Monday, 5 February 2018

A robin visits, thoughts on the Scottish budget

From my Daily Record column 2/02/18

A little robin was trapped in the Commons chamber on Wednesday just before Prime Minister’s Questions started.

Darting from the eaves and perching on the microphone cables, the wee bird proved as distracting to MPs below as women must have been just over a century past as they were forced to watch proceedings separately from men behind the grilles of the Ladies’ Gallery.

This next week will mark 100 years since women secured the right to vote and the event will be rightly commemorated across parliament and the country.

Westminster loves its traditions and bathes in its own history. Here stood Churchill, this statue is where suffragettes chained themselves, yonder is where Dennis Skinner sits. 

All the more surprising then that later on Wednesday MPs actually voted, by a narrow majority, to move out of the palace for six years to allow urgent restoration to the crumbling building.

It really is falling down around their ears, as a daily visitor I can testify to that. But it is all the more ironic that the decision to leave was taken on the day of the robin’s visit. 

The presence of a robin in a household is symbolically regarded as heralding death. Was the wee robin, with its bloodred breast, a harbinger of Britain’s political destiny? 

The Commons, and the Lords, will only move up the road to temporary Whitehall sites in 2025, by which time the UK could be a different place entirely. The SNP MPs, who look so comfortably nested here, wouldn’t want to return at all.

Like the Queen, who appears ornamental but is actually part of that invisible glue that binds this unconstituted Union in one, the foundations of the Westminster parliament go much deeper than the limestone blocks.  
Moving out of the Palace of Westminster, in an era of instability, is quite a risky business.
Votes for women was a long and arduous campaign over years, but since the anti-politics revolution born out of the great Crash of 2008 events from the Arab Spring to Trump and Brexit have moved with remarkable pace.

Though few voters actually visit the place, loosening the ties of the physical building that holds Britain together, the sheer symbolism of a scaffolded “cradle of democracy” while the UK cuts itself loose from the European home, will be a dark foreshadowing.

There’s no question that there will be a building to come back to six years (or a decade) after the work is done, that is to be guaranteed.  Perhaps a shake-down might do British democracy some good.

Who, for example, would see any reason to refurbish the second chamber as a House of Lords?

Surely a New Westminster would be home to a British senate, part of a federalised United Kingdom with the Commons itself a less powerful and more devolved institution? What kind of Britain will MPs come back to if they leave the building, is what the robin asked.

The wee redbreast, its message delivered, was ushered out of the Palace of Westminster on Thursday morning, the doormen assure me.

The politicians will follow seven years hence.

Read Two

Like the old Supertramp single, Derek Mackay wanted the wealthy to “give a little bit” in taxes; for the public sector to “give a little bit” by swallowing waterline wage increases.

It remains to be seen whether his finely tuned budget finds the voters’ sweetspot by appeasing the conscience of middle Scotland with a shimmy to stage left.

Given the polling cushion between the SNP and its rivals, the Finance Secretary could afford to strum out a little bit more of his love.

Scotland is entering the longest period of low growth since 1958, when the BBC  first broadcast the White Heather Club. 

Growth of just 0.6 per cent is positive, but positively anaemic and half the UK rate.

In the Holyrood chamber yesterday Nicola Sturgeon argued the missing ingredient was more power to influence population growth. Well, she would say that.

The last time I looked Holyrood had its hands on tax raising powers, training and education, development agencies and planning and infrastructure and a whole lot of other economic levers. Just getting on with it, as Ministers will argue they do, could be an option.

The options for raising money are limited but there might be better ways to spend it than the busted flush of Carillion-style outsourcing.

Elsewhere people are looking at alternative growth models to make public money go further.

The council in Preston, Lancashire, has gone for ultra-localism, persuading the many public agencies in the town to change their procurement policy and spend government money in the area.

It’s common sense, although it rips up the corporate accountancy conventions that dictates, for example, how we run the police in Scotland.

The SNP do nationalism well, if Mackay looked for lessons from place Preston it might just learn to do localism too. 

No comments:

Post a Comment