The Lords have passed the Government's plans for a raise in tuition fees.
Anthony Barnett complains that this secondary legislation has been "whisked through parliament with one three hour debate and a quick vote in the Lords". Anthony makes a good point on a wider issue, legislation does suffer from inadequate scrutiny in the House of Commons (a problem that an English parliament would alleviate), but in this case the legislation was rushed through as a matter of political expediency, and because it was secondary legislation. The primary legislation that enabled student tuition fees was passed by Tony Blair's government, imposed undemocratically upon English students using the votes of Labour's Scottish MPs. The present government's legislation is the thick end of Labour's wedge. No ideological line has been crossed. There is no point of principle. It is simply a matter of how much they should pay, not whether they should pay.
Unfortunately the NUS, in their wisdom, decided not to take a particularly partisan stance or make an issue of MPs voting rights. In doing so they betrayed the students of England.
There follows a series of emails from Jan-Feb 2004 between myself and two members of the NUS National Executive. To this day I believe that the reason they did not listen to me is because the NUS was led at the time by a Scot, Mandy Telford, and there was no NUS England (despite the fact that there was a separate NUS Scotland). If they had listened to me and raged against those hypocritical Scottish Labour MPs in the same manner that they now rage against the "Tory bastards" and the "Lib Dem liars", things would now be very different indeed.
The bad news is that English students are to become the most indebted in the entire world.
On the plus side, those of us who have long opposed the undemocratic meddling of Scottish MPs in England's affairs can engage in a spot of schadenfreude.
Those Scottish MPs who originally voted to overturn English democracy and impose tuition fees on English students should now be ruefully reflecting upon the damage to Scottish Universities and the Scottish principle of free higher education. To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. Prof James Mitchell reflects on that here:
The consequence for Scotland will be that the Scottish Government will lose out because of the Barnett Formula, which determines the way changes in English public spending has a consequence for Scottish public spending. Any decrease in English spending causes an equivalent decrease in Scottish spending. Because there will be less reliance on the state in England that means that there will be cuts in the money available for Scottish universities.
However Scotland will not have the additional resources available to English universities from tuition fees, so in terms of financing Scottish universities it is a double whammy.
This will bring a lot of increased pressure to Scottish universities to find alternative sources of finance. One possible solution would be to introduce fees, another would be to give the Scottish Government real tax-raising powers to fund the difference. However the Tory proposals to implement the Calman report would be inadequate and would not fill the gap that will follow from the consequences of the Barnett formula.
This is a quote from Liz Rawlings, Edinburgh University Student’s Association (EUSA) President.
“We are marching to show our Scottish MPs that we expect them to vote against increased tuition fees in England.
“Tuition fee increases in England will be disastrous for students in Scotland. Fees of up to £9000 in England will create a huge funding gap and Scottish institutions will struggle to compete with their wealthier counterparts south of the border.
It's difficult to know whether to feel touched by that display of cross-border solidarity (though English students at Edinburgh University will, of course, be affected) or whether to be annoyed that Rawlings is encouraging democratically unaccountable MPs to vote on English matters.
The complexities of the student fees debate are such that it will be used as the scenario by which the West Lothian Commission's recommendations are judged. I remain convinced that there is no satisfactory Parliamentary solution to the West Lothian Question for so long as the Barnett Formula is in situ and Scottish funding is determined as a proportion of what the UK Government spends in England. It's the knock-on effect on Scottish funding that provides the only justifiable excuse that Scottish MPs have for voting on English education. Other excuses are offered (such as the one above from Liz Rawlings) but they are a complete nonsense.
The non-Parliamentary solution is to create an English parliament so that each nation of the UK finances its own students and decides democratically its own mechanism for funding university education. That would be the sensible, democratic and equitable way of doing things. Needless to say that is the one solution that the Government won't be considering.
It has been suggested to me that it is desirable for non-English MPs to vote in the debate on university funding because it is only with the help of non-English MPs that the Government can be defeated on student fees; and I've been told that my opposition to non-English MPs voting on English matters should be put aside in this instance for the sake of political expediency.
No. It was political expediency (Tony Blair's use of Scottish MPs to inflict tuition fees on English students) that got English students into this situation. What Tony Blair's government did to English students was inexcusable, so those Labour MPs who are today gloating about the position that the Lib Dems find themselves in, revelling in self-righteousness and a smug holier-than-thou-ness, should remember that the Labour government lied about fees (Wikipedia terms it a "non-denial denial" but it was a lie).
Another example, characterized by the BBC as a "non-denial denial," was provided by Tony Blair, who was interviewed in 1997, just before the general election, by the British newspaper Evening Standard. The question was: "Will Labour introduce tuition fees for higher education?" Blair's answer was: "Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education." No plans does not mean no tuition fees. The Labour Party used the same ambiguous wording in its manifesto for the election in 2001, writing: "We will not introduce 'top-up' fees and have legislated to prevent them." The increase of university fees up to £3000 was voted for before the next election in 2005 but implemented in 2006. Therefore the British government explained that the manifesto in 2001 was only valid for the period up to the election in 2005.
On reflection I'm with Ian Bell:
...this is, beyond argument, an English matter. Whatever the outcome, Mr Clegg and David Cameron have a West Lothian question to answer. Why should Scotland’s LibDems play any role in this argument when Scottish students are not affected? Why should they exercise any sort of vote when the Scottish Parliament is likely to follow the Welsh Assembly in devising a solution to university funding that does not, with luck, wreck the system?
The Welsh solution that Ian mentions is a system by which English students are fleeced to subsidise Welsh students.
THE tuition fee deal for Welsh students that has left commentators in England green with envy will be funded by cutting the general level of grant to universities in Wales, it has been confirmed.
But the Assembly Government said the reduction would be offset by increasing fees to students from England studying at Welsh universities.
The Scottish Lib Dems claim credit for having ensured in the early years of devolution that up-front tuition fees were abolished in Scotland. More recently they provided the SNP with the votes needed to axe the graduate endowment.
But universities in England were amongst the big losers yesterday. The coalition made it clear that as and when students in England start to pay higher fees, so the grant from Whitehall to universities will be cut, more or less pound for pound. Thanks to the Barnett formula that cut will be reflected in the money Holyrood receives too.
This leaves Scottish Lib Dems with a tough choice. Do they announce that, in tandem with their colleagues down south, they have abandoned their commitment to one of the icons of devolution, free university tuition? Or do they argue that Scotland should find the now even greater sum required to sustain free tuition by taking an even bigger hit than England somewhere else in the extremely tight Holyrood budget? Neither choice seems likely to be politically palatable.
The more politically palatable alternative would be for the Scottish Lib Dems to stick to their principles and argue for the system of fiscal federalism outlined in the Steel Commission. The impact of English budget cuts on the Scottish university sector should provide the Scottish Lib Dems with a great example with which to advance the arguments in favour of fiscal federalism, but do they have the balls to do so?
Scottish MP Charles Kennedy is doing a Braveheart, leading the revolt against the planned tuition fee hike in England, in defence of Scotland's interests.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy appeared to be leading the revolt last night against the coalition government’s plans to lift the cap on university fees in England.
The MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber acted as student leaders warned that Scottish universities could suffer if the radical plans proposed by former BP boss Lord Browne are backed.
Do I detect a certain schadenfreude among the English that 'English reforms' may have a devastating effect on the Scottish university sector?
...as I am aware no equivalent in Gaelic, or for that matter in English, to the word schadenfreude, a useful German expression meaning to take pleasure in the misfortunes of others. But it is not an emotion exclusive to the Germans.
Do I detect a certain schadenfreude among Scots at the apparent current turmoil among the English over their sense of national identity? If so, it is given extra savour because that crisis of identity is provoked at least in part by the creation of the Parliament in Scotland and the Assembly in Wales. Suddenly it is Scotland which is forging ahead in a grand constitutional experiment, and England which is poring over its national navel and asking: who are we ... and why?
Charles Kennedy: Lecture to the Scottish Council Foundation, 30 June, 1999
Ah yes, there was a time when asymmetric devolution appeared to have no downside for Charles Kennedy:
Scotland has a Parliament.
Wales an Assembly.
Northern Ireland, soon I hope, a working Assembly too.
In England, regionalism is growing as never before.
Calling into question, as it happens, the idea of England itself.
In the process of devolution, we are creating throughout Britain, a new way of doing things.
Just look at what I can’t talk to you about today.
In the past, a Federal leader could come to Scottish conference and wax lyrical about all the dreadful things that were being done to our education system in Westminster.
MSPs, in a Scottish government, in a Scottish Parliament, answerable only to the people of Scotland, decide our education policy.
So you’ll not hear anything from me today on that subject.
And that’s as it should be.
Charles Kennedy: Speech to Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference, Dunfermline, 16th October, 1999
Yes, that is the way it should be, so piss off Charlie.
EDINBURGH North and Leith MP Mark Lazarowicz has become the latest politician to sign a pledge to Edinburgh students that he will vote against any increase in tuition fees in England.
Mr Lazarowicz signed the pledge at Edinburgh University Students' Association as part of a campaign to stop an increase in tuition fees in England.
Fees in England are currently under review and many believe this will result in an increase, widening the gap between Scottish and English universities.
Is this the same Mark Lazarowicz who voted strongly for introducing student top-up fees in England, even though he was not elected in England and his own party had voted against student top-up fees for Scotland? By Jove, it is.
And now he's made a public pledge to interfere in English matters again to prevent Scottish universities falling behind in the market place. What an opportunistic, unprincipled, Scottish Labour cunt.