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Yes Campaign: history shows when Scots vote No, they suffer cutbacks

YES campaigners have claimed history shows when Scots fail to vote for more powers, they face a Westminster backlash.

HISTORY REPEATS? Scottish Secretary George Younger (right) appealed to Margaret Thatcher over draconian cuts to the block grant.
HISTORY REPEATS? Scottish Secretary George Younger (right) appealed to Margaret Thatcher over draconian cuts to the block grant.

The claim, based on materials drawn from Cabinet papers released under the 30-year rule, is part of Yes Scotland's attempt to counter arguments that independence would create an uncertain future. Instead, they are pointing to the doubts and downsides of voting to remain in the Union.

The papers show that in 1980, the year after the referendum majority in favour of devolution failed to gain the required 40%, Scottish Secretary George Younger was forced to fight draconian cuts to the block grant.

Although he was partially successful in blocking swinging cuts, he was forced to agree to cuts higher than what would have applied under the Barnett formula.

On coming to power in 1979, the Conservatives began cutting public spending, including a £256 million cut to the Scottish allocation in line with Barnett.

But the following year, John Biffen, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, announced to Cabinet that he intended singling out Scotland for additional cuts of £150m annually over the next three years.

He claimed a new Needs Assessment Study indicated Scotland should lose £300m a year, but he was only proposing half that. "I do not propose an extra reduction in the programme for Northern Ireland this year, but I suggest an extra reduction of £150m in planned Scottish programmes," he told Cabinet.

Mr Younger appealed directly to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: "I need hardly explain to you what a disaster any move of this sort would be for our whole political position in Scotland.

"To do it within 18 months of the referendum and at a time of the highest unemployment since the war would be very hard to justify. My own credibility if I were to agree to such a proposal would be gravely weakened both with public opinion and our own Party supporters."

In a memo to other Cabinet members he said: "I see no reason why the Scottish Office should not make its full contribution to the economies we all have to make.

"However, to go even further by discriminating against Scotland only would be to invite political disaster and I cannot agree to it."

Political opponents would see this as "a deliberate act of policy directed against Scotland", which he would be hard put to justify let alone defend.

Mr Biffen offered to reduce the cuts to £90m in the first year and then £140m in each of the next two but Mr Younger continued to resist, saying of the funding formula: "To abandon the arrangement now, only 18 months after the referendum which had led to the withdrawal of the devolution proposals, would destroy the Government's credibility in Scotland."

He offered just £10m in additional cuts, which the Cabinet "reluctantly accepted" provided he looked for further savings, which he was willing to do if this was possible "without compromising the political considerations."

A Yes Scotland source said: "As we know from these Cabinet minutes following the 1979 referendum, Tory Ministers in London had no compunction about penalising Scotland with draconian cuts to our budget.

"Westminster wasn't working for Scotland then, it isn't working for Scotland now, and there is no reason to believe Westminster would work for Scotland if we remained stuck with the current system."

A Better Together spokesman said: "More grievance and division from the self-styled positive campaign. Someone ought to tell Alex Salmond that his politics of hope bunkum doesn't appear to be taking hold at Yes Scotland."

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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