said was:

The English reticence to talk about money, let alone ask for it, is beginning to evaporate.

He also said:

At the invitation of England's Minister of Culture, Ed Vaizey, I recently visited that country for a teaching tour of six cities. As part of its austerity measures, the English government has recently had to cut its funding to the arts very substantially; most organizations have seen their subsidies reduced and others have had their grants eliminated altogether.

The six cities that Michael Kaiser visited were Newcastle/Gateshead, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol, all English. And Kaiser closed his article by saying "Times are challenging for the arts in England but coordinated efforts are being made to build a better future."

Michael Kaiser wrote an article specifically about England and the Government's cuts to Arts funding in England. Not Scotland. Not Wales. Not Northern Ireland. Jeremy Hunt may not like the fact that Michael Kaiser refers to 'England's Minister of Culture' and 'the English government' but that's no reason to misquote him. Besides which, as far as the Arts are concerned, the UK Government - having devolved responsibility for the Arts - is the English government; and Ed Vaisey is, to all intents and purposes, England's Minister of Culture.

Perhaps Jeremy Hunt should take a look at his own departmental website:

DCMS provides funding for the arts in England, sets arts policy and supports arts based initiatives, often in partnership with other government departments.

DCMS funding is distributed through Arts Council England, the development agency for the arts in England. Arts Council England make all funding decisions at ‘arm’s length’ (independent of, following guidance criteria) from Government.

When is a grotesque unfairness not a grotesque unfairness?

The Telegraph's Allison Pearson writes on the Barnett Formula:

I don’t care whether our Government is keeping quiet about this grotesque unfairness to stop pro-independence feelings from growing in Scotland. I do care that English students are carrying vast amounts of debt on their young backs, while their exact contemporaries north of the border embark on adult life in the black.

Well perhaps you should care. Why is toleration of a grotesque unfairness acceptable if it is done by Unionists with the political intent of keeping Scotland in the Union?

Anyone?

Presumably the £4.5bn a year by which Scotland is overfunded would go some way to mitigating the severity of the Government's austerity measures in England. We are told that the Barnett Formula, although unfair, must remain in place until after the stabilisation of the public finances (which, by happy coincidence, will be after the referendum on Scottish independence - and, in all probability, after the term of the present government, which means that Cameron and Clegg will have broken their pre-election promise on Barnett reform).

People like Allison Pearson may be able to tolerate a policy of Killing Home Rule by Kindness during boom years but it will be interesting to see whether they regard it as a small price to pay during the austerity years. The tone of her article suggests not.

NHS Commissioning Board or NHS England?

In England is the country, and the country is England I suggested that English ears now substitute the word 'England' for ambiguous phases like 'the country' and 'this country', and, given that fact, politicians would be well advised to put emphasis on 'England' when it is England of which they speak.

So I was delighted to read Liz Kendall referring to the English NHS.

This is a complicated set of amendments and I will explain what I believe they really seek to achieve. The amendments give the board or, as I will now call it, NHS England more freedom to spend its money how it wants, but they give consortia, or clinical commissioning groups, less freedom to spend the money how they want. They also take away the Secretary of State’s ability to specify for the board and individual consortia how much they may spend on admin costs. That is my understanding of the amendments.

Amendment 85 deletes the current clause in the Bill that gives the Secretary of State the power to tell the board and consortia how much they may spend on administrative costs. Instead, it gives an overall limit, which gives the board the power to shift money around, including resources for admin costs.

A pattern is emerging. The commissioning board, or NHS England, will end up being a super-quango that can spend as much money as it wants on admin costs with far greater power over clinical commissioning groups. I think that GPs and others who were enthusiastic about the Government’s plans will see, step by step in the post-pause Bill, their power and influence taken away by the board in ever more centralised control.

Whatever the Minister says in his description of the financial changes, they are not technical amendments; they are amendments that will shape and drive how the NHS is run, giving NHS England greater control, commissioning groups less control and, overall, taxpayers less control over how admin costs are spent.

In light of this I wonder if the Commissioning Board will change its name or slip the word 'England' into its published remit.

Role of the NHS Commissioning Board

Nationally accountable for the outcomes achieved by the NHS, the NHS Commissioning Board will provide leadership for the new commissioning system. It will provide the support and direction necessary to improve quality and patient outcomes and safeguard the core values of the NHS.

The NHS Commissioning Board has overall responsibility for a budget of £80bn, of which it will allocate £60bn directly to GP consortia. It will directly commission a range of services including primary care and specialised services and have a key role in improving broader public health outcomes.

The Board’s central role is to drive improvement in outcomes for patients, ensuring a fair and comprehensive service across the country. It will also promote the NHS Constitution and champion the interests of patients, using choice and information to empower people to improve services.

Accountable to the Secretary of State via an annual mandate, the NHS Commissioning Board will be an independent, statutory body, free to determine its own organisational shape, structure and ways of working.

Piecemeal Constitutional Tinkering / Impending Train Crash

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North, Conservative):

Which is the more pressing issue: the West Lothian question or House of Lords reform?

Nick Clegg:

I do not think that it is an either/or choice. As the hon. Lady knows, there is a commitment in the coalition agreement to establish a commission to look into the West Lothian question, but I do not think that that precludes the Joint Committee looking at proposals for reform of the House of Lords at the same time.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham, Labour):

Do the Government’s proposals for the House of Lords include excluding peers not from England on voting on matters solely related to England?

Nick Clegg:

We have not addressed that in the White Paper. If people want to discuss it in the Joint Committee, they are free to do so.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire, Conservative):

On 5 April the Deputy Prime Minister said there was “a need to ensure” that reform of the other place did not “overlap” with the establishment of the West Lothian commission. Given that reform of the other place may take some time, can the Deputy Prime Minister reassure us that the West Lothian commission will be in place by the time of the Report stage and Third Reading of my private Member’s Bill on 9 September?

Nick Clegg:

I can confirm that the commission that will look into the West Lothian question will be established this year.

If Clegg thought that both issues were equally important, then surely the Committee on the West Lothian Question would already be established (as it was supposed to be) and could inform the debate over the Lords. I can see no possible reason for delaying the Committee on the West Lothian Question other than Nick Clegg believing it to be unimportant or that it might preclude the desired outcome of his Lords Reform White Paper.

Over a third support independence for England

Strangely the BBC elected not to poll the English over whether or not they supported an English parliament (presumably because last time they did that they discovered overwhelming support for an English parliament). They did, however, ask whether the English supported independence.

ComRes:

Q.4 Irrespective of the outcome of the Scottish referendum, do you think that England should become a fully independent country with its own government, separate from the rest of the United Kingdom, or not?

Yes it should: 36%
Not it should not: 57%
Don’t know: 7%

Analysis/discussion available online at Newsnight and Radio5.

TUC: Anti-English

Quentin Letts:

What have trade union bigshots got against England?

The non-party affiliated Campaign For An English Parliament, a perfectly serious outfit, rang the organisers of the Tolpuddle Festival (which remembers the Tolpuddle marytrs and celebrates trade unionism) and asked to have one of the commercial stalls there. Good money was offered.

The request was turned down. The Campaign was told it was not welcome because it was ‘nationalist’.

I don’t remember the same being said of the campaign for a Scottish parliament or a Welsh assembly.

Quite. The Scottish TUC actually campaigned for a Scottish parliament and various trades unions participated in the Scottish Constitutional Commission.

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