Universities

Guy Stenhouse: From ferries to universities to public sector strikes, the SNP is sowing the seeds of decline

SOMETIMES it’s the little things that count. The SNP peddles a well-refined cocktail of illusions to seduce the electorate.

Bad things are the fault of Westminster or the Tories. If Scotland were alone, everything would be beautiful. A more vibrant, fairer, greener, more prosperous economy, more money to spend on public services and – this is the main thing – no downsides. No one has to pay taxes anymore because a little (in fact a lot) more borrowing and that beloved but elusive beast – faster growth – will pay for it all. No pain, everything wins.

In order to preserve this illusion, the Scottish government needs – and has been quite successful – to do three things.

First, keep a nice succession of goodies flowing our way. Free university tuition, free prescriptions, free bus trips, supplemental income support payments. The message is clear, these are down payments on what would come later if we weren’t totally free to do what we want.

The second thing is not to make any difficult decisions. No one should be upset, there should be no losers, tough decisions should be avoided rather than faced. Horses should never be frightened.

That’s why, not just because of the gross incompetence when it comes to ship procurement, our ferry services are such a mess – CalMac got the contract because the Scottish government gave in to the RMT union and insisted on the rules of the last “competition” to provide services that outdated work and pension provisions could not be changed by the winning bidder. The inevitable result was that there were no competing bidders and CalMac and its ridiculous working practices remained in place.

Our universities are another example. Scottish students are not charged, but the Scottish Government does not provide the income that would replace this income. The result is that our universities – some of which are excellent – ​​are at a disadvantage compared to institutions in England in what they can fund. For some time this drawback can be overcome, but not forever. The benefit of free tuition is proclaimed to the heavens, the downside of long-term damage to our universities is swept under the rug.

Have you ever wondered why rail strikes tend to be much shorter in Scotland than in England? It’s because the Scottish government is giving in. Instead of confronting the unions, he settled on a more generous basis than in England and did not push too hard for the necessary reforms.

The last thing the Scottish Government is doing is masking the fact that Scotland can afford to spend far more per capita on public services than England, because we receive a generous financial settlement from the UK Treasury via the Barnet formula. Frankly, we are subsidized. The SNP tries to pretend that we are not, even though the GERS figures, which clearly show that we are, are produced by the Scottish Government and not the UK Government.

Two recent developments, underreported and not catastrophic in themselves, have occurred and should, for anyone willing to open their minds and watch, challenge the illusory brave new world that the SNP government is working so hard to preserve.

The first is that a row has erupted between the UK and Scottish governments over who should pay for a computer system needed to process social security payments transferred from the UK government’s responsibility to the Scottish government.

Let’s put aside for the moment that if the UK were to decide that non-Scottish specific benefits should not be dealt with in Scotland, we would be the losers in terms of jobs and just focus on the systems necessary for our own payments.

More computers, more people, more cost. This is a diseconomy of separation – more cost without gain. Of course Scotland would have to pay for this, how could it be reasonable that they shouldn’t?

The second small jolt is that to fund the cost of higher public sector pay, the Scottish government has said Scotland may need more money from Westminster. The great grievance machine is set in motion for when the fully justified refusal to provide such funding arrives.

What is breathtaking is the iron neck of the Scottish government. They already have considerably more money per capita than in England to finance public expenditure, the reason they need more money is that they shamelessly accepted higher wage rewards than in England without insist on efficiency to finance them.

Instead of handing out the begging bowl, the Scottish government has the power to raise taxes to pay for the choices it makes. But we can’t have that because it would give us a glimpse of the truth – that separating Scotland from the UK just doesn’t make sense – and would hurt.