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?