FROM a Scottish perspective, it is very difficult to argue against a call for London to be given greater autonomy. If we, north of the Border, are to have more powers delivered to the Scottish Parliament, then we do not have strong grounds on which to deny similar changes elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Former trade minister Gareth Thomas, who hopes to become Labour’s candidate for mayor, says the capital should be given equal standing with the four nations that comprise the UK and be allowed to raise taxes. He suggests that, like Scotland, London has particular needs that require a lift in public spending.
His demands chime with the debate across these islands about the way we are governed: the constitution is not now solely a Scottish preoccupation and the way this discussion progresses will dictate the future of the UK, if it is to have one.
There is, of course, a deal of politics in Thomas’s demands. He faces a tough battle to become Labour’s candidate to succeed Boris Johnson and a promise to London residents that he’d secure greater funding for their city has “I’m on your side” written all over it. But, electioneering aside, he makes valid points.
He is right to say London is a major wealth creator and to point out it suffers problems peculiar to a place of its size. London is not the wealthy “south east” of popular political campaigning but a city where the starkest inequalities thrive.
Where we might be able to take issue with his proposals is by pointing out the inbuilt advantages London has in terms of attracting investment. Its infrastructure may be imperfect, but it remains a key location for those looking to bring their businesses to the UK. No other part of the UK can compete, and with countless major employers headquartered there, its prospects remain very good, indeed. Yes, London may bring more than its fair share of investment to the UK but, given its size and status, how could this be otherwise?
In raising the idea of a more muscular London Authority, Thomas also throws up questions about the thirst for more devolution in Scotland. In the aftermath of the independence referendum, the Smith Commission saw all major parties agree a package of measures that would give Holyrood extra powers. Soon, the Scottish Parliament will be able to set income tax rates. The potential for the Scottish Government to effect real change is greater than ever. Winning more powers may appear to be a good and progressive thing to do but, unless those powers are actually used to benefit society, then their achievement is pointless.
Gareth Thomas is perfectly entitled to argue for greater devolution for London but he – like the SNP – must be able to demonstrate its worth and not simply cherish it as a totem of a political battle won.
A noteable change, but a sad one
THEY tear, they get filthy, they can end up smelling awful, and – apparently – a great many of them are contaminated with drugs, having been rolled up and used to snort cocaine. But for all their flaws, banknotes are marvellous things, especially when one is in possession of them.
The days when many of us queued each week to receive our pay in cash, a satisfying sheaf of paper tucked inside a brown envelope, may be long past, but the reassuring crinkle of fresh notes still possesses considerable power.
Progress – damn it – is to end that. The Bank of Scotland has announced it is to begin printing its five- and ten-pound notes on plastic. These polymer notes will be smaller than those currently in circulation and will last longer. An initial, limited-edition run of just 50 notes will be auctioned off in aid of the Children in Need charity, a marvellous cause that we hope benefits greatly. By next year, a new – still to be unveiled – design will adorn notes to be placed in wide circulation.
There are, says the bank, good reasons for this move: polymer notes are resistant to dirt and more difficult to counterfeit; they bend, then spring back into shape, meaning less chance of damage.
And any of us whose heart has sunk at the discovery that a note’s just gone through a 40-degree wash will be pleased by their waterproof qualities.
But these notes, all but indestructible as they may be, will remove one of life’s great, simple pleasures: the discovery, on putting on an old jacket, of a tenner, long forgotten and crumpled into a ball in the pocket.