‘Vow’ no guarantee that Barnett Formula will last, says constitutional expert

By Press Association, 9 September 2015 9.28am.

David Cameron raised the issue of “English votes for English laws” just hours after the independence referendum result was confirmed.PA
English votes for English laws will probably require an end to the Barnett Formula which allocates Scotland’s share of UK spending, a constitutional expert has advised.
Prime Minister David Cameron pledged “a continuation of the Barnett allocation” in his devolution “vow” in the Daily Record in the final days of the independence referendum campaign last year.
Immediately after Scotland voted No, Mr Cameron said the referendum question had been answered and now “the question of English votes for English laws (Evel) requires a decisive answer”.
But Charlie Jeffery, senior vice-principal at Edinburgh University, told Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee that the two pledges may be incompatible.
Mr Jeffery also clashed with Sir William McKay, chairman of the Commission on the Consequences of Devolution for the House of Commons, over a suggestion that devolution should lead to a reduction in Scottish MPs.
SNP MP Pete Wishart, in his first engagement as chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee, said the “elegant solution” of reducing Scottish MPs to zero – independence – was rejected in September.
Mr Jeffery said: “If one were to think seriously and in the round about an institutional representation of England in the UK political system, then you have probably got to get rid of the Barnett Formula.
“Pretty much every inquiry that has been launched by whatever legislature around the UK in the last 15 years has suggested that the Barnett Formula is problematic.”
He added that Barnett’s methodology of using Westminster spending decisions to calculate how much Scotland should get to spend on its own devolved choices is unique in the world.
“There are two things that you can infer from uniqueness,” he said. “Either it is a brilliant invention that nobody else has ever come up with, or it is not necessarily something that is entirely fit for purpose.”
Mr Wishart said: “We’ve got it protected by a vow.”
Mr Jeffery said: “I wonder about the constitutional status of the vow.”
In an attempt to move the conversation on, Mr Wishart interrupted: “We will maybe leave that one alone.”
Mr Jeffery continued: “It was only written down on the front page of a Scottish daily newspaper. It’s a strange form of constitutional document.”
Conservative MP John Stevenson, whose Carlisle constituency lies on the Scottish border, suggested a “logical” response to the difficulties of Evel may be a reduction in Scottish MPs.
Sir William said: “I think it might well be more logical, but its political acceptability would be another matter.”
Mr Stevenson said: “The one I have just put forward to you, do you personally see that as a better solution?”
Sir William responded: “I would if it’s accompanied by the breadth of expansion of devolutionary authority to the devolved legislatures.”
Mr Jeffery said: “I’d see that as problematic and I would illustrate with the example that at some point we will come towards a decision on whether or not to renew Trident, which is an issue of UK national defence which is a matter for Westminster.
“But it is an issue with particular resonance in Scotland through both location, but also through a rather different political debate in Scotland around that issue.
“I think it would be particularly extraordinarily challenging to say that Scots voters would have less say on such a decision than voters in the rest of the UK if their representation at Westminster is reduced.
“I think that is an example that undermines the logic of the idea.”
Mr Wishart said: “There was also a proposal put to Scotland last year that would reduce the Scottish membership of this House to zero, which would mean that we would take care of our own affairs, which is also an elegant solution which was rejected by the Scottish people.”

1 Comment on "‘Vow’ no guarantee that Barnett Formula will last, says constitutional expert"

  1. Aren’t they all getting their knickers in a twist to avoid acknowledging the obvious!

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