So, after weeks of speculation, the votes have been tallied and apparently Scotland is quite happy to remain as part of the union. The NO, or Better Together campaign can pat itself on the back and drink merrily to a job well done. Or can they? In recent weeks we’ve seen a panicked Westminster go all out to bribe the Scottish voters by promising extra powers and more money. Previously, the YES campaign was growing momentum on a daily basis and NO voters started to feel bullied into changing their minds. In fact, Westminster was so afraid of the ramifications of a YES vote that they found they needed Gordon Brown (Yes Gordon Brown) to sex up the campaign. This is something that does not bode well for all three leaders. The questions is, were all these fresh promises really necessary or was there a quiet underbelly of voters who were always going to vote no? Either way it seems that the English electorate has lost out. But what does all this mean for the future of the United Kingdom?
Devo Max Plus?
The new powers promised could be referred to as Devo Max on steroids – as they seem to only just fall short of real independence. Under Brown’s 12 point plan the Scots will receive new powers to borrow, create jobs, control employment rights and set the level of income tax. But what did they stand to lose? Well, certain banks such as RBS claimed they would move their headquarters to London, thus Scotland would lose money from corporation tax. If other companies followed suit, Scotland could have found itself in a tricky financial position. Secondly, Westminster would have forced them to give up the pound, causing Holyrood to look to the EU for a currency or create one itself. Would Europe have welcomed them with open arms? It’s doubtful as this could have led to other movements for independence in areas such as Catalan, or the Basque regions. Lastly, the infamous Barnett formula (which has been in place since 1978 and allocates tax money per head to the UK’s residents) would have been revoked should Scotland have voted YES.
The ‘unfairness’ of the Barnett Formula has in many ways pushed the idea of an English Parliament to the top of the agenda. This is because by its very nature it is a system that supposedly distributes funds to the most in need. The problem is that it doesn’t take into account population growth or social need and allocates by population ratio. At present Scotland gets £1600 more per head than the average English person and goodies such as free prescriptions and university. This and the exposure of the West Lothian question (where Scottish MPs get to vote on issues which affect the English and not vice versa) has meant that David Cameron (under pressure from his MPs) has had to promise new powers for the English, however, as to how these will be worked out remains to be seen as it’s rather complicated.
Power to the regions
Another question thrown up is the extent to which regions could be given extra powers. In 2004 the referendum for a northern assembly was robustly rejected. However, things are rather different now – so could we see further powers being devolved to London? For a while now some commentators have talked about how London should become a breakaway city – could this now become a reality? Only time will tell; but it’s clear that issues such as taxation powers could lead to a lot more autonomy for London, especially when it comes to property. For example, the much-hated Stamp Duty levy could see reform, as the ‘slab’ nature of the tax has been condemned by many as being very unfair. This is particularly the case in London as house price inflation has pushed properties up massively, meaning that Stamp Duty has effectively become a tax on movement.
There are so many issues surrounding property that need to be addressed – above all in London – so more powers to the cities and regions could end up being a positive thing. Planning regulations, property taxes – all of these things are crucially important for the property owning classes. Perhaps they could soon be properly examined.