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Thursday, 29 March 2012

Michael Forsyth? Self-hating Scot?

It’s one thing to be an unelected appointee to a similarly unelected body of toffs, bishops and party lackeys who have a say over legislation in a modern democracy.

It’s quite another to pick up a tidy £300 per day just for turning up.

It’s another again when you, frankly, take the piss out of the privilege.

Step forward Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. Or, for those of us not wedded to the idea of pointless privilege, Michael Forsyth. Aye, that’s him, Maggie Thatcher’s hatchet man as Secretary of State for Scotland.

It seems that Forsyth can’t bring himself to accept that Devolution actually happened. Perhaps in his mind, it didn’t. That’ll be why he keeps trying to lever in amendments to the Scotland Bill. It’s an uninspiring piece of legislation that’s being proposed but Mikey seems hell-bent on making even that unworkable.

Just like he was in the ‘80s, he is dismissive of the Scottish electorate – perhaps even more so because even fewer of them vote for his party now. As a consequence, one of his amendments demanded that Westminster retain control of the Referendum, deciding on the timing and the wording. One might have assumed that he was trying to support the Unionist mantra of sooner rather than later. The new variation of Wendy’s “Bring it on!” His latest rumblings betray that assumption though. Now he wants Whitehall departments to publish their assessments of what effects independence will have on the UK’s nuclear weapons; public sector pensions; and the future role of the Bank of England. Only when we have had a minimum of nine months to digest these ‘assessments’ can a vote on independence take place.

Rather than ‘Bring it on!’, this looks more like ‘Haud oan a wee minute!’.

Now, far be it from me to suggest the arch-Unionist is running scared but it does tie-in with his recent interview where he blasted the Unionist parties for playing into the SNP’s hands and admitting it may now be in both England and Scotland’s interests for independence to happen.

Still, it doesn’t stop his increasingly desperate efforts to get some input on the Scotland Bill.

Yes, the Scottish Parliament can have its tax-varying powers, Forsyth concedes, but only after Scots allow it in a referendum; then gets two-thirds support at Holyrood; and then is approved by the UK Parliament – and only then after an ‘impact study’ is commissioned. Presumably, this charade is to take place every time an Edinburgh Administration proposed a change in the tax rate. Up or down.

Now, forgive me for being a pedant, Mr Forsyth, but that ‘Yes’ actually translates to me as a ‘No’. It really is Kafkaesque.

What it actually reveals, of course, is that Forsyth (ably backed up by George Foulkes) is showing his contempt for the whole idea of Scottish devolution, of the Scottish Government and, through them, the Scottish people who elected them.

Is this a Caledonian version of the ‘self-hating Jew’ phenomenon? Is Michael Forsyth a ‘self-hating Scot’?
Well, consider this statement by him in the House of Lords on university tuition fees in Scotland…

“Scottish students go for free, Italian students go for free, French students go for free and anyone else in the EU goes for free. This is not sustainable, it is unfair to our young people, it is bad for the union. Shouldn’t the Government do something?”

Leaving aside the fact that this anomaly arises due to the UK’s membership of the EU and the UK Governments subsequent decisions to, firstly, introduce tuition fees under Labour and, secondly, increase those fees dramatically under the ConDem coalition, just who was Forsyth talking about when referring to ‘our young people’?

Not Scottish young people who pay no tuition fees – not unfair on them. So, English young people who would have to pay if they studied in Scotland, just as they would if they studied in England. Has Forsyth got his snout so deep in the Westminster trough that he now refuses to see himself as Scottish?

One could be generous and point out that he could have been referring to Scottish young people domiciled in England along with Northern Irish and Welsh students wishing to study in Scotland. But those two devolved parts of the UK also have what Mr Forsyth might interpret as ‘discriminatory’ arrangements in higher education and he’s not kicking up a fuss on behalf of English students with them. Just with Edinburgh. Why, Michael?

Is it now a case of any stick with which to beat the Scottish Government – regardless of principle? The Conservative version of the Parliamentary Labour Party’s now famous ‘Bain Principle’ to oppose anything emanating from the SNP, just because…

It’s in this atmosphere, stoked by Forsyth, Foulkes and others, that the Daily Telegraph can run a recent scandalous article on tuition fees accusing the Scottish National Party of discriminatory policies, creating division and stopping just short of calling the SNP racists.

They can’t seem to comprehend that England voted for a party that introduced tuition fees; and then two parties that substantially increased them (albeit the minor partner breaking campaign promises not to). In this respect, they got what they voted for.

In contrast, Scots voted for a party that promised resident Scots would not pay tuition fees ‘till the sun melts the rocks’.

Now, they want English voters to be able to circumvent their electoral decisions by sending their children to Scottish universities for free, in the process displacing Scottish students who are then, presumably, expected to find places in English universities and pay the tuition fees that they and their parents didn’t vote for.

I can see four possible solutions.

One – the UK Government abolish tuition fees.

Two - a reciprocal agreement where Scottish students can attend English universities free of tuition charges and vice versa.

Three – the UK Government pay the tuition fees of any English student wishing to study in Scotland.

Four – Independence. Michael Forsyth is right, it’s now in the interests of both Scotland and England.

Can I choose option number four please, Mr Forsyth? Or do we need some Whitehall reports and some impact studies first?

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