Thursday, 9 April 2015

From Yes Scotland to Maybes Aye in two nights

From the Scottish leaders debate in Aberdeen for the Daily Record

Barnett vs The FFA might sound like a Soccerworld Scotland League fixture in the north east.

But for thirteen minutes last night Barnett was the byword for a one-sided penalty shoot-out that Nicola Sturgeon lost.

The Barnett formula, which might as well we carved into the Salisbury crags above Holyrood, is the method by which Scotland's public services are generously funded from UK resources.

FFA, or full fiscal autonomy to it give it a Sunday name, is the SNP's fall-back from independence.

It means Scotland would raise and keep all its own taxes, save what it sends to Westminster for shared  services liked defence and foreign affairs.

It means, on current reckoning by independent experts, that Scotland would be £7.6 billion worse off each year, about half the health budget spending.

Nicola Sturgeon said given the chance her MPs would vote for it "next year".

So, the SNP want to cut Scotland's funding next year -it's official.

Cock-a- hoop, Labour thinks Nicola Sturgeon pretty much wrote £7.6 billion cuts into the SNP manifesto last night,  and that the battle lines now are over Tory cuts versus SNP bigger cuts.

They shouldn't get ahead of themselves. Who remembers the results of minor league football fixtures? This score win may not count.

We came to Aberdeen expecting  a dull northern re-match of the Edinburgh fixture.

The sour joker in the pack, UKIP MEP David Coburn, might have stolen the show. But he was reduced to the role of a football mascot, scorned by leaders and audience alike. This was a serious game.

James Cook, the BBC referee, was first to put Sturgeon on the spot. When was it she wanted full fiscal autonomy?

"As quickly as the other parties agree to it," she said.

Murphy was in: "Would your MPs vote for it next year?"

She shot back: "Yes, would you support it?" Ooh, she dropped the ball.

It was a the equivalent of a  defensive pass to an opposing striker, and he wasted no time. "Absolutely not," said Murphy. Who would vote to cut Scotland's funding?

"I don't think it makes sense," he said, as the crowd broke into applause and the other main party leaders lined up to take their free penalty kicks.

Sturgeon was being hammered and Murphy made sure the audience got the point. "Barnett today, tomorrow and forever," is not a terrace chant, but it's what he promised.

Sturgeon's advisers, the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the STUC - all warn of the dangers of cutting Scotland's share of the UK budget.

Spinning back from that is hard. Yes, polling shows people want more powers, but also shows they want the same level of services and pensions as the rest of the UK. No one votes for less, regardless of the timing.

Sturgeon was in more trouble backtracking on the timing of a referendum and Labour, who'd looked and learned, had set a trap and a slogan.

From Yes Scotland to "maybes ayes" in two nights of television is not a good look for an independence leader.

"I don't want to live in a Scotland were we don't have to set up a welfare fund to mitigate Tory cuts," Sturgeon said. But she sounded like a protesting First Minister, not  a party leader on the march, and she was jeered and cheered in equal measure.

It fell to Ruth Davidson delivered the final blow.  She said: "You have to be able to fund welfare . Full fiscal autonomy, right now if we vote for it next year, would mean that we had billions of pounds less in Scotland to spend on welfare."

"In fact, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said it would be £7.6 billion which is more than we spend on every single pensioner in this country.

"That's the other half of the equation that you don't want the people out there to know."

That should have been it but Willie Rennie, back to being cheeky,  could not resist putting the stiletto in. "I think what Nicola fails has to accept is that she lost the referendum last year ."

It was not pretty, political muggings are rarely clean affairs. Being reminded by the audience that she didn't speak for Scotland would not have helped either. 

Debates in themselves might change nothing, but they do set the campaign weather. This was the worst tv night the SNP had since Alistair Darling gave Alex Salmond a bloody nose in the first referendum debate.

Alex Salmond lost that one on the money, and Sturgeon lost last night on the money too.

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