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Discontent with established politics erupted in the Leave vote during the UK’s EU referendum. But in Scotland it has found expression through support for the SNP (a party of protest and government). It would be wrong to infer from this that Scotland will now automatically vote for its own independence. But I do now think this will happen in my lifetime.
British regulators have finally published their report into HBOS, the bank formed from the merger of Halifax with Bank of Scotland, more than seven years after its collapse. The 600-odd pages contain much detail on events and personalities. But there are general lessons for all businesses. Avoid the diversifier’s fallacy. Beware the winner’s curse. Fear adverse selection.
The logic of English votes for English laws is irresistible. But the core issue is that it is genuinely difficult to identify purely English matters in a United Kingdom of which England constitutes 85 per cent of the population.
The Conservative prime minister is making the same mistake as Lord Robertson did in 1995 with plans to make Scotland “the strongest devolved government anywhere in the world”. The concept of the union is gradually being drained of any content.
It is — just — possible to visualise a UK in which the SNP is one of several power brokers in a more fragmented party system. But such an outcome requires imagination and co-operation beyond the capacity of most of the politicians who fill our screens.
Any action by the UK government that has tax or expenditure implications anywhere in the UK, whether related to reserved or devolved functions, will have consequences for tax and expenditure decisions in Scotland through the Barnett formula.
Anyone who thinks that the Smith Commission proposals on further devolution for Scotland will defuse the remaining issues lives in a political bubble distant from the interests of ordinary voters.
There is only one way in which the Scottish government’s new freedom to vary income tax can be exercised, and that is to raise it. That was not what the supporters of more devolution had in mind when they asked for additional powers.
The close independence vote, together with the hasty promises that preceded it, have rendered unsustainable the quiet compromises that had defused the Scottish issue in British politics.
Scotland has prospered as part of a United Kingdom and could prosper as an independent country. Which course is more appropriate is a question of identity and values, not economics. And whatever the outcome of the referendum, sensible people will work together to ensure that outcome produces the best possible economic result.