Saturday, March 5, 2011

Which was less likely - Governor George W Bush of Texas granting clemency to a death row prisoner in 1999, or the unionist parties giving the people a say on their constitutional future in 2007 or 2010?

You have to hand it to the more mindless critics of the SNP and Plaid Cymru - if nothing else, they have their tedious little repertoire well-drilled. I popped over to Political Betting yesterday afternoon simply to express the unwelcome view that the Welsh referendum result was a "fantastic day for Wales", and yet another four-hour marathon ensued. First of all I was asked if I was even being serious - surely my comment could only be intended as sarcasm? No, I explained, it was indeed a fantastic day for Wales, as it was hard to think of a single good reason why the Welsh people weren't capable of running their own affairs on exactly the same basis as people in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Aha, came the predictable retort, it was absolutely fine if those countries governed themselves, just so long as they paid for it themselves. "As an English taxpayer," one commenter added, "I'm sick of subsidising the Scots". I told him in that case he should rejoice - because he doesn't. I pointed him in the direction of Professor Andrew Hughes Hallet's analysis -

"“The usual perception is that Scotland spends about 20% on public services more per head than the UK average...

“Those numbers are very misleading mainly because the spending in that part is what’s spent on behalf of Scotland but not necessarily in Scotland.

“The estimate for Scotland’s share, that’s contributions to defence, is 2.8 billion but it’s roughly 2.0 billion are actually paid out in Scotland

“So there’s an implicit subsidy going south in that sense and you can think of lots of other examples ...”

Hughes Hallett added:
“At the moment, on the current account, there’s a subsidy going to London, which is helping London.

“When you get down to it, on the current account for the last five years at least, maybe longer, Scotland has had a current account surplus, which is currently according to the national accounts in Scotland £1.3 billion.”

Asked whether Scotland would definitely be better off, Prof Hallett replied: “You can definitely say that it [Scotland] would be better off in terms of the revenue.”

Prof Hughes Hallett pointed to ‘missing’ income that is generated in Scotland but is actually attributed to London, giving the Crown Estate as an example saying: “The Crown agents who take fees for electricity generation and give it to the Treasury...”

Professor Hughes Hallett also destroyed one of the myths surrounding the bail out of HBOS and RBS claiming that their dealings in England would have meant that England would have shouldered a significant part of their liabilities."

Well, naturally the Nat-bashing hordes weren't best pleased about having one of their most cherished articles of faith totally demolished by a renowned economist, so after a series of fairly pathetic attempts to dismiss Hughes Hallett as a "no-name economist from a second-rate US university", we then moved on to the next phase of the standard repertoire - random (and rather desperate) muck-flinging. Yep, you've guessed it, it was the familiar heady blend of wild and long-since-disproved assertions that the SNP 'did a deal' over freeing Megrahi, and suggestions that they had bottled it on the independence referendum (or "acted dishonourably", as one commenter sniffed airily) by not bothering to spend an afternoon going through the motions of putting something to the vote in the Scottish Parliament that everyone knew was going to be defeated by 78 votes to 50, because the three unionist parties were hell-bent on voting it down.

It really is quite comical. If the SNP had taken the opposite course, we all know what the mantra would be by now - Alex Salmond would have "wasted parliamentary time and money on something no-one gives two hoots about" (the last bit is © Tavish "Two Hoots" Scott). As it is, they synthetically claim to be outraged that the SNP "weren't even trying to deliver independence". What are the SNP for, they plaintively cry.

That line of argument is, I'd suggest, the rough equivalent of claiming that a death row prisoner in Texas in 1999 wasn't really "trying to stay alive" because he dispensed with that all-important last-minute plea for clemency to Governor George W Bush.

An exotic variant on the traditional line came from PB's deputy editor David Herdson, who insisted that the SNP had 'squandered their golden chance' to call a referendum immediately after being elected in 2007. If they had tabled a parliamentary vote at that stage, he earnestly claimed, they would have got it through on the basis that the opposition parties would have recognised that the SNP had "won the election" and thus had the moral right to do it.

I believe the phrase "aye, right" was invented for moments like this...


  1. I, as a representative of the people of Florence, wonder if David will stick to his line about "moral authority" if the SNP forms another minority government after the election this May?

  2. Ezio, I strongly suspect he hasn't yet got his head round the concept of PR elections - he (like so many at PB) seem to have a very one-dimensional definition of "winning" and "losing". To them, if you're in government, you must automatically have the elective dictatorship powers of a majority Westminster administration.