Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Devolution And Inequality in Britain - Give The English A Say.

The enthusiasm politicians, local politicians and even some normal people have for ever more devolution baffles me. Scotland voted to remain in union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Largely I suspect thanks to the Barnett Formula. The temporary, believe it or not, Barnett Formula was drawn up in 1978. In fact Lord Barnett, who drew it up to end bickering about spending amongst Labour politicians (remember the days when Labour and Scotland were not divorced?) anticipated it would last for thirty six years, but even he has said recently that it is now both unfair to the English and an embarrassment.

He's dead right and those canny Scots know when they're on to a good thing. So, they voted for the union, bribed by a promise that Barnett would continue, AND that they would get an even greater say in their own affairs. Naturally the Westminster government of the day didn't want to preside over the break up of Great Britain, (what a legacy that would be!) so they promised everything from the family silver to the deeds to the house.

However, having voted to stay in union and keep the subsidy our canny northern neighbours then promptly gave the SNP, a blatantly Nationalist party, virtually complete control north of the border and a mandate to troop triumphantly down to Westminster to ensure not only that they receive all the bribes, but a bit more if possible.

Now, as a matter of principle promises should not be broken and so David Cameron has to honour the promises he made. Shipyard workers in Portsmouth to remain unemployed, Clydeside workers not so, and all the rest. However, the people of England made no such promise, so lets look at some facts and then decide whether it's time the English had a say!

The Barnett Formula doesn't only benefit Scotland, actually the biggest beneficiaries financially speaking are our cousins in Northern Ireland a country we continually rebuilt as quickly as the people there blew it up and killed each other (plus innocent soldiers from other parts of the UK including a good friend of mine).

The other financial winners in all this are the Welsh, and what the Scots, Northern Irish and Welsh all have in common is a devolved parliament. My astute readers will have picked up my lack of enthusiasm for devolution at the beginning, so no, I'm not going to argue for a devolved English parliament, tempting though it is.

Some more facts. The Scots, Northern Irish and Welsh are all represented at Westminster, even if some Northern Irish politicians don't avail themselves. Sorry, yet more facts and figures. The population of Scotland is circa 5.3 million, the population of Northern Ireland is circa 1.9 million, the population of Wales is circa 3.1 million and the population of Yorkshire is circa 5.3 million, notice something there? The population of London is circa 8.6 million and the population of England as a whole is a little over 53 million. No prizes for working out where most of the tax revenue comes from then.

So, since Scotland has has 59 constituencies, N. Ireland 18, Wales 40 and England 533, then as well as having their own parliament there's an MP elected to Westminster for approximately every 89,830 Scots, every 105,555 Northern Irish and every 77,500 Welsh. England comes in at one MP for every 99,437 voting adults, meaning that pro rata the Scots and Welsh are over represented at Westminster vis a vis the English despite also having their own parliament as well. Only the Northern Irish are arguably under represented but then the English population is growing.

The Northern Irish may be under represented pro rata at Westminster, although if you have your own parliament anyway perhaps that's reasonable, however Northern Ireland does even better than Scotland when it comes to the Barnett Formula. Public spending in Northern Ireland was £10,876 per head in the year 2012/13 that's £2,347 MORE per head than in England. The Scots received £10,152 spend per head, that being £1,623 MORE per head than the English, to help pay for their free prescriptions and free university education north of the 'border', a free education not available to English incomers. The poor old Welsh only had £1,180 per head more spent on them than the English.

I'd like to make several points from all of this. In the first place more devolution means more bureaucracy, more expense, more waste. Secondly it's pretty ludicrous in a country the size of ours, London and Yorkshire have at least as good a claim to their own parliament, but most people would think that ridiculous.

The most important thing is that devolution leads to inequality and injustice. We try not to discriminate on the grounds of colour, race, religion, belief, age or gender, so why in a so called United Kingdom do some people get free prescriptions and others not? Why do some get free university education and others not? Why do some get thousands more spent on them each year and others less? Why are some over represented and others under represented? Why should some have their jobs artificially protected and others not, simply because of where they live in this so called United Kingdom the Scots voted to preserve?

When Scotland joined Great Britain as we liked to call it in those days Scotland was bankrupt, largely due to ill advised adventures in Central America, whilst English merchants and sailors were creating a booming economy in England. Ship building was virtually non existent on the Clyde, whilst ship building in Portsmouth, Deptford and other places had a far longer tradition and was producing great ships in great numbers. A tradition now eradicated to protect Scottish workers. Anyone notice the size of the swing to the SNP in Glasgow particularly?

Frankly it's getting ludicrous. We should be a United Kingdom where everyone is treated equally, where everyone has equal rights and lives under the same laws. Clearly that is not happening. The fashion for devolution and the rise of nationalism, especially in Scotland, has made us a divided nation. Salmond, Sturgeon and their cohorts have taken three hundred years of friendship and brotherhood and driven a wedge through it. Destructive, negative, sad. I would prefer to see it reversed, but it's unlikely. So what can we do about it? Cameron may be bound to honour his promise, but the people of England have not been given a say, yet another inequality.

If we cannot have one parliament fit for purpose, which is fair and even handed towards all its citizens, then sadly it's not time for devolving powers to Yorkshire or anywhere else; that will simply lead to more diversification, inequality, bureaucracy and expense, more jumped up local politicians shouting for this and that.

However it is high time to give the English their voice. Do we want to continue to pay the most and have the least to say about it? Cameron and the rest of the politicians may have made promises, but we the people of England did not, maybe we should have our own referendum on whether we keep subsidising our already over privileged neighbours through the Barnett Formula and possibly as well, or instead, a referendum on whether we actually let them stand on their own two feet like Lichtenstein, Luxembourg et al, cut them adrift.

Perhaps despite the years of brotherhood it is actually time to let them go. If they don't want financial, educational, welfare and judicial parity with the rest of us, then let them pay for the things they want from their own labour and their own tax regime; then the powers they and the overwhelmingly elected SNP seek will be justified, but please, end this craze for devolution, expense, inequality and injustice now.

The Migration Crisis In The Mediterranean And Eleswhere

The world's politicians are managing the migration crisis with all the ineptitude they can muster, which, as we know is plenty. The Roman Empire was no paradise, but its end was largely brought about by people wanting what the Romans' had. It led to what we euphemistically call the Dark Ages.

Britain long ago chose, in the wake of empire, to become a multicultural society. Some see that as a wonderful and enriching thing, others complain it's destroying our own culture and traditions. I tend to the former view, but things aren't quite that simple there's an element of truth in both positions, life is rarely black and white.

Even if one embraces multiculturalism, has not an ounce of racism, religious bigotry or prejudice about anything, unlimited migration does create problems and people trafficking is a dangerous and evil abuse. Now, we can all sit back and let our talented politicians deal with it, or speak up for a better world.

Britain's answer is to threaten to leave the European community unless we get control of our borders back, whilst sending ships to Libyan waters to pick up illegal immigrants and dump them on Italy. Of course we're not the only ones doing it. We chose to become multicultural, it doesn't mean we have the right to insist others do so too, it's their decision, that is the democracy we're all so keen on.

Italy has a rich culture and they're rightly proud of it, dumping all these people on their doorstep isn't right. Nor is their economy in better shape to deal with it. If you're going to rescue thousands of people you need to have a policy as to what you're going to do with them afterwards. (Just as if you go to war, you need a plan for the peace, the successors of Bush and Blair please take note). By the way I'm all in favour of saving lives at sea. I'm not quite so happy about people deliberately taking stupid risks, especially when the message sent out is 'put yourself at risk and we will not only rescue you, but will help you complete your illegal journey (at least as far as Italy, you can make your way to England or Germany on your own)'.

We are of course encouraging the people traffickers and depleting countries who need fit, strong and in many cases educated people to help build their own countries. Naturally, once again it's not black and white, some are economic migrants, some are fleeing genuine persecution. Some will look for work and to make a contribution to society, others, possibly in desperation, will turn to crime to support themselves. Even violent crime, I've experienced it at first hand in Athens.

So the questions are: Do we rescue migrants who've put themselves at risk in overcrowded un-seaworthy boats? Do we use special forces to take out people traffickers and their boats and resources? Do we return people whence they came? If we don't return them, then where do we put them and is it a sustainable answer? If there's not a sustainable solution to the previous question, how do we help people build a life for themselves in the countries they're currently leaving?

If you can answer all these questions in a common sense way, with a degree of humanity and in a way which will make the world a better place, perhaps you should be running for office, in your own country, or in the European parliament.

It's not just about culture, bigotry, prejudice. It's also about overcrowding and the pressure on health services, transport, housing, the environment and it's about people having worthwhile lives in their own countries, not splitting up families, not making the countries they've left into barren wastelands whilst Europe becomes ever more pressured and crowded. It's not about pushing the problem onto Italy, Spain or anywhere else.

I'm not sufficiently arrogant to think I have all the answers, but since I don't like what I see and have taken the trouble to speak out and write about it I feel I should at least suggest answers to the questions above for consideration.

Of course we should save lives at sea. Should we destroy the people trafficking industry? It may not be easy, but I believe we should use all the resources we have available to fight any evil. Whether or not to return people whence they came is a hugely contentious question, but it needs to be faced up to, without the assumption that to say yes brands someone racist or a bigot. The problems of unrestrained mass migration are real. Rescue and welcome people and more will come, obviously. So yes, sadly I believe we must send people back, but we have to try and help them in their own countries too, whether that is through aid, diplomacy, peace keeping, or more likely a mixture of all three.

Many people are fleeing war, or smaller internal civil and tribal conflicts, we simply have to end war, before war ends us. It's not sustainable to keep taking people in ad infinitum so that the numbers looking to enter increase exponentially year on year. So, like it or not, we have to face up to the problems in Africa and the Middle East, we need more creative solutions from the people who've put themselves forward to govern, we need peace, not to just send ships from all over to fish people out of the sea and dump them on Italy.