Irony of the Union



It is the ironies of politics that have always intrigued me and continue to amuse me from my position as an observer of national politics.  The Conservative Party’s official and full title is The Conservative and Unionist Party and we fought hard to keep Scotland in the Union during the recent referendum debate and won the argument 55 to 45.

I was in Scotland, visiting family, during the week of the referendum vote.  We drove up over two days, stayed two days and drove back again.  Crossing the border into Scotland, our first encounter with the debate was a host of NO posters in farmers’ fields from  the border, mile after mile.  Our first encounter with any substantial quantity of YES posters was in acres of council housing in Galashiels and I thought I sensed some of the politics of the independence debate.

In post-Thatcher England, Blair and Brown planted and nourished a dependency culture in which more and more people were sucked into a client state that looked to some sort of hand-out through the benefit system and many liked it and got used to it.  They also let rip uncontrolled immigration into this country that brought many who came here to work hard and to succeed but also attracted many who found they could enjoy a work-free life here through a generous benefits regime plus the generosity of a free state health system.

In Scotland, I suspect that dependency culture has thrived much longer and we have Joel Barnett to thank for his 1978 Barnett formula that allocates public spending between the four states that make up the United Kingdom in the ratio  of England: Scotland: Wales: N Ireland £1.00:£1.22:£1.14:£1.33.  Yes, Scotland not only has more Members of Parliament per head of population than England but it also receives 22% more public spending than England.  No wonder you  feel the road surface improve as you cross the border and see the infrastructure in better nick and no wonder they can afford to have no tuition fees and free prescriptions for all!

So we have quite an irony of a Scottish nation seen as proud, canny, careful – verging on mean – with a strong financial sector that has nevertheless been weaned onto a culture of dependency and state largesse, exemplified now by their First Minister who is determined to cause the break up of the United Kingdom and to create an independent, socialist Scotland that is nuclear-free and wedded to a high-spending culture, partly financed by English taxpayers and also by high taxes on wealthy individuals and the few businesses daft enough or unfortunate enough to stay in Scotland.

And now, having worked hard to preserve the Union, we find our flawed parliamentary system is likely to give us a horribly hung parliament in which a caucus of Scottish Nationalist MPs could hold the country to ransom in an unholy alliance with Miliband’s Labour Party.  If they need it, these SNPs could find common cause with the equally left-leaning Welsh Nationalists and the barking mad Greens.

Would that not be the ultimate irony – to have defended the Union to place it in the hands of committed tax and spend socialists.  Would that not cause a backlash grave enough to lead to a fracturing of the Union and mutterings of rebellion in Southern England?


About Keith R Mitchell CBE

Qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1967. Pursued a successful career in financial training and publishing until selling his interests in 1990. Elected a County Councillor for the Bloxham Division in 1989. Leader of Oxfordshire County Council 5 November 2001 to 15 May 2012. Chairman of the South East England Regional Planning Committee July 2002 to July 2005. Chairman of the South East England Regional Assembly July 2005 to July 2008. In HM the Queen’s 2007 Birthday Honours, appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of services to local government.
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2 Responses to Irony of the Union

  1. Steve says:

    As an Australian who watched the Scottish Referendum closely (I’m of Protestant Irish descent so I have no dog in this fight :P), I’m curious as to what your opinion is, especially since you are an accountant, of what the ramifications would have been for the accumulated UK National Debt if Scotland had voted yes.
    How would the debts incurred cumulatively since the Acts of Union, have been divided between the two entities? I found this to be an issue of the debate which went completely unmentioned in the media (over in Australia at least, even though our ABC and your BBC are very keen on parroting each others opinions for general consumption). Judging by the fact George Osborne cancelled overseas engagements, and looked like he was close to having a stroke over the issue, it would seem to me that this was actually the most serious issue at stake if a yes vote would have been given.
    How would cumulative budget deficits for instance, of which national defense and other national programs (debt) that both entities have benefited from, have been divvied up between the two entities? One has a vision of Mel Gibson shouting out ‘FREEDOM’, and a central banker lopping off his head whilst proclaiming, ‘If England is in perpetual debt, you also will be in perpetual debt with us’. 🙂
    Judging by the fact that the UK Treasury seems to have the UK Foreign Office by the testicles, when it comes to defense spending and also touchy topics such as the UK joining the AIIB, it is strange that no mention is ever given over these issues to the financial ramifications of current political maneuvers, especially of break-away-states (Catalonia comes to mind) and the fact that we live in a debt-based-money world, where every country seems to be technically perpetually indebted to a global pool of ever interconnected private creditors. From my perspective, the whole Scottish independence issue was portrayed as a Thistle vs Rose drama of patriotic emotions, as if finance had nothing to do with it. UK Gilts holders probably were sweating a little.
    Interested to hear any opinion you might have on this. Thanks.

    • This is a very relevant question but was barely mentioned during the debate. It seems to have been assumed that division of national assets and liabilities would be a matter for negotiation if the referendum had been in favour of breaking up the UK. Quite mad!

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