Hold to Barnett

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For the umpteenth time the Barnett Formula rears its head with the customary lack of clarity (your report, 19 December).

It is right for any promoter of independence to pose to a Westminster government a question about retaining the formula.

But that raises the issue about its benefit to Scotland, or rather, its value to Holyrood funding, because it determines the level of our block grant from Westminster. It does not apply to Scottish expenditure reserved to Westminster.

The formula is not population-based – that applies only to the annual year-on-year enhancement whereby we receive a 10:1 population ratio of what England receives.

The original baseline figure has been progressively reduced because we spend about 20 per cent more per head than England, so we would need a 12:1 ratio to avoid the Barnett squeeze – if England receives a 5 per cent enhancement, that is worth only 4 per cent to us, so the 1 per cent effect on a block grant of, say, £25 billion, results in a shortfall of £250 million a year.

That puts the perspective on the situation should we vote No. Paradoxically, although Labour minister Joel Barnett introduced the formula in 1978-9, it has only been implemented, strictly, with the start of devolution.

The SNP approach on Barnett with the advent of independence and a Yes vote should be reflecting on the current round of cuts – which eventually will take about £5bn out of our spending – and the fact that that represents, unwittingly, the alleged “excess” funding it is claimed Barnett provides.

So, the cuts remove any impression that we could not afford independence, and furthermore, they render the so-called uncertainties about oil revenues less significant.

Whichever government is elected at Holyrood in 2016, with independence, it would have to assess what optimum level we required on public services, with the power to lower or to raise taxes accordingly, instead of having Westminster impose its will upon us.

Douglas R Mayer

Thomson Crescent

Currie, Midlothian

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