I have nothing against Cumbrians, but yesterday, with just over two weeks of the campaign to go, the Prime Minister enlisted the good folk of Carlisle into his campaign to stoke up as much grinchery and hysteria as possible about the possibility of the SNP exercising any influence in the UK parliament.
David Cameron calls this the "Carlisle principle", and in his efforts to press the Jockophobic advantage with the English electorate, Cameron announced that any Treasury under his control would go snooping to see whether Scotland was deriving unjustifiable benefit from pursuing sensible devolved policies north of the border. "This is about making sure we understand the impact that devolution is having and make sure that rest of the country never unwittingly loses out," he said.
In this morning's National, I point out that the Prime Minister's assumption that Scots are greedy public spending gannets tells only half the story. If we look at detriments, we must also look at ways in which the UK exchequer benefits from devolved choices. The UK Treasury has consistently resisted giving Holyrood its due, giving the Scottish Parliament back the windfalls of its spending decisions, and as a consequence, incentivising good decisions as opposed to those which keep the cash away from the control of the central government. The Treasury's position has, since the advent of devolution, been given to petulance, tight-fistedness, and a refusal to recognise the ups and downs of Scotland adopting distinctive ideas and policies. An excerpt:
Holyrood has not had its troubles to seek with Chancellors and their apparatchiks when decisions of the Scottish Parliament poured cash into the UK exchequer or didn’t fit neatly into the bureaucratic categories of the British state. Even Jack McConnell had his share of quiet tiffs with Whitehall’s controlling mandarins of finance.
Why? Because the Treasury is all too happy for the Scottish Parliament to part with its cash and to fund programmes, but has been remarkably reluctant to pass the financial benefits of sound choices back to Holyrood. Want to introduce a fairer system of local income tax? In that case, we’re keeping your share of council tax relief.
Want to introduce publicly funded childcare to liberate more people to pursue jobs, increasing economic activity and bringing in more tax receipts? Capital notion. But we’re keeping the extra cash that will generate. Your block grant will not be adjusted accordingly. What’s that? Funding free personal care for the elderly saves the exchequer a shedload? Well, bully for you. But we’re not adjusting your budget to reflect the UK gains made on the back of your sensible choices. Your block grant may go up a quid of two, but you won’t see anything like the full fiscal benefits of your spending. That has been the Treasury mantra.