The Scottish Government’s Expert Working Group on Welfare published its first report on 11th June 2013. The report is viewable here - http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0042/00424088.pdf
The report has provoked a range of responses and some criticism for not setting out a system of post-referendum welfare provision. However, that was not its intention. Rather it set out to examine the financial arrangements for welfare from now until 2018, explore the range of administrative arrangements for welfare provision and examine the post-independence transition in welfare policy and implementation. Indeed, the report is fascinating from a number of points of view. First, it maps the current UK government’s rolling reforms of the welfare state, with a series of timelines that shows the huge implications of change under the coalition. Second, it also outlines emerging Scottish welfare state under these changes, with the emergence of the Scottish Welfare Fund and passported benefits. Third, it also provides a forecasting of costs by benefit through the independence referendum to 2018.
And, there are some interesting findings here. Sure enough, the document deals with costs but it also looks at the extent of UK integration of welfare provision, which works in two directions – in Scotland and the UK. Significantly, in some key areas like jobseekers allowance, Income support and incapacity benefit, the benefits are delivered for Scots in Scotland. However, in many areas, UK benefits are administered in Scotland for large numbers of UK claimants outside Scotland – such as parts of Yorkshire, the North West and all of London. Glasgow has the UK’s largest benefit centre and processes claims from people outside Scotland. Indeed, there is quite a lot of discussion of the institutional capacity of the DWP, job centres and HMRC offices in Scotland which deal with Scottish-domiciled residents but also how much some of these institutions deal with UK-wide residents. The details here on pages 45-6 are instructive as are the existence of regional pension centres in Dundee and Motherwell, even though the national pensions centre is in Newcastle. The report clearly identifies that Scotland not only delivers much of its own welfare domestically but that it is also responsible for delivering UK services too – which is actually a strong position in an independence negotiation given the size of non-Scotland delivery.
The report discusses the set of issues/questions to negotiate with the rUK after the referendum and sets out a range of options with various pluses and minuses attached to them. It also set out a transition timetable and examines a range of broad goals and principles for the design of a Scottish system of welfare. This latter goal will be examined by subsequent reports by the Expert Welfare Group to examine the medium to longer term delivery of benefits in Scotland.
The SCDI recently released its Future Scotland report, which involved a consultation with its numerous organisations from business, local government and the unions about Scotland’s future challenges and directions. Not surprisingly, this involved looking at the independence issue and the range of economic, social and political questions generated by the referendum.
The full report is here - http://www.scdi.org.uk/pi/2013/SCDIFutureScotlandMay13_Discussions_and_Priorities.pdf
Anyone looking for information on some of the key questions for debate about indyref will find this a rich source of material. Part of the document is a research paper of economic challenges, not least the future headwinds facing Scotland, the UK and the OECD countries generally in the decades to come due to the growth of new economies. The report also indicated some of the sensitivities of the SCDI membership – some are cautious about being seen to intervene in the constitutional debate and most haven’t discussed the issue in their organisations and adopted formal positions [p.8].
The document sets out four economic priorities for Scotland:
1. to increase entrepreneurship and business innovation
2. increase investment in infrastructure
3. increase exports
4. increase use of human capital
Of course, a good question related to this is which constitutional option or model will allow these priorities to be addressed – not that there are clear answers here. But the report does flag up important areas/problems for the Scottish economy from its consultations with members – the long-term importance of oil, gas and renewable energy, the strength of the Edinburgh financial sector, concerns over Scotland’s lack of connectivity due to the high cost of air passenger duty and over visa limits [not least on Chinese visitors].
There are also some interesting points made in the report that tell you quite a lot about current Scottish Government and SNP views on independence – supporters of Radical indy look away now – in relation to maintaining the UK single market for business, the role of the Bank of England as a regulator and the retention of the pound and Scotland as part of a currency union with the rUK [p.19, 24]. There was no great support for lower corporation tax but recognition that future monetary and fiscal policy had to do much more than serve the interests of the City of London. The role of Scotland and the UK in the European Union was also recognised, along with the engagement of Scotland in UK and Europe-wide energy markets.
One final point – the SCDI members aren’t particularly impressed by the nature and quality of the constitutional debate and produce a list of questions for consideration. Whether either side will be able to answer these is another matter mind you. But the SCDI does raise issues of transition and negotiation between the Scottish Government and UK that provide some useful food for thought.
Just when I nipped off to Brussels for a couple of days with my students, the Tories published their In-out referendum bill. And, it’s a draft bill from the party, on the party website, with a section to add support. It’s fascinating as a device directed at the Lib Dem coalition partners, UKIP and to provide internal cohesion within the Conservative party itself.
The short text is here - http://www.conservatives.com/Policy/Issues/~/media/Files/Downloadable%20Files/Draft_Referendum_Bill.ashx. And remember, this is party policy not UK government policy so the bill is not on the House of Commons website. But, it will be soon, as one of the Tory backbenchers – James Wharton of Stockton South – came top of the ballot in the annual vote for private member’s bills and has pledged to introduce the bill and dare the other parties to vote against it - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22542207.
And, the implications of all of this for indyref are huge, given the issues involved, Scottish membership of the EU and campaign strategies and messages from Yes and Better Together as well as the political parties.
Labour launched its own No campaign today at a rally in Glasgow. This development had been tipped for some time and is a rather revealing change. The BBC covered the proposal here - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-22495174.
Anyone who has seen Better Together on the ground will realise how strange bedfellows weren’t really getting on. I’ve witnessed BT national campaign days when the Labour and Tory activists involved sought to put a distance between themselves at their own stall and divide up to do separate activities. Labour has been concerned about the reluctance of its own activists and trade union supporters to finance BT activities or involve themselves in a cross-party campaign with the two coalition parties that they loathe – and rightly so. Labour hasn’t quite said it doesn’t want to ‘soil its hands’ with an umbrella campaign as Helen Liddell explained in 1979 in relation to Scotland Says Yes, but it’s a pretty similar development.
What’s going on here is two distinct things, closely connected to party politics and partisan interests. First, there is a need to reactivate the Labour machine in Scotland. Quite simply, the party has shrunk at all levels but any attempt to rebuild it in cooperation with Better Together is hugely problematic as it is hugely off-putting to new members and existing activists. BT may be attracting volunteers on its own of course……the question is where these volunteers go after the referendum? As the volunteer programme has similarities to Labour’s Movement4Change efforts to train community activists, you can bet Labour is desperate to see these new activists enter its own ranks to form the backbone of local campaigning in key seats. Second, there is the legacy effects of Better Together activity in relation to the data generated by BT canvassing. BT is collecting voter data and legally has to share it between the three parties involved – if you have signed the BT forms at your their stalls, there’s a wee bit in the small print about this. However, as Labour has started its own campaign, it can now hog the data for Labour and use it in target seats in 2015 and 2016 – meaning it has clear partisan interests to collect data separately from the other parties for its own purposes, despite the commitment to ‘sharing’ through the BT medium. So, Labour can spend its time signing up folk through canvassing to protect its own Westminster seats or to try to win some from the Lib Dems. How the BT parties deal with this reality in the BT office - which has Labour and Tory campaigners – or on the ground in constituencies – is going to be fascinating.
And finally, a little bit of observation of Yes and BT campaigning to tie this argument together. Yes on the ground are actually very active, with multiple events across Scotland in many areas pretty much all of the time. Better Together has struggled to match this. It’s efforts have quite rationally concentrated on national campaign weekends about one a month. They don’t need to be so hyperactive as Yes for the simple reason that they are winning! However, even on its most recent campaign weekend in May 2013, a simple count of events on the BT and Yes websites found that Yes events outnumbered BT by about 4-1. If you looked on the BT website for this last weekend you’d find next to no events compared to Yes. However, if you follow twitter you’d find No campaign events organised by Labour in places like Glasgow and Inverness, nor involving BT at all, but simply Labour activists who have already separated themselves off from the other parties they are supposed to be partners with.
Scottish Labour published its interim report on reforms of devolution on Friday 19th April. The full report is here - http://www.scottishlabour.org.uk/campaigns/entry/devolution-commission
The report was discussed at the party conference in Inverness to mixed reviews, not least unhappiness amongst its own MPs. The report is actually very thin on concrete suggestions and spends much of its time explaining why change cannot happen – in welfare, pensions and corporation tax powers. There isn’t much of a positive offer here. And, when it comes to considering more powers for local government, things are also pretty thin. It flirts with local rating revaluation – we’ll love seeing that costed in the newspapers – but is vague on local reforms. It’s much better on the Crown Estate Commission and at least proposes a radical solution though one that has been around for a while.
There is an strong element of rewriting history in the sections explaining Scottish Labour attitudes to devolution. On page 17, it states that ‘devolution has been at the heart of the Scottish Labour Party’s political agenda since its inception.’ This is a nice phrase but completely untrue, and would fail the party’s own Truth Team. Its use of referencing here is curious – try reading Keating and Bleiman or Keating and Jones on Labour and devolution or even Labour’s submission to the Kilbrandon Commission and you’ll realise Labour was officially against devolution for a large part of the 20th century. It may have had a rhetorical commitment to the issue but this didn’t involve doing much about it until 3 weeks before the October 1974 general election. Even then, the party had its arm twisted by the British party to force it to support a Scottish Assembly.
More fundamentally, it’s easy to understand the political motives behind this report – Labour needs a constitutional offer before the 2014 referendum – but the economics and policy reasons behind it are dubious. More income tax powers are advanced as a means to make the Scottish parliament more accountable, which is fine in so far as it goes. But, it doesn’t really offer much else. It’s right to point to the problems of devolving welfare and some other taxes, but it’s not exactly brimming with ideas for tax devolution, even though it’s report is titled ‘Powers with a purpose’. Devo-reformers would counter this by asking some simple questions – like, will devolving income tax actually help the Scottish parliament to tackle some of Scotland’s major problems like low business growth, lower growth generally, health issues around alcohol and smoking? The Devo-More report by Alan Trench looked at these latter issues in particular, whilst recognising the practical problems in devolving such taxes. The Labour commission doesn’t. It’s a Calman2 exercise in essence. It gives Scottish Labour something to say but not something very convincing.
Also, making simple errors like saying Scotland would face an annual fiscal deficit of £7 billion on page 32, then saying it is only £7.6 million on page 33 do not inspire me with confidence. It makes you look like the guys advising Osborne, with their rather epic spreadsheet error!
The House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs published its report on Scottish independence on 10th April. The report itself is a curious document. Its introduction states its determination to provide an evidence-based analysis of the economic consequences of independence but this claim is rather undermined by its composition – Lords who all support the Union – and its choice of witnesses and evidence, some of whom just say what you expect them to say. This is an arm of the UK’s political establishment having its say so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it adopts a conservative position. The economic assessment in the report is actually quite limited – it identifies a range of problems with independence, not surprisingly, but there isn’t much new or conclusive here: just marshalling of evidence that it will all be very difficult. It isn’t even that useful on the UK dimension either, it considers some aspects of a Scottish independent future but has nothing to say about a Scotland-in-UK future, presumably as it will be peachy. Iain MacWhirter’s analysis in the Herald is actually quite amusing about these dimensions of the Lords’ approach. It is here - http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/clarity-is-needed-on-reports-idea-of-life-after-independence.20761994
Where the report is more interesting is on defence, where it is a lot more neutral – perhaps somewhat effected by the more neutral evidence it received. In relation to the EU, it just parrots the position of President Barroso without any great reflection on the EU itself or its treaties. There isn’t much heat or light here.
The Lords report is here - http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldselect/ldeconaf/152/152.pdf
There are several indyref stories in the papers this morning, with the Sunday Herald covering the finance behind the Better Together campaign. The paper reveals the top ten donors to BT as well as the identities of several other smaller donors. The biggest donor also donates to the Tories, no surprise there.
The article is here -
The interesting thing is the preponderance of business figures donating – as opposed to trade unions – and this is an interesting list in that the story originated in BT itself, who have lined up quotes from several donors plus the article to ‘manage’ the donations issue. Also in the Sunday Herald is coverage of the fact that Conservative Friends of the Union has not donated to BT and also that Yes will soon publish its list of donors.
And, it didn’t take long for the funding to cause waves, especially the money from the Vitol owner. National Collective produced an article on this company here - http://nationalcollective.com/2013/04/07/dirty-money-the-tory-millionaire-bankrolling-better-together/
And, there is a trail of articles about Vitol and Arkan amongst others, going back in time. See here - http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/jul/01/balkans.warcrimes2