Thursday, 8 September 2011

Banging the devolution drum...

I’m trying to revise a paper I completed the first draft of in April 2010 in response to the referees comments. I am failing. I’ve got as far as putting in some stuff about problem definition and a light sprinkling of references from the wonderful Deborah Stone and my very influential (for me) supervisor Annette Hastings.

So, I thought I’d bash out this blog entry while it was on my mind. I'm not going to comment on Politics with a big P much, but just now I will. Yesterday two important things happened in the world of politics in the UK. Alex Salmond, our First Minister up ‘ere (affectionately known in The Herald as “oor ‘eck”) outlined the Scottish Government’s programme of for the next year (summary here)and set the scene for their four years in Holyrood. Darn sarf, the UK Government voted through the NHS Bill in the House of Lobbyfodder Commons. From what I gather this got a lot of LibDem support, and when I heard a LibDem MP on the news last night saying they would never allow the 50% income tax band to be got rid of, I commented that I’d look forward to seeing him vote for its abolition.

I’ll be honest, I’ve not followed the NHS debate, or the debate about free schools that closely because it just doesn’t matter to me up here. These are devolved areas. England can ruin the NHS down there as much as it wants. Up here, we can keep it free at the point of delivery and even get our lovely free prescriptions. To beat the devolution drum, it's the English NHS and the English education system.

But to maintain the fantastic achievements of devolution we do need to be bold* to deliver services in this period of Westminster enforced cuts. We need to cut expenditure in many places and make difficult choices; our "free" things mean cutbacks elsewhere in Scottish public service provision. And that’s what really impressed me about yesterday’s announcement from oor ‘eck. He used his amazing skills as a politician (like many, I don’t agree with much he says, but I recognise his talents) to set out a different course for Scotland. I’m not sure I agree with the single Police force and single Fire and Rescue Service. If this was going to make a difference it probably should have been done in 2001 when the Scottish Executive (as was) could afford the costs of restructuring. But it will make a difference and produce efficiency savings. Similarly, I have serious issues about the early-intervention, preventative-spend agenda, but they are going about it seriously and in a committed way.

In my former job as a civil servant in the Scottish Government many people commented how they were really surprised, and quite pleased, when the 2007 minority administration came into government with a strong programme of what it wanted to do, including the overarching National Performance Framework. It made a change from the car-crash of bringing together manifesto commitments into coalition agreements that had been the experience in 1999 and 2003. I’m just left wondering what my former colleagues are thinking now as the new Government can be so decisive and is slowly moving Scotland towards greater autonomy and a confident future.
* writing that, I’m just imagining Julian and Sandy from Round the Horne commenting that he’s “so bold”

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