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NoNSense: No, Labour did not hand back £1.5bn to Westminster.
Sharing resources is good for Scotland, but this money was spent in Scotland. We have enough real problems right now without creating imaginary ones from the past.
With Labour on the verge of a return to power, the SNP are in need of a nationalist explanation of why Labour governments are bad for Scotland. This perhaps explains the resurfacing of an old myth: the idea that Jack McConnell’s government returned money to Westminster rather than spending it in Scotland.
Don’t Repeat Their Frame: As with many of the nationalist memes this section seeks to unpick, the underlying idea of this myth is that England is stealing our resources. In this case, the target is Labour politicians who are framed as working for England rather than Scotland. Don’t engage in this England v Scotland argument, instead point out that the funds were spent by the Scottish Government and instead start with non-nationalist values:
We share resources with the rest of the UK for everyone’s benefit. Our share of these UK funds is worth billions for the NHS and other public services. However, it is simply untrue that this money was given away by Labour: you can see in the budget that it was spent by the Scottish Government.
Claim: The last Labour/LibDem government in Scotland gave £1.5 billion back to Westminster.
Governments have underspends. Programmes and projects that governments had hoped to complete slip. The Treasury at a UK level, and the Finance Secretary at a UK level, have to try to manage this. Those rules have changed over the years and if you’re really interested in the mind-numbing details of numbing public finance accounting then google ‘End Year Flexibility’ or ‘Budget Exchange System’.
In the first few years of devolution £1.5 billion was built up from various underspends over eight years. To put that into context, the latest underspent by the current Scottish Government, in a single year, was £2bn.
One of the sources cited by nationalists to try to justify the claim that this money was lost to Scotland is this sentence taken from Audit Scotland’s 2007 report on the Scottish Government:
“Since devolution, the Scottish Government’s unspent balances held by HM Treasury had gradually accumulated until they reached £1.5 billion at 31 March 2007.”
Strangely they don’t continue with the rest of that paragraph which makes it clear that the Scottish Government will spend this money during the 2007-11 parliamentary term. The allocation of these funds was as set out in the table below. So actually the £1.5 billion supposedly stolen by England, aided and abetted by Labour ministers, was spent by the Scottish Government.
With their political cause in crisis and a resurgent Labour Party threatening their dominance of Scottish politics, it is understandable that nationalists are increasingly desperate. That is why they are reaching back through time to fictional theft. Scotland has too many real problems today to spend time on imaginary ones from the past.
A reminder of how best to use the posts in this section is here.