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Will a No vote mean bye-bye Barnett?

Published on 6 January 2014

£4 Billion Barnett Bombshell.

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Now that's the kind of headline the 'Yes' Campaign somehow needs to be generating.  The punchbag strategy isn't working. Taking blow after blow from the preposterous but ruthlessly effective 'Project Fear' with just a knowing smile and dismissive shrug doesn't impress the voters if the opinion polls are anything to go by. Even the stoutest of punchbags gets worn out and tattered.

Scots want their politicians to be 'doughty fechters', not noble martyrs however great the cause. That's how the likes of Salmond and Sturgeon came to be so admired in the first place. The 'Yes' campaign should go on the front foot and throw some hefty punches of its own.

Let's start with the consequences of a 'No' victory.  These are much scarier than anything Project Fear's nightmare factory has come up with.

First of all, rejecting independence means a green light for the savage cuts in UK government spending. The brunt of these will only be felt in Scotland in the years after the Referendum.  By themselves, these cuts will be enough to choke off any possibility of future spending to deliver the kinds of policies that Scots clearly want - like better child care.

But in addition to these eye-watering cuts, devastating though they will be, awaits another, even more serious financial consequence of a 'No' vote - the dismantling of the Barnett Formula.  It's estimated this will cost Scots £4 billion pounds annually.

It's taken for granted in England that the Barnett Formula is a way of feather-bedding Scottish subsidy junkies.  How has it been allowed to happen, the outraged English Establishment thunders, that in Scotland students, the elderly and those needing medical treatment or care get a better deal than their equivalents south of the border? 

Scots need to know that these popular and successful policies will go if Barnett goes.  Even Labour MPs and councillors in the North of England, envious of Scotland's progressive achievements, are so locked into Blairite economics that they would rather abolish Barnett than campaign for the adoption of similar measures down south.

That Scots currently contribute 9.9% of UK tax revenues but receive only 9.3% of public spending is just another one of those awkward statistics which won't be allowed to get in the way of the stereotype of the shyster Jocks.

Instead of Barnett, a growing number of English MPs have been calling for Scotland's block grant to be funded on a 'needs basis'.  These 'needs' will, of course, be defined by the Westminster parliament. The pressure for this change has been building up for some years now. Last month, Prime Minister Cameron sought to reassure Scots by stressing that he can guarantee there will definitely be no changes to the Barnett Formula…….before the next election.  It's a measure of his esteem for the intelligence of the average Scots that he thinks a 12 month guarantee will do. No doubt he hopes we will forget that in 2008, in this very newspaper, he made it clear he supported the ending of the Barnett Formula.

Focusing on the uncertainty around Barnett might do the 'Yes' campaign a lot of good. A Panelbase poll last October indicated that 27% of voters were 'much more' or 'slightly more' likely to vote 'Yes' if the Barnett Formula was going to be abolished after 2015.

The newly released government papers from 1984 show that Mrs Thatcher had her finger on a similar Scottish pulse.  Only the threat of outraged nationalist sentiment prevented the abolition of the Barnett Formula then. 

We can be sure that in the event of a 'No' vote, the UK Establishment will seek constitutional and fiscal measures to eliminate the possibility of any further consideration of Scottish sovereignty for at least a generation or two.  Abolishing Barnett is an obvious first move to curb the financial capacity of Scotland to make itself distinctively different from the rest of the UK.

'£4 Billion Barnett Bombshell.'

It would be a pity if Scots only faced up to the implications of such a headline after a 'No' victory next September.

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