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Dare George Osborne grasp the Scottish spending nettle?

August 30th, 2011

Should the Scots continue to get a better deal?

Some months before the 2001 general election I found myself sitting next to the young George Osborne, then not even an MP, at a dinner in Oxford and we talked about the coming fight.

One of his ideas, which at the time seemed particularly smart, was for the blues to “play the English card” focussing particularly on the subject that’s the main lead in the Mail this morning, the big difference in state spending in Scotland compared with England.

The paper’s calculation is that UK government spending in Scotland averaged £10,212 per person last year – or £1,624 per head more than in England. The Mail reckons that each English family is having to pay £420 per year so that Scots can benefit from extra spending.

This is the stuff of powerful Daily Mail headlines and something that can really niggle – but is it practical for anything to be done about it?

For things like free prescriptions and the beneficial Scottish university fees arrangement with those from England excluded, are going to be a continuing irritation. My guess, however, is that they will continue.

For the onset first of devolution and now the SNP having a majority at Holyrood makes this even more sensitive. With an independence referendum due to take place premature action on the Scottish spending formula could damage the union?

Osborne knows this and will tread very carefully. The winner? Alex Salmond of course.

@MikeSmithsonPB