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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. He is on Twitter, almost continously, as @JonnElledge.

Paul Farrelly
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I represent a Leave constituency - but I want to delay triggering Brexit

Unlike most of his colleagues, Labour MP Paul Farrelly refused to vote for starting Brexit negotiations in March. He explains why. 

Not quite top marks, but eight out of 11 will do - for the justices on the United Kingdom Supreme Court, who have ruled that our country remains, indeed, a parliamentary democracy. 

Furthermore, they have ruled that legislation is necessary to trigger Article 50, which starts the Brexit process, not simply a plebiscite, nor a government diktat fancifully dressed up as a "royal prerogative".

Last June, my constituency of Newcastle-under-Lyme in the area home to the historic potteries industry voted 61 per cent to 39 per cent to leave the European Union. Yet in December, I was one of just nine Labour MPs to vote - twice - against rushing for the door by the end of March, come what may.

It was the third time since 2015 that I’d defied the Labour whip (quite modest compared with our leader’s record). The last was when - with the Tories’ true statesman, Ken Clarke - I refused to vote for the legislation paving the way for the referendum in the first place. 

I thought it a reckless gamble with our country’s future, which profoundly disregarded the lessons of the past. Six months down the line, I now realise that, of the "December nine", I was the only one with a Leave majority (though not a majority of all voters) in my seat.

Why? Was it a political death wish? A deliberate slap in the face for my electorate, who have returned a Labour MP now since 1919?

No, it simply made no coherent sense to hand the government a blank cheque before Christmas, before we'd seen what Prime Minister Theresa May wanted to achieve, and given our verdict in the national interest. 

Does that make me – like the judges again, no doubt, according to Ukip, some Tories and the Brexit press - an "enemy of the people"? Certainly not. 

My parliamentary next door neighbour Sir Bill Cash, doyen of the anti-EU lobby, has spent the last 40 years defying the "will of the people" from the overwhelming 1970s referendum. So I think we "rebels" can be cut a little slack for wanting to ask a few hard questions to hold the government to account.

On the face of it, Labour’s continued, official support for the government’s timetable renders today’s Supreme Court verdict of little practical consequence - in the Commons, at least. 

In December, our front bench had tried to be clever, crafting a mild motion calling for debate on a published plan before Article 50, to stir a Tory rebellion. But the PM smartly agreed to the demands, tacked on her timetable and Labour got trapped into riding her coat-tails. 

But at least now, through amendments to a government bill, we’ll have the chance – and so will the Lords – to influence the terms of departure, and who in the future has the final say.

In the PM’s speech a fortnight ago, I was pleased with her commitment to protecting the UK’s science base. Last week, I was at the opening of the fifth Innovation Centre at Keele University’s Science Park on my patch, for which European funding has been vital. That’s been hammered out, until 2020, but what happens further out is wholly up in the air. 

I was happy as well, of course, with the passage on workers’ rights. Ten years ago, I introduced the Private Member’s Bill to stop abuse of agency workers – a Labour 2005 manifesto commitment – which was then delivered at European level. That was aimed directly, too, at tackling the sort of levelling down that, all those years ago, was already stoking anger at immigration in areas like mine.

But these were, really, just warm words for the wider audience. The key concerns for our industry, local and national, about tariff-free trade and access to the single market are still there in spades. And in the 21st century economy, we have not squared "control of our borders". The demand for skills, not least when incomers from outside the EU – the element the government ostensibly can limit – formed the majority in the last statistics.

The reality is that, once Article 50 is triggered, the government will not control the agenda.  That will be in the hands, like it or loathe them, of the other 27 member states. 

The PM’s statement was workmanlike, with no real surprises; but what hardly helps the negotiations are the frenzied Noises Off-style gaffes. For Boris Johnson to liken any French President, on his way out or not, to a Colditz camp guard just stores up more trouble for tough times ahead.

In my formative years, way before politics, I organised international youth exchanges. Every summer, teenagers from all over Europe gathered to tend war graves in Berlin – where wounds of conflict were still fresh, and the Cold War divided the city by the Wall. 

My involvement came from growing up in Newcastle - in Staffordshire, where the German cemetery from both world wars lies next to the Commonwealth memorial on Cannock Chase. I grew up believing that the European Union and its forerunners, for all their frequent frustrations, were part and parcel of the architecture of peace, not just prosperity. 

Those loftier arguments, however, got lost sadly in the bewildering trading of facts and fictions in the referendum. "Turkey, population 76 million, is joining the EU. Vote Leave." Well no, it’s not, but those huge, bright red posters certainly changed the tone of the debate in the last few weeks on many a street last June, not just in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
 
After a narrow 52 per cent to 48 per cent Leave vote, we are now, though, where we are. 

For Labour, on our front bench Keir Starmer has been trying to make the best of a bad hand. Thanks to the Supreme Court, he now has an extra card. But I still just don’t like the way the dealer has stacked the deck.

Paul Farrelly is the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme. He has sat on numerous select committees, and currently sits on the Culture, Media and Sports committee.