England versus Scotland: A cross-border dispute
Devolution: Will growing anger in the south over the better services north of the border dominate domestic politics for the next decade?
Sunday 03 July 2011
Scottish politics, the Queen joked this week, is not for the "meek, the passive or the faint-hearted". But the infamous tribalism north of the border is nothing compared with the extraordinary battle expected in the next decade between devolved assemblies demanding greater independence, and a wounded English political class – and their electorate – who fear they are getting an ever rawer deal.
Devolution was New Labour's great idea. In 2000, Tony Blair said it would "empower the people of Scotland" and create better government, while ensuring an "evolved and stronger" union. Oh, and it would also keep Labour permanently in power, thanks to a proportional voting system that would make an outright majority all but impossible to achieve. Labour in power in every corner of the land from here to eternity ... oh, dear.
A decade on, and Alex Salmond's Scottish Nationalists have outright control, and differing policies on everything from tuition fees to social care are becoming a source of growing discontent. Speaking at the opening of the Holyrood Parliament on Friday, the Queen said the devolved government had "truly come of age", adding: "In its second decade, the Scottish Parliament is firmly established as an integral part of Scottish public life."
Now throw in the lethal combination of spending cuts, leading to even greater disparity, and Mr Salmond's promised referendum on Scottish independence, and it means the relationship between London and Edinburgh could define domestic British politics for a generation.
In the end, it always comes down to money. The Byzantine workings of the Barnett formula, which adjusts spending for different parts of the country, are an increasingly sore point for the 51 million people in England. In 2009/10, £8,559 was spent per head in England, compared with £10,083 in Scotland. Wales received £9,587 and Northern Ireland £10,662.
Some Scots claim that for years they missed out on the revenues from the oil off their coastline, and the increased funding is payback. Trouble flared again in March when George Osborne announced a windfall tax on North Sea oil producers to pay for a 1p cut in fuel duty. Nationalists believe independence would give them control of the tax from oil sales, but critics say such a small country would struggle to stand alone.
Top of the political agenda in England and one of the most contentious issues: the Dilnot commission report on how to pay for looking after an ageing population is published tomorrow. The Independent on Sunday has learned that Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers are to hold talks with Labour this summer to thrash out a cross-party deal ahead of a White Paper due to be published in the autumn. John Healey, Labour's health spokesman, has said: "As politicians, we can and must do better by our older people by solving this problem together. We're serious, if David Cameron shows he's serious, and that means setting a bold timetable for reform."
The economist Andrew Dilnot will propose that no one will be charged more than £35,000 for care, allowing insurance companies to offer cover against the fees. It should prevent people having to sell their homes to pay for care. But he has ruled out recommending that the state should pay for all personal care, as happens in Scotland, where pensioners receive £150 per week for personal care and almost £70 per week for nursing care. It can be claimed even if living in a care home. The policy costs £377m a year.
In England, patients pay £17 for a check-up with the dentist. In Scotland? No charge. In England, an eye test typically costs around £20. In Scotland? No charge. And while prescriptions in England have gradually crept up to £7.40 an item, in Scotland they have been going in the opposite direction – until a decision in April that there would be, you guessed it, no charge. The policy costs the taxpayer £57m. But English patients, even those living close to the border, will qualify for free prescriptions in Scotland only if they are registered with a Scottish GP.
Free hospital car-parking
In England, trusts make around £100m a year from parking fees, and ministers maintain that this brings in extra money to cover patient care. But in Scotland, no charge.
More than 20,000 English students head north to Scotland's 15 universities every year. But it is no cheap option – unless you're Scottish (or from elsewhere in the EU), in which case you pay no tuition fees. English students at Scottish universities are already liable for fees of £1,800 a year and, last week, ministers in Edinburgh revealed that the bill for undergraduates from England, Wales and Northern Ireland will soar to as much as £9,000 a year. The great irony is that it was the Liberal Democrats – when in coalition with Labour in Edinburgh in 1999 – who demanded fees be scrapped. Eleven years later, in government with the Tories, their pre-election pledge to oppose any increase in fees was dumped before they backed charges of up to £9,000.
It isn't just Scottish undergraduates who have more money. The education maintenance allowance (EMA), worth up to £30 a week, was once available to every 16- to 19-year-old in the UK, as long as they were students or undertaking unpaid work-based learning. Since January, English teenagers have had to manage without, as the EMA fell victim to Mr Osborne's austerity measures.
The £600m Mersey Gateway project has received just £80m from the Treasury, and the rest must be raised from tolls once the bridge is built. By contrast, the new £2.3bn Forth Bridge is funded by a combination of Barnett funding and increased borrowing powers for Holyrood. So, no tolls. David Mowat, a Tory MP, asked last month: "How can the Government justify that difference in the same country?"
In Scotland and Wales, older and disabled people can travel for free on any bus throughout the day. In England, the free travel applies only between 9.30am and 11pm weekdays, and all day at weekends. Eligible people in Northern Ireland can apply for a pass that gives them free travel on public transport throughout Ireland.
The referendum earlier this year on changing how MPs are elected was dominated by claims that the alternative vote – where candidates are ranked in order of preference – was too complicated. Not so for Scottish voters, who use four different systems at the polling station: first past the post remains for electing MPs for Westminster; but elections to the Scottish Parliament use the proportional additional member system; the single transferable vote, another proportional system, is used for local council elections; and the party list system is used for European Parliament elections. A big tension is the West Lothian question, named after the former constituency MP Tam Dalyell, who first raised the issue of Scottish MPs voting on English laws when English MPs have no say on the same subjects in Scotland. Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, is now said to be "considering" the issue.
All the main parties have separate leaders in the devolved nations. So the Scottish Labour Party is distinct from their colleagues in, say, Wales. But in England there is no separation. The Labour MP Jon Cruddas told The IoS last week there should be an "English Labour ... or else England and patriotism will simply be a right-wing politics of loss and sourness". Mr Salmond even raised his dream of Scottish independence in front of the Queen on Friday, suggesting she could remain "Queen of Scots" if the country went it alone. Mr Cameron is playing it softly softly, insisting he will not make threats of Scotland losing funding or claim "small countries cannot make it". The Tory PM has ruled out giving the whole of the UK a vote on Scottish independence, but will campaign hard for a no vote in Scotland. "I want us to make an uplifting and optimistic case for why we are better off together."
Additional reporting by Alexandra Rucki and Simon Murphy
Borderline experiences: How the costs of living compare
Adrian Smith, 21, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear
Has just graduated with a degree in politics from Newcastle University. If he had been born 50 miles further north, across the border, he would have had his fees paid for him; instead, he has incurred £23,000 of debt
"Living near the border of Scotland, it does make me think that I could have been much better off financially, and not have to worry about spending my first 20 professional years paying off the debts I incurred trying to make something of myself. I'm not sure it can be called totally unfair, as it's a devolved matter, but I do believe our government needs to have another look at its priorities. A geographical lottery has had a heavy impact on my life chances. My parents pay tax into the same fund that Scottish people in the same situation do, yet we get vastly different outcomes."
Harriet Manning, 23, Forest Row, East Sussex
The student starts the fourth year of her modern history course at St Andrews in September
"As an English person, I was ready to pay fees and work hard, but the Scots at my university get their education free, so they sometimes take it for granted. In fact, coming to Scotland, I got a good deal because I only pay half fees. But the bursaries have always annoyed me: I'm not eligible for any of them because I'm not a Scot. Once you've lived in Scotland for three years you become a resident, so I get my fourth year free. I guess you could say it's worked out OK."
Terry Adcock, 73, Wimborne, Dorset
The retired RAF pilot has had to negotiate the care system because his wife, Trish, has had Parkinson's for the past 11 years
"At first, we used care in the home and respite homes. Then, last year, I decided to put her in a nursing home, after making decisions about her well-being. There was no familiar face to the care at home, which is not good for a person with Parkinson's. I don't think the system in England is that bad, although it was difficult getting the primary care trust to believe my wife needed continual care – they just kept saying no. The biggest problem is the bureaucracy trying to put old people to one side because of issues of waiting lists and money."
Margaret Wilson, 81, Elgin, Scotland
A grandmother who lives in her own home and still drives, though she makes use of the bus for long journeys. A keen bowls player, she keeps fit and active but says the Scottish care system gives her peace of mind
"I am very fortunate because I don't really require anything at the moment. One of my friends at one time had several carers come in, and the care here is really excellent. I think it is pretty reassuring to know it is there. I have heard that if you have to go into a home you can quickly use up all of your savings and probably have to sell your house.
"I make use of the bus because you have a free bus service here. I can go anywhere in Scotland for free, which is excellent. And there are free prescriptions. We have got a very good health service. I have never had to go without my medication. I think we do very well in Scotland."
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