So Westminster has promised Scotland a continuation of the Barnett formula. This pledge, ostensibly an attempt to persuade voters in Scotland to vote no to independence, has been signed by the three major party leaders, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg.
The formula, named after Joel Barnett, treasury minister under Harold Wilson, calculates the allocation of resources required to ensure Scotland’s needs are met and guarantees a safety net of money from the UK treasury. It’s a funding mechanism that is already widely perceived in England as over-favourable to Scotland. So is the pledge a sincere gesture on the part of Cameron and co? Or, having realised the relationship is about to fall apart irrevocably, do they just want to ensure they come out of it smelling of roses? You decide.
My last word on the Scottish referendum is this: in the event of a no vote in tomorrow’s referendum we should promise to abandon the Barnett formula and implement a more honest and pragmatic “devo mix” flavour of autonomy which we will dub the Andy Murray formula (you know the thing – when he wins he’s British, he’s one of us; when he loses he’s Scottish). Applying the formula to key elements of the independence debate:
i) In return for allowing Scotland the privilege of funding and administering the NHS and the welfare bill north of the border, the rest of the UK will take a proportionate share of revenue from North Sea oil.
ii) In some parts of Scotland there are proportionally more old people than the rest of the UK and that’s expected to increase in the coming years, so it’s only fair that the public sector pensions bill should be a top priority for devolution, especially as the number of Scots in the working age bracket is diminishing by comparison with the rest of the UK.
iii) Scotland is more densely populated than the rest of the UK, so, in the name of fairness and democracy, its share of the national debt will be calculated on a population basis.
iv) The rest of the UK will accede on the SNP’s request to rid Scotland of evil nuclear weapons, but, having generously assented to this, it will expect Holyrood to fund its own Scottish Defence Force.
Oh yes, and we will allow Alex Salmond to wave the saltire all he likes at Wimbledon, but when Andy Murray wins he will most emphatically be British.
With a formula like that on the table, Scottish voters would surely vote for the independence they truly deserve. I mean if the relationship really is about to end, we should make it easier for them to leave.