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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2007, 12:03 GMT
Tam Dalyell's State of the Union
To mark the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union - which dissolved the English and Scottish parliaments and established the Kingdom of Great Britain under one parliament - Newsnight asked former MP Tam Dalyell for his view of the current state of the union.

Tam Dalyell
Tam Dalyell
former Labour MP for Linlithgow and Father of the House of Commons

Holyrood is home to the Scottish parliament
Mr Dalyell believes the Scottish parliament at Holyrood should close

I am about the only Westminster MP or ex-MP, who has desisted from public criticism of the performance of MPSs, individually or collectively.

For the most part, they seem to me to be as hard-working as Westminster MPs, and attentive to those whom they represent, even at the week-day beck-and-call of constituents.

However, the unintended consequences of the establishment of a Scottish Parliament are more deleterious than I feared. A lesser evil is the sheer cost.

I am bitter on only one matter. The late Donald Dewar went on the Today Programme asserting "Tam Dalyell is wicked and alarmist to suggest that the cost of the Parliament Building will be on penny over 40,000,000."

The actual costs are eleven-fold and more - resources which could have been used for hospitals, which the Scottish executive has built and plans to build through PFI, and a veritable financial millstone round the neck of our grandchildren.

Huge price

Nor are running costs any less onerous. Twenty-three ministers, their secretaries, their official cars, their chauffeurs, do the work which used to be done by 4/5 Scottish Office Ministers. This is a huge price to pay for the intangible "buzz" that the presence of the Parliament is supposed to give the chattering classes in Edinburgh.

Sooner, rather than later, there is going to be a hell of a row about money [between Scotland and England].
The greater evil is the dismantling of the regions, Strathclyde, Lothian, Central, Grampian, Highland, Borders, Fife and Dumfries and Galloway, set up under the recommendations of the in-depth Wheatley Royal Commission in the early 1970s.

Never before or since has delivery of public services been so effective and not least to the remoter parts of Scotland such as the Islands.

Unsatisfactory

Inevitably, the Scottish Parliament has meddled in and encroached upon the legitimate areas of the local authorities.

If this unsatisfactory situation in Scotland has muddled on, sustained by Scottish Executive sweeteners, such as implementation of the proposals of Sutherland Committee on free care for the elderly, it is because of one fact.

Per capital public expenditure in Scotland has consistently been 23% higher than in England. This is a situation which MPs representing English constituencies will not allow to chunter on.

Sooner, rather than later, there is going to be a hell of a row about money.

Tam Dalyell
Tam Dalyell stood down from Westminster in 2005
But there is a further structural flaw in the current position - the imposition on England, by dint of the votes of Scottish MPs, which many English MPs vehemently do not want. By virtue of the size of the Labour majority, the so-called West Lothian question was dormant.

The Government chief whip would not lose a wink of sleep if Tam Dalyell decided to vote on purely English matters. With a narrower majority, the whips would go "bananas", hauling me in and saying, "for the sake of your bloody high-horse principles, are you going to bring the Government down?"

Cannot last

Actually, the first harbinger of trouble came when there was a majority of circa 160 and a phalanx labour back-benchers deeply objected to Foundation Hospitals being forced on their constituents, through the votes of MPs from Scotland, where the concept of Foundation Hospitals was not contemplated.

In the present Parliament, the position has become more acute with the policy of establishing City Academies, divisive and controversial as it is.

Only one thing is certain - the arrangement between Scotland and England, in its present form, cannot last.

One outcome is a set-up indistinguishable for separate Scottish and English states.

The other outcome is that we recognise that it is impossible to have a subordinate parliament in part, though only part of a state, which above all we wish to keep united; that we close down Holyrood and revert to the Scottish Regions - restoring dignity to local Government.

I favour the latter, but fear the former is more likely.


An Act of Disunion - a special Newsnight debate from Edinburgh - can be seen on BBC Two and on the Newsnight website at 2230GMT on Tuesday 16 January 2007.

SEE ALSO
Profile: Tam Dalyell
13 Jan 04 |  UK Politics


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