WE have now reached a total of 17 reports produced by various UK government departments briefing against independence, and still no letters to The Scotsman from supporters of the Union expressing indignation at the waste of UK taxpayers’ money.
The latest briefing from the Treasury is illustrative of the best of Whitehall farces. On Wednesday of last week, the Treasury issued a media briefing indicating that an independent Scotland will need to set up from scratch 180 government departments at a cost of £2.7 billion. The release quoted work undertaken for the report by the London School of Economics (LSE).
The figure of 180 departments is a crude extrapolation taken from a statement made in Scotland’s Future which notes that 60 per cent of the 300 public bodies acting for Scotland will transfer their functions to Scotland.
The Treasury briefing takes no account of the size of these bodies or of infrastructure already in place in Scotland. It adopted a “one cost fits all” approach to expenditure for 180 new departments. It failed to recognise the difference between a “body” and a department. It is silent on the inconvenient fact that the Scottish Government has reduced the number of public bodies from 199 to 113.
When queried on the accuracy of these statements by The Scotsman a government source is quoted as saying that the Scottish Government: “Has scored an own goal. Their own white paper says that they will need 180 public bodies.”
While this is untrue, we can see that “departments” have become “bodies”. It raises the question that if Treasury spokespeople are going to quote Scotland’s Future, should they not take the trouble to read it?
By Tuesday, Professor Patrick Dunleavy of the LSE indicated that the Treasury report “badly misrepresents” its research. By Wednesday morning, the start-up costs had dropped to £1.5bn. Also dropped is the contribution to the report by the LSE whose work according to Danny Alexander, speaking on BBC Good Morning Scotland, “Was not part of the building blocks of the report”.
Danny Alexander is Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Treasury is responsible for controlling the UK’s expenditure. Looking at their farcical incompetence and lack of credibility one might be tempted to say that you couldn’t make it up. However, when it comes to their report, it seems that they just did.