The Sketch: Be careful of Scottish questions. They could induce a coma

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Only one thing can follow the pulsing drama of Work and Pensions questions. Scottish questions.

Only one thing can follow the pulsing drama of Work and Pensions questions. Scottish questions.

With the Master of Narcolepsy, Alistair Darling. It doesn't matter what this Sketch says because you are already asleep. And don't get complacent, because maybe it isn't sleep. Maybe you've been tipped into a 100-year coma. The man is that powerful.

But first: more cut-price artillery. The brooding, almost Soviet presence of Helen Liddell was sat up in the back benches with a five foot exclusion zone around her. No one has friends in politics but she hasn't any allies either. And yet she is tipped to be appointed British high commissioner to Australia. It's all to do with the reduction in Scottish constituencies. John Reid's seat is disappearing (you can fashion your own jokes out of that) and he's after Helen Liddell's (no joke possible there, I fear). Thirteen Scottish seats are being redrawn out of existence. The Sketch thunders: "Far too few!" Linda Clarke made one of her last appearances. She's the Advocate General.

What does that mean? I can say without fear of contradiction that I haven't a clue. She is only ever asked one question, and only ever gives one answer.

Yesterday, four people had the same question: "What devolution issues has she considered since 16th March." Her answers to four supplementaries (which ranged from the composition of the Supreme Court to legislation about fishing) went: 1) Not appropriate for me to comment. 2) Not my job. 3) Not a matter for me. And 4) Entirely a matter for the devolved parliament. She's retiring at the election, which is inconsiderate: we'll have to find an entirely new dipstick to measure the bottom of the ministerial barrel.

Labour's David Taylor, from Leicestershire, pointed out, with an admirable display of regional resentment, that £10m a day of good, sound English cash is spent by Scotsmen injecting deep-fried Mars bars into their veins in an effort to stave off an early death from bagpipes in boarded-up tenement slums (he phrased it slightly differently, to be honest). Why not give these English-hating hooligans total fiscal autonomy, he suggested, to stop them "building castles in the air with other people's money".

Mr Darling ventured in even wider irrelevance than normal by telling us "total fiscal autonomy" was nationalist code for "separatism". The point being? Nicholas Winterton added to Mr Taylor's point by claiming Lord Barnett (the inventor of the Barnett Formula by which Scottish barbers are paid) wants his formula abolished, as English voters get 20 per cent less per head than north of the border. It's why the Scots can afford free university tuition and residential care and we can't, he said.

So, yes. If we gave Scotland "total fiscal autonomy" (as long as we keep the oil), we could reduce English income tax by 4 pence in the pound, and we wouldn't have Scottish questions in the House any more. I sense a majority coming on.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

Comments