As I See It: Terry Murden
As if a month of wall-to-wall election coverage has not stretched the average voter’s tolerance enough, in Scotland if feels as if two election campaigns are being fought at the same time, and it’s a process that is both confusing and potentially damaging.
Promises being made over tax, the NHS and education are just misleading voters north of the border as these are devolved issues over which MPs have little or no control.
Yet we have to endure daily pledges to spend more on nurses and teachers, scrap tuition fees or provide free personal care when these are either beyond the reach of any government at Westminster or are already being provided by the Scottish government.
Of course, the additional funding being promised would have some impact on the Scottish block grant through the Barnett formula consequentials. But as Shirley McIntosh, tax partner at RSM points out, how any extra funds are spent will be a decision for MSPs at Holyrood, not MPs at Westminster.
Even if Labour forms a majority government on Friday morning, its pledges on health and schools will be largely meaningless north of the border if the Scottish government – even a Labour one – chooses to spend its budget differently.
The same arguments apply over various tax proposals. For instance, the Liberal Democrats are proposing a 1p increase in the rate of income tax, but as income tax rates are devolved in Scotland the increase will only apply to the extent that it affects savings and dividend income of Scottish taxpayers.
Despite this, we still have Scottish Labour politicians holding regular media briefings, and making almost daily pronouncements, on the health service, and the Scottish Tories blasting the SNP’s record on both health and education – devolved issues that should be left until the Scottish elections take place in 2021.
The SNP – quite legitimately – has used the general election to press its case for another independence referendum. However, it has repeatedly stated: “At this crucial election, only a vote for the SNP can lock Boris Johnson out of No 10, escape Brexit and put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands.” (statement from an SNP press release).
This is simply untrue. Even if the SNP wins every seat in Scotland this will have no bearing on the balance of seats elsewhere in the UK. If Labour suffers a calamitous meltdown in England the Tories will be back in power at Westminster with a majority, instigating Brexit and ignoring independence pleas – with or without an SNP landslide in Scotland.
Add into this confusing mix the live TV debates which are pompously claimed by the BBC in particular to be a vital cog in the electoral process, when they are actually superficial distortions of the process. Because they are live they offer no ability to edit what is said, thereby enabling politicians, either deliberately or accidentally, to mislead the voters (hence the emergence of on-the-spot lie detectors or ‘fact checkers’).
This distortion takes an extra twist on Tuesday when the Scotland Leaders Debate will be chaired by the BBC’s Scotland Editor Sarah Smith. Why is this debate even being taking place? None of the four leaders is an MP seeking election, and unless there is a ruling beforehand, the four protagonists will inevitably dwell on the SNP’s record at Holyrood rather than on matters reserved to Westminster.
Arguments over devolved issues should be ruled ultra vires, or beyond the remit of what is a general (UK) election, not a Scottish election. Let’s hope the next (Westminster) government sorts out this mess.