It’s the Red Wall Stupid

Leslie Huckfield was a former Labour MP, MEP and Government Minister. Here he outlines the attack on Holyrood power through the Internal Market White Paper which will remove Scottish Government powers over standards, state aids and subsidies and begin to dismantle Scotland’s procurement powers.

This weekend, much of the mainstream media was consumed with talk of a London “power grab” from Scotland. Much of this was about chlorinated chicken. But the reality is much more critical than that. Boris Johnson’s UK Government has set about dismantling devolved government in Scotland before our very eyes.

Even the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) on Thursday called upon the UK Government to “publish an updated Block Grant Transparency Report, setting out clearly how much extra funding the devolved governments are receiving and how this is calculated”. IFS concluded “Unfortunately, as it stands, a lack of illumination leaves significant scope for misunderstanding and even misrepresentation of the UK government’s plans. So, can the UK government please turn on the lights?”

Anyone who warns about dismantling devolved government is usually met by cries of “I don’t think they’d dare do that”. But the author’s experience since the 1960s shows that in politics the unthinkable happens on a regular basis. The Prime Minister in September 2019 prorogued Parliament to stop it debating Europe. He was overruled by the Supreme Court. He then withdrew the Conservative Party Whip from 21 MPs, including former senior Cabinet Ministers, effectively ending their political careers, just because they didn’t support him. In the last six months, the Head of the UK Civil Service and the Permanent Secretaries of the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office have all “resigned”. Johnson’s support for Dominic Cummings’ excursion to Barnard Castle has largely undermined the credibility of his COVID strategy. Last week he withdrew the Whip from Julian Lewis for becoming Chair of the Parliamentary Security Committee. After all this, any clash with the Scottish Government represents a minor skirmish to be taken in one’s stride?

Many have overlooked that most of Scotland has already signed up to City Region Growth Deals, despite their main purpose of implementing UK Government policy across Scotland without real democratic control. To ensure that UK Government objectives are pursued, accountability to Scotland’s elected representatives is deliberately minimised. Audit Scotland’s January 2020 Report showed £1.42bn UK Government funding, with £1.52bn from Scottish Government for City Deals. Its Report makes it clear that “Accountability and scrutiny arrangements are still evolving, and it remains untested how accountability will work in practice”.

Last Thursday, the UK Government published its Internal Market White Paper, which will remove Scottish Government powers over standards, state aids and subsidies and begin to dismantle Scotland’s procurement powers. Under Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 has used its freedom to interpret EU Procurement Directives. But this will disappear since procurement is part of a single market.

In all this, the risks to Scotland’s agriculture and food are major. Scotland’s exports in meat, whisky, seafood, salmon, primary agriculture, dairy, distilling and brewing have doubled over the past 10 years. Food and agriculture are Scotland’s biggest employers in an industry worth £15bn.

Much of this weekend’s argument centred on page 23 of the Internal Market White Paper, which insists that “import standards include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in domestic and imported products and set out that no products, other than potable water, are approved to decontaminate poultry carcasses” It also says that any changes to existing food safety legislation would require new legislation to be brought before the UK Parliament and the devolved legislatures”.

The justification for this tough line is on page 12 of the White Paper, which accuses the Scottish Government of withdrawing from the Common Frameworks’ Internal Market Workstream, which discusses food standards. So a casual reader might conclude that it’s the Scottish Government’s fault.

But the June 23 Report of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution tells a different story, when it expresses concern on lack of transparency and recommends on page 4 that the UK Government should report on progress on managing the ‘overlapping competences’ within the Agriculture Bill. This Bill gives Scotland a foretaste of what will happen when the Internal Market White Paper becomes the Single Market Bill. The Lords Report regrets that the Agriculture Bill’s Clauses 40 and 42 “may make provisions requiring a devolved authority to provide information to the Secretary of State”, describes this as a “potentially invasive power” and says that the Government must justify the inclusion of this power. Following its similar recommendation in its Report on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 2020, the Committee urges the Government to work cooperatively to “improve the Joint Ministerial Committee as the primary forum for these discussions”.

Page after page in this Lords Committee Report warns of the “need for an effective system of inter government relations”, expressing its “constitutional concern” over “a significant transfer of authority to the executive”. Page 7 repeats the view expressed by the Lords’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that “criminal offences punishable by fines” represent an “inappropriately wide delegation of power” and that the “creation of criminal offences by delegated powers” is “constitutionally unacceptable”. So when Scotland needs every power to protect its food standards, jobs, labour market and environment, to avoid being sacrificed on the altar of future UK trade deals, the Agriculture Bill hardly sets a benign precedent.

The backdrop for all this is the new UK political dynamic since December 2019. Johnson and Cummings need to protect Red Wall seats and to use every power to steer subsidies, investment and jobs into those areas. That’s why the Internal Market paper’s pages 12 and 26 make subsidy powers a reserved matter, underlining that London may legislate for a “unified subsidy control regime”. So if there’s a chance of offshore work for the UK, Johnson wants Teesside rather than Invergordon to benefit. Whitehall has already noted that with Prestwick and Ferguson Marine Scottish Government intervened to protect jobs and would probably do the same again. Page 44 says that inward investment is “unevenly distributed across the UK” and declares an intention “to further its ambition to level up every part or the UK”. But a Johnson Government’s map for steering inbound foreign investment or deciding where “levelling up” should take place isn’t based on any industrial strategy but on the Times Guide to the House Commons, which shows each MP’s majority.

Most Tory Red Wall MPs, who didn’t expect to get elected and know they are living on borrowed time, are closely watching what happens in Scotland. From the Scottish Development Agency in 1975 and Glasgow Eastern Area Renewal in 1981 – at that time the biggest urban regeneration project outside London’s Docklands – the North East has long been wary of Scotland’s enhanced powers, for which there has never been an equivalent in England. Red Wall MPs also know that their region missed its chance. In a campaign honed ironically by Dominic Cummings, the North East in November 2004 voted 78% to 22% against having a devolved regional assembly, which might have gained some of the powers held in Scotland. Any apparent concession to Scotland will be watched closely by Red Wall Tories, who now have enough muscle to frighten Tory Whips.

If anyone in Scotland still reckons that for trade deals a Johnson Government has a good negotiating hand, then just watch on YouTube International Trade Secretary Liz Truss’ dismal out of her depth performance on Wednesday 08 July at the Washington DC Peterson Institute’s “What Role for the United Kingdom in the Global Trading System?” After the UK Government’s being labelled as “Pompeo’s Poodle” over Huawei, the last thing it wants is weak international trade deals undermined by Scotland and Wales Governments’ not being prepared to accept them.

Another obsession in the Internal Market White Paper concerns qualifications. We are told on page 19 that “different approaches to the regulation of construction professionals, such as differing qualifications for plumbers and technicians, could limit access to skilled construction workers, and make it harder for Scottish construction companies to bid for contracts in England”. Qualifications for “new professions and products play an important role in driving the UK’s scientific and technological leadership”. On page 38, the alarming conclusion is that “Economic modelling of regulatory differences in the regulation of construction professionals between the ‘home’ and ‘destination’ market suggest that these could build up to a cost equivalent of a 5% tariff if these differences were left unmanaged. UK construction accounts for 6% of total UK annual GVA, or £116 billion”.

Whitehall civil servants must have forfeited countless precious weekends to think this up. Even where there are Scottish variants introduced by SQA, most qualifications in Scotland are based on those from London, such as City and Guilds and EdExcel. Scotland has no interest in making access to its labour market more difficult. Those same civil servants must have been exhausted when on page 74 for Scotland’s different legal services they calculate an Ad Valorem Equivalent, like a tariff, of 5%. Perhaps someone should have told them that’s because Scotland has a separate legal system!

For anyone who struggles valiantly onwards to page 90 of the White Paper there are the most alarming “real world implications.” “Applying these percentages (for various differences) to the most recent GDP figures for 2018 (ONS, 2018), this implies a loss in GDP of £7.3 billion for the UK as whole with a loss of £3.9 billion for England and £1.9 billion and £1.2 billion for Scotland and Wales respectively”. On previous pages, similar calculations use a EUREGIO (European Union) dataset more than ten years’ old. On page 83 the findings of a 2016 Canadian Standing Senate Committee on Banking Trade and Commerce are quoted. On pages 36, 75 and 90, the White Paper admits that “devolution in Germany is fundamentally different to that of the UK and as the result the states have different policy levers at their disposal”. Similarly, the White Paper’s comparisons elsewhere with Canada, Australia and Switzerland are completely irrelevant since their devolved or federal structures have different powers or trading arrangements.

No wonder that the heading on page 38 says “Trade in services: the need to understand the context of the wider ecosystem.” They might just as well have said “We have ways of making you understand” or “We will say this only once”. Most Scots will conclude that you couldn’t make this up if you tried!

As a postscript, there’s still the saga of the ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’ (UKSPF) to come. UKSPF is the UK Government’s proposal to replace the £780mn Scotland is scheduled to receive in European Union Structural and Investment Funds during the 2014 to 2020 Programme. Scotland has benefited considerably from EU funding, with £4bn between 1975 and 2006, and £820mn under the 2007-2013 Programme. A diligent partnership between Scottish Government, Highlands and Islands Council and the European Union has made possible considerable ‘levelling up’ in the Highlands and Islands. For UKSPF, there has already been a wide ranging Scottish Government’s consultation and response, seeking to maintain flexibility in allocation.

David Bell at the University of Stirling has worked on formulae to allocate funds to Scotland’s poorest areas. Scotland might expect to receive around £900mn. But Scotland’s problem is that none of this will be given to the Scottish Government for allocation. The Fund is now part of the Johnson/Cummings strategy so that, just like City Deals, UKSPF will be used for UK Government purposes in Scotland, to be administered directly by the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

If that’s not dismantling Scotland’s own Government, what is it?




Comments (21)

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  1. MacGilleRuadh says:

    Excellent analysis and put across very well on the Leslie Riddoch podcast this evening. This guy is sharp and a clear communicator who gets to the nub of the important issues. Let’s use him (in the nicest possible way!)

  2. Jacob Bonnari says:

    That this important but worrying article has been written by a former Labour MP is to welcomed. The message of the power grab and the detriment that this will have on accountability and democracy in Scotland (Wales & NI) needs to be shared across the constitutional divide. Scottish Labour needs to form its own action group and campaign against this in Scotland and wider UK.

    The next 10-18mo of Scottish politics will be the most important and most difficult that have been faced in the devolution era.

  3. Douglas Wilson says:

    The Sturgeon-Murrel elected dictatorship of the Scottish independence movement should resign ASAP.
    They have no strategy to secure us the independence referendum which would allow Scotland to continue as an independent State within the EU.
    They are totally ill-equipped to fight back against the Internal Market White Paper as outlined here.
    We are in a whole new context now, we are on the defensive, not the offensive, and the sooner people realise what is happening, the better.
    The cowardly and craven Sturgeon-Murrel axis of ineptness has betrayed all of those who voted for the SNP to go down to May’s Brexit Parliament and come back to Scotland with a legal guarantee for a second referendum which would have allowed Scottish voters to choose between a union with an ultra right-wing Tory England, and one with 27 European nations.
    Murrel and Sturgeon’s names will go down in the history books, but for all the wrong reasons…
    To go down without even a fight is simply pathetic… and that is what is going to happen if they continue running the SNP.

    1. Douglas Wilson says:

      Who is Peter Murrel?
      Try googling him and see what you get.
      You don’t get so much as an interview with the man who controls the party machinery of the SNP.
      The SNP are not just any old political party. They are the political embodiment of the aspirations of about half of the Scottish people.
      So Murrel is a shadowy character, like someone standing at the far end of a long, dark room who you can barely make out – maybe just the gleaming bald pate of his head in the fading light, or maybe just a pale white hand laid across his chest amidst the gloom – or an opaque figure, like someone on the other side of a stained glass window. Blurry contours, vague outlines, haziness, shadow… nothing clear or in any detail.
      Like a scene from a horror movie if you like.
      Or a figure from Francis Bacon painting.
      Why should we trust this husband and wife double act any longer?
      The Terry and June of Scottish politics?
      They have to go I’m afraid…
      How exactly?
      I don’t know, but “the change in material circumstances” which England voted through in June 2016 has been fully consummated and will come into full effect in not even six months time.
      We should have had a referendum by now, and it is Sturgeon and Murrel who must be held responsible for the fact that this is not going to happen…

      1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

        Try Googling ‘Peter Murrell’ instead.

        1. Douglas Wilson says:

          Ok, thanks for the correction.
          But still, it makes no difference, there’s zilch on Murrelll.
          Or maybe Murrell as a gaseous presence, everywhere and nowhere at once, diffuse, vague, omnipresent, intangible…
          Or Murrell as the kind of Cheshire Cat of Scottish politics, hanging in the air over and above everyone and everything, grinning ear to ear, but just when you look to see if there’s something behind you, he’s gone…
          Everything that Nicola Sturgeon is, Peter Murrell is not…

          1. Me Bungo Pony says:

            Yeah Dougas. What we have to do now to ensure Scottish independence is get rid of the most popular politician in Scotland by some margin, whose party is currently supported by over half the Scottish electorate and whose core policy of independence has become the majority view ….. all under her leadership. Yeah, that should see us over the line. Can’t see anything wrong with that plan. Hold on though ……………

          2. Douglas Wilson says:

            Nicola Sturgeon is certainly popular, but there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that the rise in support for independence is down to her leadership. With the demonic Salmond, YES for independence scored over 50% in the polls on occasions, and the two key factors which explain the rise in its support since then are almost certainly England’s decision to leave the EU, and Boris Johnson becoming PM of the UK, especially the latter of those two factors.

            I like Nicola Sturgeon in the same way that everybody else does, her plain speaking and her basic decency and humanity. But I have a big problem with the fact that she is married to the CEO of the party, the frankly sinister Murrell, and we all know that how personal relationships have their very own unique power dynamic. For that reason, it is totally unacceptable in modern democracy for a husband and wife team to lead a whole movement. It simply fails the transparency test.

            I also have a problem with the way the SNP has handled the Salmond Affair and I have serious doubts they want independence any time soon. I think by now the SNP leading lights sound like a bunch of bad actors who have run out of lines…

            Most importantly of all, when somebody is accused of wrongdoing or a crime in a democratic society under the rule of law, then they are entitled to due process of impartial arbitration or a fair trial. Even the vilest murderer gets that. Salmond was railroaded out of the SNP without any due process at all on a backdated conduct code which again goes against one of the essential principles of a democratic society under the rule of law, which is that the law can only work forward, never in a retrospective fashion.

            Salmond quite rightly took the matter to court and won, and then, somehow, it became a legal case against him which could have seen him spend more than ten years in jail…As it then transpired, the female dominated jury did not believe his accusers, with the exception of one of the ladies involved… as everybody said back at the time “nine women!!” And now the question echoes back, because the jury was unconvinced of the credibility of what eight of those nine women said.

            It’s a very serious matter and if there were an impeachment mechanism built into the Scotland Act, and depending on the documentary evidence which Salmond has which points to an organized effort at the highest level of the Scottish govt to incriminate him, then Sturgeon would quite possibly be subject to impeachment.

            It’s a technical question which is has nothing to do with popularity, or likeableness or Scottish independence. If it transpires Nicola Sturgeon has abused the power of office of First Minister, then she must go…

  4. Bill says:

    ‘We were bought and sold for English gold -sic a parcel of rogues i the nation’ – the result of not having a strategy and not correcting the issue of currency etc.


  5. Andy Anderson says:

    Thanks, Les, That is a very helpful explanation of complex legislation which certainly gives me a much clearer understanding of the aims of Johnson and Cummings,

  6. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

    ‘…accountability to Scotland’s elected representatives is deliberately minimised.’

    That’s weird! I thought accountability for the oversight, monitoring and successful implementation of Scottish City Region Deals lay with the Scottish City Region and Growth Deal Delivery Board, the core membership of which is:

    Scottish Government, Economic Development, Deputy Director
    UK Government Scotland Office Deputy Director
    UK Government Cities and Local Growth Unit Deputy Director
    UK Treasury / Scottish Government Finance representatives
    Transport Scotland (as required)
    Other UKG/SG departmental/directorate representatives (as required)

    Presumably, this board is therefore accountable to both the Scottish Government and the UK Government for the oversight, monitoring and successful implementation of Scottish City Region Deals, whose officers it comprises, and thus to the respective parliaments to which those governments are accountable.

    If this isn’t the case, then what the hell are Scotland’s elected representatives to these two parliaments doing?

  7. L. Campbell says:

    Excellent piece. It could have been written in 1707, which is when it started. The endgame is to eliminate Scotland completely as a nation, and finish the job. I doubt that they give much of a toss about NI, which they would be happy to ‘gift’ to Eire, and Wales is well on the way to being English, anyway. No, it’s Scotland they need to subvert. This is English Manifest Destiny, little or nothing to do with ‘Britishness’ which has never been anything other than Englishness. Scrape any the surface and underneath all is English, elite English, of course; they have plans for the English plebs, too.

    They want Scotland and all that we have, but they assuredly do not want us. We are a thorn in their side. We are entering a totalitarian era, and our Scottish government seems unwilling and/or unable to prevent it. In fact, in its own backyard, the SG has encouraged totalitarian elements within its own ranks. The ultra right and the ultra left are two sides of the same coin: they believe in removing the rights of the many and keeping all rights and privileges for the few (read that as, themselves), with all power centralized. Scotland will be allocated funding via the UK Office in Scotland, Holyrood by-passed, and disbursements will be made to councils directly, which will keep their mouths tightly shut. Once that Brexit vote was taken, there really was no other way. This is where coddling and pandering to No voters has got us. Well done, Scotia, the only nation in the world that could shoot itself in the foot and the head at the same time. I wonder whether they’ll put the more recalcitrant of us on reservations to waste away our lives in an alcoholic haze, dreaming of glories past.

    1. MacGilleRuadh says:

      I don’t think the English in general terms ‘want’ Scotland or its assets. I do think that an English/British elite cleave to holding Scotland as part of the UK because without Scotland their sense of national pride is severely dented. I think this national pride can be expressed as British or English, in the minds of the Eton educated elites these are probably interchangeable. So I believe that this elite will hold Scotland almost no matter what – it is an existential thing for them, it’s not a matter of economics or democracy.
      The elite would be prepared to hold Scotland even at considerable on-going net cost to rUK. It’s almost a status thing. Can you imagine how Rees-Mogg or Johnson would feel to have presided over the loss of this part of the UK?
      Remember that the English elite have been claiming ascendancy over the rest of the geographic area now known as the British Isles since the 9th Century when the Anglo Saxon Kings styled themselves Bretwalda or ‘Britain-Ruler’. This has been a long project!
      My sense is that we are nearing a defining moment when the impossibility of this elite giving up on the possession of Scotland will be made crystal clear. This may not be pretty.
      It might be wondered why they let the people of the now Republic of Ireland slip the noose, one reason may have been the overwhelming support Irish Independence had in the ‘south’ which, one has to admit is different from the situation in Scotland today where about half the population seem content to remain in the UK.

      1. L. Campbell says:

        “…So I believe that this elite will hold Scotland almost no matter what – it is an existential thing for them, it’s not a matter of economics or democracy…”

        Oh, yes, that’s certainly part of it. I was half-joking about the reservations, but I do think they want Scotland, the country, just as the states of Israel wants and needs Palestine as a source resources, as much as it does for reasons of biblical destiny. England is a country not rich in natural resources, and with a large population. There is also the little matter of the UK’s defence outwith the conventional, and, with a new Cold War being stoked as we speak, that will become apparent. Scare us into compliance. Scotland is certainly more to England-as-the-UK than a status symbol. To believe that would weaken us.

        We have the answer in our hands, and it by-passes the need to pander to previous NO voters and fence sitters: the Treaty. The international community understands treaties. International law is based almost entirely on treaties. The UN understands treaties. It is now very likely, at least for the moment, that we have a majority for independence. Strike while the iron is hot. First, though, tell the international community that there is no point in their agreeing to trade deals with England-as-the-UK, made in our name, because we have categorically not agreed to them. That will set the cat among the pigeons.

  8. Wul says:

    So. Whit ur we goannae dae aboot it!?

    I’m up for some protesting. Caged up for 5 effing months.

    If Scotland is still the arse-end of the UK in 3 years, I’m going to devote my energies and life savings to supporting my kids to emigrate to a real, actual country. One that is run by the folk who live and work there for the broad benefit of ordinary citizens. I don’t care if it ruins me, at least they will have a chance. My father will be dead and I’ll have discharged my parental duty to do my best for my kids.

    1. MacGilleRuadh says:

      Wul, fundamentally the problem is that insufficient of your compatriots support your view as to the desirability of Scottish Independence. I think it is very clear that there will be no Westminster sanctioned referendum unless one is forced by dint of massive popular demand for one. Which there is not at the moment. Johnson et al will not be impressed even if polls show 60% in favour of independence.
      Seen in this way one can understand Nicola Sturgeon’s dilemma: radical ‘plan B’ action so demanded of her would be supported by too few of your compatriots to make a difference.
      One thing that did change public opinion in Ireland I think was the execution of the Easter Rising cohort. Perhaps Westminster will put an equivalent foot wrong (hopefully non-lethal) at some point to rouse the 50% who are somnolent but it’s difficult to see what that might be. Cogent as Les’s arguments in this bog post are I hardly think they will get the masses to the barricades!

      1. Wul says:

        I’ve wondered about the demographics too. Are there enough voters (or protestors) who feel they have nothing more to lose to outnumber the “keep things as they are” vote from 2014.

        What was the turnout in 2014 amongst the “have nots” ? Were there many people who just stayed at home who would now consider both agitating and voting for independence?

        And where do ordinary people, who have a short attention span for political matters, who just want to get on with their lives, where do these folk find out about all this stuff? Why can’t we raise several million quid (the way the Tories do) and have a massive TV advertising and on-line campaign for independence? Billboards all over Scotland in city centres, housing schemes, bus stops, petrol stations explaining how we are being slowly bled, disenfranchised and impoverished?

        1. Wul says:

          There’s 2 million of us now supporting independence. £20 each is £40m. That would buy a few Facebook ads. I’ll chip in £40 since I still (sort of) have an income.

          £3/month each is £72/m/year recurring revenue. That would buy a few billboard adverts.

        2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          I think your problem, Wul, is that maist people in Scotland don’t feel impoverished or oppressed. In fact, they’re quite content with the relatively high degree of personal comfort and freedom they currently enjoy. True, a lot of people enjoy these goods to a lesser degree – some to a much lesser degree – but even this relative poverty is insufficient to stoke a powerful resentment among maist people against the status quo. ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’

          What you need is a real catastrophe to mobilise Middle Scotland, something that would really threaten its current lifestyles, in response to which threat Independence could ride to its rescue; or, at the very least, a politics of hope that preys on maist people’s fear of losing what they have.

          So, keep on catastrophising! It’s what everyone’s doing. It’s the political Zeitgeist.

          1. Wul says:

            Yeah well, maybe I have been “catastrophising” and there are worse things happening elsewhere in the world for sure.

            The thing is, DO feel that we are in a slow catastrophe. I tend to compare what Scotland ( and rUK) COULD be ( if we did not have to support a now global parasite class) to where we are now. We have so much potential, so much wasted opportunity.

            It’s the difference between the way people work when they are building things for themselves and the way we work when a gang-master is standing over us with stopwatch, clipboard and whip. There’s little JOY in the way most of us live today. Little satisfaction at our own community building. Perhaps it’s only when my neighbours can’t afford the newest iteration of Vauxhall Corsa for their teenage son’s 17th birthday that they will wonder what’s gone wrong.

            Ach, hopefully these are just the rantings of a pale, male, stale auld c**nt. Maybe it’s just my own light that’s fading and not the country’s. Maybe everyone will be having great time to themselves in 2030 in Scotland.

  9. Richard Easson says:

    What does one do when the enemy is so obviously identified?

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