Wednesday, 7 May 2008

North of the border

Aberdeen: Yesterday the Financial Times had a small item buried away on an inside page announcing that Wendy Alexander, the Scottish Labour leader, had decided to call the SNP's bluff and demand that they go ahead with their referendum on independence now rather than wait until 2010. When I got to Scotland, the item received major attention on the Scottish news. It seemed that the move had split Scottish Labour MPs and that Alexander had gone ahead without the approval of Gordon Brown, no doubt hoping to force the issue.

Apparently, Alexander is considering bringing forward her own bill if the SNP does not act. No doubt this will cause some embarrassment for the SNP given that polls consistently fail to show a majority for the independence option. However, at the moment a commission is considering the transfer of further devolved powers to Holyrood and it should really be allowed to complete its work before any decisions about the future are taken.

Having written on the comparisons between Scotland and Quebec in the past, it seems to me that the role of Scotland in the UK may follow a similar path in the sense that further concessions on devolution will be granted, but the issue of separation will never quite go away. In Canada, which has a proper federal structure, the equalisation formula between provinces continues to be a source of tension between provinces, just as the Barnett Formula raises suspicions in England that Scotland is getting a good deal at the expense of the English taxpayer (although Scotland has plenty of counter arguments to deploy).

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