Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

The price and purpose of a union

We seem to have the much predicted post “NO”, muddle.

It would seem that many in Scotland have a justified expectation of further devolution (devo-plus, devo-max, super-devo – no one seems sure what exactly has been promised or what any of the terms mean).

But our short-term focused Prime Minister has dug himself a hole. He, with Clegg and Miliband made some rather rash promises with little idea of whether they could deliver. But for our Conservative and Unionist Prime Minister it seems to have conserved the union – in the short-term.

Now he realises there is a price to pay (on both sides of the border) and in his rush to sort this out he is making similarly rash proposals for England. There is a danger that he loses sight of the purpose of our union.

The price south of the border seems to be addressing “The English Question”. His back-benchers are demanding that England should get the same or better treatment than Scotland. The mechanism is not clear, but hey, there’s lots of time before the General Election (isn’t there?) and the run up to a General Election is known as a time when parties are willing to co-operate for the common good (isn’t it?).

In the rush we risk losing sight of what the union is for. It’s not to provide colonies to allow some in England to maintain their imperial pretensions. Any union has to have the idea of mutual support with strength and capability through unity. Complete financial devolution of tax raising powers and the abolition of all mechanisms like the Barnett formula do not lie comfortably with such a concept.

The potential for transfer payments of some sort from those with the ability to those with the need are fundamental to any union. Many Conservatives don’t seem to accept this and would happily see Scotland given financial independence with some form of English State not paying anything to the other nations in the UK. That does not sound like a union to me.

For a union to work, a capability has to be retained at “federal level” (for want of a better word), and that capability has to be funded. If you end up paying more in that you get out, that is your price of membership. If you don’t want to pay such a subscription you need to be honest about your desire for membership of the union.

A union is not just for life, it is for generations. In past centuries some parts of the UK were the wealth creators and the source of resources, innovation and entrepreneurship that boosted the country. In future centuries we may well find some parts of the UK supporting parts of the UK that at the moment are tempted to say “I’m alright Jack“.


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