The problem originated when the last UK Labour government imposed tuition and top-up fees at a time when it lacked the support of its own MPs, and it had to brigade its Scottish MPs through the lobbies to pass the legislation – in contradiction to the implicit conditions set by devolution, and the principles of the West Lothian Question regarding Scottish MPs voting on purely English matters.
That transfer from tax-borne funding to a system of charging meant that the Barnett formula was bypassed. That meant the Labour government saved the tax proceeds, but it also pocketed the Scottish share that would have come our way under Barnett.
And the fact that the Scottish Government operated a policy of free university places for Scottish students does not render the subterfuge an academic issue – England’s university funding increased and they saved on tax revenue, while Scotland’s obligation to increase university funding here has to come on the back of a block grant that is depleted by the Barnett bypass.
So, the benefits, in economic terms, must be marginal, and this is borne out by the illusory contention that English student numbers in Scotland are up by 6 per cent, when they represent just 10 per cent of the total number. That means the increase in numbers contributes only 0.6 per cent in terms of total funding.
Douglas R Mayer