There’s a good piece over in the Caledonian Mercury written by Hamish Macdonell highlighting the increasing differences between the fundamental principles of the governments in Scotland and England.
I won’t repeat all the arguments here, but Mr Macdonell makes some good points.
In England the whole basis of public life is being changed by a reforming government. Along with the cuts which we know are coming in October, are complete changes in the way that things will be done. Schools will be free to opt out of council control; people will be able to set up their own schools. Of course most of the money for these schools will still come from the government in some form and therefore the targets are likely to remain and the rush for exam results as opposed to education will be unlikely to disappear. Heath will become more and more a matter for private companies bidding for contracts to treat NHS patients, and a full internal market is the aim.
In Scotland there is no enthusiasm for this level of free market intervention in public services. Unsurprisingly I am in agreement with that. There are some services that can be provided reasonably by private enterprise or left to the charitable sector, but only the ones that people do not absolutely depend upon. Private bus services in my home town, for example, are a complete shambles with the company doing what it wants, cutting services and running others willy nilly with no information available, even to their own staff about what they are doing. But buses, while vitally important to some people, are rarely a matter of life and death. Far from perfect though NHSS is, I know I can get treatment, free, when I need it. On the other hand, for no apparent reason other than the company’s greed, my private dental insurance has doubled over the last 5 years!!
However, the cuts are coming, whether we like it or not. Scotland may run its own affairs in matters of health and education, but it does not run its own budget. It must depend upon the London government for the grant to run these services, and the money given can only be a percentage of what the English spend on their services. And so if there is a 25% cut in the English services because that is the policy of the de facto English government... then the Scottish government will have a corresponding reduction in funds regardless of its policies and its public’s wishes.
Mr Macdonell’s article points out that Labour (as usual) opposes the SNP policies (their default position) but also opposes the cuts in services of the Tory government. (They oppose magnificently and at great length don’t they?)
The Liberals are between a rock and a hard place. They know that by and large Scots are unenthusiastic about the Tory cuts, but they have to do what they are told by London, and now they have ministers in London, so they are saying nothing. Clearly the Tories are behind all the cuts and the privatizations, but they are few and are unlikely to form the next government.
So the SNP has made its position clear, but Labour is just opposed to everything, everywhere, forever, end of story! So if they form the next government in Scotland it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.
It will be interesting to see how this pans out over the next few years, but clearly some new form of devolution and financial agreement will have to be found, so that Scots who didn’t vote for these cuts will have their democratically expressed wishes granted.