It was devolution wot done it

The brief quiet that descended over British politics ends in a heated spat over Alex Salmond's plans

Three weeks into the August lull of political activity, and the UK blogosphere finally has something to get excited/agitated about. Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, produced a white paper proposing full-scale devolution. An electronic debate ensued.

If the suggestion seemed a kick in the teeth to Gordon Brown, Elliot Joseph was none too sympathetic: "Over its 300 years a number of enemy powers have countenanced the overthrow of the United Kingdom. Until Tony Blair and Gordon Brown took power in 1997, however, it looked most unlikely that anyone would accomplish it.

"As he steers the country masterfully from one crisis to the next, it will be amusing to watch Brown try to forestall the consequences of his own disastrous policy."

What rattled Scottish Labour activist Kezia Dugdale's cage was the way the SNP went about the debate. And rattle it, it did. Her advice to Salmond: "Do the right thing, take a policy to parliament, debate it, seek the cross-party support that you need to do something about it and pursue it.

"Do not create a website devoted to a National Conversation where you set the boundaries of the conversation you’re prepared to take part - whilst also allowing the CyberNATs to inflict their ignorant, narrow-minded venom on the rest of us."

What seemed to anger unionists most was not the fact but the way the subject had been broached. The Thunder Dragon wrote: "I am a Unionist, but the debate over Scottish independence seems that it needs to be had - and sooner is better than later. Opinion polls are showing that the majority of Scottish voters do not favour independence from the United Kingdom.

"They should have this referendum, held with a caveat that this decision would be final if the vote came out against independence."

The issue of Scottish independence is a thorny one for Labour, and especially for Gordon Brown. Mike Smithson at Political Betting highlights how Brown should learn from his predecessors: "There’s also a general election dimension here. Would Gord go to the country just at the time when this is developing as an issue? The last thing he wants, surely, is for a campaign to be dominated by EVEL [English Votes for English Laws]?

"People often forgot that it was the Scottish devolution issue, not the so called ‘winter of discontent’, that brought Jim Callaghan’s Labour government down in 1979. Gord knows he has to tread carefully.”

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
Getty
Show Hide image

How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496