Mary Ann Sieghart: Time to call the SNP's bluff

Governments have offered them more money, begged them to stay and tolerated their tantrums. To what avail? No gratitude

Share
Related Topics

If you've either been a stroppy teenager or a parent to one, you'll recognise the pattern. Teenager screams, "I hate you. I wish I could leave home!" Parent tries to mollify teenager, avoids confrontation and hopes for things to improve. They don't.

Sometimes the best reaction is a calm, "You want to leave home? Feel free." Then, instead of raging against parental constraints, the teenager contemplates how awful it would be to find a job, pay rent and have no-one to cook the meals or do the laundry.

For too long, the Westminster political establishment has played the role of pusillanimous parent to stroppy Scottish nationalists. Governments have offered them more money, begged them to stay in the family and tolerated their tantrums. To what avail? There's been no gratitude, just further demands.

Now a couple have decided to call their bluff. Last week, the Lib Dem Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore, asked six difficult questions of the SNP, including what currency an independent Scotland would have and who would pay for future pensions. The next day, the Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, told his Scottish audience that, if they had been independent, their deficit would now be one of the largest in Europe, and the cost of bailing out the Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS would have dwarfed their entire budget.

That it was Lib Dems who decided to take the fight to the SNP was no accident. Both Labour and the Tories in Scotland are busy choosing new leaders after their dire performances against the SNP in May's election. But all three parties are facing a wipeout in Scotland at the next general election on their current ratings. The latest Ipsos-MORI survey shows the SNP up a massive 22 points since the 2010 election. That would give them 36 MPs (up from six), while Labour would fall from 41 to 22, the Lib Dems from 11 to one, and the Tories from one to none.

Someone needs to call the SNP's bluff, and actually, it's the Conservatives who have the least to lose. That may be one reason why Murdo Fraser, the strongest contender for the Scottish Tory leadership, said yesterday that if he won, he would reinvent the Scottish party – giving it a new name and distancing it from Westminster. He understands that the brand needs to die and be reborn to have any chance of winning back the right-of-centre voters who have defected to the SNP.

It wouldn't be that revolutionary a move. Until 1965, the Conservatives in Scotland were known as the Unionist Party. They sent no representatives to the party conferences in Blackpool and Brighton but had their own conference instead. It may be a coincidence, but in 1955, the Unionists won 50.1 per cent – the only party ever to win a majority of the Scottish vote – and 36 seats.

Ever since, the Tories have moved in a centralising direction, while Scotland has yearned for more decentralisation. No wonder they lost popularity. Now they have a chance not only to go with the flow but also to sort out the anomaly of Scotland's finances.

Ever wondered how Scotland can afford free university tuition, social care and prescriptions? It's because its funding is based on an anachronistic formula devised by Joel Barnett, Labour's Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in 1978. The Barnett formula was supposed to last only a year.

More than 30 years on, Lord Barnett himself now describes it as "arbitrary and unfair". This week, he plans to put down an amendment to the Scotland Bill, which is going through the Lords, to reform it. According to research at Stirling University, Scotland receives £4.5bn a year more than it would if the distribution were calculated on the basis of need rather than population. So why has the anomaly lasted so long? Any governing party is scared of losing seats if it changes it – but both Margaret Thatcher and John Major kept the formula going and still the Tories lost every seat in Scotland in 1997. Some gratitude.

When the Conservative David Davis chaired the Public Accounts Committee in the late 1990s, he suggested that the Barnett formula should be replaced by the Scottish Executive taking responsibility for raising all the money they spent. They should be given the power to determine their own income tax, corporation tax, whisky duties and most of the tax on North Sea oil.

This would have the benign effect of denying the SNP the chance to whinge about not being given enough money by Westminster. And it would give Scots a reason to vote Tory at Holyrood if they wanted lower taxes. Unfortunately Davis's sensible suggestion was scuppered by the Tory leadership, whose business donors feared higher corporation tax.

A new Anything-But-Tory party could revive this idea as a move to greater autonomy that stops short of independence. It would address the English subsidy grievance: if the Scots want free tuition, they can raise their own tax to pay for it. And it would address the Scottish grievance that they have to rely on Westminster largesse.

To borrow a phrase from David Cameron, what the Scots now need is tough love. Is the Conservative leader brave enough to offer it?





React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...