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Three charts that show that Scotland should stop whining

Scotland, after London, is the biggest winner from our current political arrangements. Forget stronger for Scotland, where's Yorkshire's voice?

Underlying both last year's Scottish referendum, and the surge in SNP support that's come since, there's been a feeling that the country is getting a raw deal. Scotland, the nationalists argue, has been forgotten by a Westminster government that struggles to see beyond the M25. Scotland feels unloved.

This is an argument that seems to ignore the fact that the last Chancellor of the Exchequer was Scottish, the last prime minister was Scottish, and the one before that was half-Scottish, too. But nonetheless, it's an inescapable fact that London dominates the UK to a quite horrific extent, and its ability to suck in wealth and people from elsewhere in the county and turn them into higher house prices should be a source of concern to all of us. The case for rebalancing the distribution of money and power in this country away from the capital is a pretty strong one.  

But it's not clear that Scotland has been the main victim of this trend. Compared to other regions, in fact, Scotland has done, er, pretty well, actually.

For one thing, it's richer than most other regions. This chart shows the per capital gross value add (GVA), one measure of the size of a region's economy. 

Scotland isn't as rich as London or parts of its orbit, no. But it's richer than the entire rest of the country. (This graph excludes oil and gas revenues, incidentally, so if anything it understates quite well Scotland is doing. Allocate those to Scotland, and the country's performance is about 23 per cent better.)

Scotland does rather well out of the Treasury, too – better than anywhere other than Northern Ireland. 

You'd expect a more rural region to need higher spending per head, but nonetheless.

And, despite having its own parliament, Scotland still has better representation at Westminster than many other parts of the UK. 

This graph looks at the number of MPs each region has, and the share of the UK population it contained at the time of the 2011 census. The regions on the left are over represented in the House of Commons; those on the right are under represented. Look where Scotland is.

The SNP line of late has been that Scotland needs a strong voice to represent its interests at Westminster. Fair enough, you can see why it'd be an attractive pitch.

But it's really quite hard to find a measure on which it's getting a raw deal now. Scotland is rich, and well-represented, and relatively speaking awash in public spending. It may not feel like it sometimes, on the streets of Glasgow or Dundee; but Scotland is doing alright.

All of which raises the question - when the SNP appear in national debates demanding a better settlement, then why isn't anyone making the same case for the the north east of England, say? London's dominance is a problem. But Scotland is far from its biggest victim.

 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.