Knowing little and caring less
The Westminster Government has today published a list of 200 public bodies it claims would have to be replicated in an independent Scotland. It is probably one of the poorest and most embarrassing contributions to the referendum debate so far.
The list only serves to highlight two very important problems that exist within the current system of government.
First, it shows just how out of touch Westminster has become. There appears to be a genuine lack of understanding about what actually goes on in Scotland. The first version of the list missed out 90 Scottish public bodies: the Westminster government didn't seem to know they even existed.
And this new attempt shows the lack of knowledge goes deeper:
- they are so out of touch with Scotland, they don’t seem to realise we already have a national sports body, SportScotland.
- they say an independent Scotland will need an Information Commissioner, but we’ve already got one
- they even suggest that an independent Scotland would need to replicate Public Health England - no, we won’t.
The bizarre list goes on. There is the claim that an independent Scotland would need a Food Standards Agency.We will have one. But at the moment the UK government is scrapping the Food Standard's agency for England.
Scotland is clearly nowhere on the Westminster government's radar, to the extent that they believe an independent Scotland would have to replicate the British Library, forgetting we’ve already got the National Library of Scotland.
The second major problem they have, unwittingly, highlighted is the vast number of civil service functions that are carried out for Scotland, and paid for by Scottish taxpayers, where the jobs and financial benefit go elsewhere.
The UK paper lists many bodies that perform a UK-wide function but whose staff and offices are based wholly or almost totally in and around London. These include the Treasury and Foreign Office. Between them, these two departments have so few staff in Scotland you could count them on one hand. Your taxes are paying for these services, but the benefit of that investment is directed to the already dominant London economy.
If these jobs were based in an independent Scotland, we'd still be paying for them through our taxes but the benefit would be felt in the Scottish economy. The taxes from these jobs would go to the Scottish Exchequer. The wages would be spent in local shops boosting local jobs and local entrepreneurs. They would create career paths and new opportunities for graduates, for school leavers.
Instead of feeding an already dominant London economy, the multi-million pound benefit would be felt right here in Scotland.
The debate on the Scottish constitution isn’t one that I much relished. Growing up in Belfast I thought I’d heard quite enough constitutional talk. But the debate in Scotland has changed my mind.
A Yes vote next year is ‘an opportunity of a lifetime’ and Scots should seize it with enthusiasm, leading foreign affairs commentator Mary Dejevsky says.
What would it take to put stronger local democracy at the heart of Scotland’s constitutional future? How could full powers of independence be used to bring power to people and places at a local level?
Today COSLA (the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) has launched a Commission to “identify a route map to deliver the full benefits of a shift in power towards local democracy for people in Scotland”, and set a course for putting stronger local democracy at the heart of Scotland’s constitutional future.
by Blair Jenkins
16 years ago to the day, Scotland’s voters gave a resounding Yes to the creation of a Scottish Parliament in the 1997 devolution referendum. I was in the Edinburgh conference centre on the night the result was declared – a moving and unforgettable occasion.