Time to listen up Scotland – the Prime Minister has spoken!

Incoming message from the Big Giant Head!

By stewartb

The latest meeting of the House of Commons Liaison Committee took place on 28 March. This is the event at which the chairs of Westminster’s select committees have the opportunity to question the Prime Minister at length.  The proceedings received little or no coverage by the news media. This is an attempt to compensate, to amplify matters arising at the meeting which may be of interest to TuS readers.

The full transcript of the oral evidence can be found here: https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/12944/html/

1) On UK defence expenditure

The PM: ’The MoDs budget was increased by £5 billion at the Budget. That came on top of the £560 million uplift that they received at the autumn statement. The breakdown of the £5 billion is £3 billion for, broadly, the nuclear enterprise and £2 billion for stockpiles and munitions, coming on top, as I said, of the half a billion at the autumn statement—something I know the Defence Secretary warmly welcomed at the time.’ (with my emphasis)

That’s a lot of money still being spent on weapons of mass destruction: expenditure on behalf of Scotland, in Scotland’s name but arguably not with Scotland’s democratic endorsement!

2) On how the government will finance the pay increase for NHS staff in England

Dame Meg Hillier from the Public Accounts Committee asked : ‘.. whether you can give any reassurance to hospital trusts right now about how much might be expected to come from their budget and how much will come from Whitehall?’

In response to not getting a definitive answer from the PM, Hillier notes: But this is the last week of March. Hospitals need to know how to set their budgets. Let us look at the modelling. For South Tees NHS Trust, which covers some of your constituency, if you model the figures at 2% and 6%, it is between £7 million and £22 million. To take another part of the country, at the University Hospital Southampton the range is between £10 million extra and £29 million extra for that trust. That is a lot of money that hospitals could have to take out of their frontline budget while, as you say, they are trying heroically to achieve over 120% of productivity on 2019 levels, for the catch-up. How do you expect them to square that circle?’

It struck me that this is the situation the Scottish and Welsh governments have been (are often) placed in. They are left waiting to learn HOW HM Treasury intends to enable additional spending on England’s public services: devolved governments have to make decisions e.g. negotiate public sector pay settlements, without knowing whether or not a Barnet consequential addition to their budget will materialise once a Westminster government decides on how to respond to England’s needs and wants!

3) On competitive advantage internationally

In response to questions from the chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, the PM states: ‘when it comes to an industrial strategy and all the rest of it, at the end of the day, we as a country have a couple of very specific natural competitive advantages. Carbon capture and storage in the North sea is a geological advantage we have that others do not. Floating offshore wind is a capability that we have developed—more so than anywhere else in the world—with huge export potential.’

On the PM’s assessment, industry in the ‘country’ of Scotland when independent will have two considerable, internationally competitive advantages, especially for a country of 5.5 million people! Later in the meeting the PM tells us: ‘Scotland has such a strong financial services industry.

4) On Scotland, democracy, Section 30 etc.

Then we have responses to various questions from the SNP’s Angus MacNeil, Chair of the International Trade Committee.  Firstly, there was the PM’s response on the latest rejection of a request for a Section 30 order regarding a second independence referendum. We gain an insight into the current Unionist case against granting a Section 30 – nothing’s changed, still weak from a democratic viewpoint!

The PM: ’As I have always said, actually I think what people in Scotland want is to see their two Governments working together to deliver for them. I was pleased that one of the last things I was able to do with the previous First Minister was to announce two new freeports in Scotland, which she welcomed rightly as a good example of that co-operation, delivering jobs and opportunities for Scotland.’

It’s as if the Unionists’ world view is that the governments of independent countries don’t or can’t ‘work together’! (Except in other responses, the PM was emphasising the UK’s close relationship and collaboration with Ireland.) And on freeports, assuming that ‘jobs and opportunities for Scotland’ will eventually result, what on earth has this to do with Scotland’s constitutional status?

Asked about electoral mandates, the PM states: ’I think in elections people vote on all sorts of different things, and I do not think it is appropriate to try to hijack a general election for one thing.’

MacNeill asks ‘Are you trying to prescribe the manifesto that somebody would run on?’  PM: ‘I think that is what the previous First Minister was trying to do, and I think that the people in Scotland will vote on the various issues that they think are important to them.’

Later, from the PM: ‘We were told that it was a once-in-a-generation referendum, and the people of Scotland had an opportunity to express their view, and they did. And I do not think anyone can deny that they were given that chance.’  Adding: ‘And subsequent to that we delivered on all the commitments that were made to devolve greater power to Scotland, which I think is now the most powerful devolved Assembly anywhere in the world. Those commitments were made to the people in Scotland, those commitments have been delivered, and what they are also seeing now is strong co-operation where we can to deliver for them, whether that is on the cost of living, whether it is on things such as freeports. And that is what we will continue to do.’

‘Once in a generation’; ‘most powerful Assembly anywhere’ (what is this ‘Assembly’?); delivered on all commitments – same old, same old tropes! But what IS this obsession with ‘freeports’?

MacNeil asks: ‘When it comes to Northern Ireland, you are a fan of the single market now. When did you take the road to Damascus on that very issue?’

(In an earlier exchange, the Chair of the NI Committee had already noted: ‘.. businesses, many of the political parties and a lot of trade bodies and trade organisations are very keen to maximise the opportunities as and when they can of their unique trading position of having one foot in both camps: one in the UK internal market, and one in the EU single market.’)

In response to MacNeill, the PM states: ‘What I was referring to—and as I say, I am sad that we having that conversation again, because what I was very clearly referring to is the unique status of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom, because it is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with a member of the EU, and also as a part of country that has had a history of troubles.’

In another response to MacNeil, the PM (helpfully!) acknowledges: ‘It is very rare for countries to run overall budget surpluses.’

And on Brexit, the PM responds: ‘You talk about Brexit, and there are many opportunities of Brexit. Trade deals are one, things like freeports are another, control over migration, regulatory change—‘. MacNeil: ‘There is no GDP gain’. The PM: ‘I know that Scotland, obviously, has chosen not to take advantage of the new gene editing Bills that will increase food productivity in other parts of the UK—‘. MacNeil: ‘Seriously, Prime Minister. Seriously?’

End note

So, the case against granting a Section 30 has not shifted; the arguments against granting one have not changed – the same tired tropes being used. It is as weak democratically as ever. Westminster can refuse, so Westminster chooses to refuse!

Presumably, the ‘unique status of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom’, referred to by the PM, would be used to justify a formal agreement (of sorts) to permit a ‘border poll’ for voters in NI whilst continuing to refuse to identify any democratic route for Scotland’s voters to express their view on independence. In this Union, Westminster – as the PM’s statements reveal – is not even willing to give the voters of Scotland this semblance of democratic agency contained within the Good Friday Agreement:

And on a democratic trigger for a border poll:

In the case of Scotland, the Unionist parties in Westminster appear unwilling EVEN to agree the democratic route set out in para 2 above!

See https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1034123/The_Belfast_Agreement_An_Agreement_Reached_at_the_Multi-Party_Talks_on_Northern_Ireland.pdf


6 thoughts on “Time to listen up Scotland – the Prime Minister has spoken!

  1. Perhaps if Scotland had ” …a history of Troubles ” we would be granted the
    ( democratic ? ) opportunity to decide our constitutional future in the way that N. Ireland has been given .
    To the barricades , mon braves !


  2. The PM enthuses endlessly about the advantages of Freeports, but it’s widely recognised that they are havens for tax evasion and money-laundering. They generally don’t of themselves create new jobs; instead they they tend to steal jobs from surrounding areas to the detriment of other towns. Why does nobody challenge him on this?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Couldn’t we just make the whole of Scotland a Freeport?
    We could then trade with who ever we want, set our own tax rates within it, set our own environmental, safety and hygiene rules…


  4. The countdown has begun. To get rid of the Tories. £5Billion should be going to the health service not to weapons of mass destruction.

    People who support Independence need to get out and vote for it every election. Too low turnout. Vote the opposition out. Get out and campaign for Independence.

    More action is needed to get it done.

    Kate Forbes and Ivan McKee need to be in government.


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